Things All Merchandise Sellers Should Know About Product Coding

If you’re just starting out in merchandise sales or expanding your business, you need to know about product coding.


In our globalized world of mass production, product codes (unique identifiers) are useful and often necessary to track sales and inventory. There are many different types of product codes, and a single product might use several of them.


Read on to learn about product codes and why you might benefit from using them.


1: Product codes can help you compete in the marketplace.


If you’re planning on selling products in brick-and-mortar retail stores or on e-commerce sites, there’s no getting around it: You’ll need a way to track your sales and inventory. Product codes can help you do it.


Product codes make it easy to identify product features, including the brand name, type of item, size, weight, and color of a product when it’s scanned at checkout. This helps speed up the process. The codes also help retailers track and manage their inventories, and they create a better experience for consumers. All of this can help you stay competitive in the dog-eat-dog world of retail sales.


2: There are several different types of product codes.


Barcode is the umbrella term for the familiar series of lines you see on the back of most retail products today. The numbers that appear below the lines are product codes.

Barcodes contain machine-readable code that helps speed up the checkout process and makes it easier to track inventory and sales. They’re more or less essential in today’s globalized retail economy. Some of the most common include:


  • UPC codes: These are the 12-digit numbers that you see on many most retail products in the U.S. UPC codes are issued by a nonprofit called GS1 US, which sets standards for international commerce. If you’re selling in the U.S. and Canada, you’ll need UPC codes for your product(s).

  • EAN codes: European Article Numbers (EANs) are 13-digit numbers used in Europe on retail products. Like UPC codes, EANs help product sellers track their products. Any UPC code can be converted into an EAN by adding a zero to the beginning of the code. If you’re planning to sell internationally, you’ll need EANs for your products.


  • ASIN: In 2019, Amazon surpassed Walmart as the world’s largest online retailer. The company is now so enormous it has its own product ID numbers, called Amazon Standard Identification Numbers (ASINs). If you plan to hawk your merch on Amazon, ASINs are mandatory. The upside: ASINs make your products easier for people to find, and they can help protect you against counterfeiters. Here’s a how-to page on getting ASINs.

  • ISBN: International Standard Book Numbers, or ISBNs, are special identifying codes for books, magazines, e-books and other published media. ISBNs help publishers track how many books they’re selling and where. Different editions of the same book have different ISBNs, and each country has its own ISBN agency.

  • QR codes: Quick Response or QR codes are scannable matrix-style barcodes that often contain data for a locator, identifier, or tracker that points to a website or application. They’re used in everything from consumer advertising to entertainment ticketing.

  • FDA product codes: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has its own set of product codes for food, beverages, drugs, and medical devices. The codes are a combination of five to seven numbers and letters. Read this tutorial, then use this FDA product code builder to determine the right code for your products.


3: UPC codes dominate in the U.S.


The advent of UPC codes made computerized billing and checkouts possible. UPC codes are virtually ubiquitous in the U.S. today—they’re on everything from electronics to food to medications. In fact, UPC codes are the most recognizable product code in the world.


If you’re planning on selling your products in the U.S., you’ll need UPC codes. They’re not only helpful to track sales and inventory, but many sellers say they’re a primary driver of business growth, since UPC codes make products easier to find and more discoverable online.


4: You must register and pay for UPC codes.


To get UPC codes for your products, you need to register with GS1 US and pay a membership fee. In return, they’ll issue you a 6- to 10-digit company prefix, which you’ll use on all your products.


Once you have your company prefix, you can start issuing unique numbers for each of your products. Then you can order as many barcodes as you need, print them out, and attach them to your products (or hire a company to help you develop a labeling system).


You’ll need different UPC codes for each product you sell, even if the differences are minor. For example, if you sell 16-ounce and 32-ounce bottles of the same lavender-scented lotion, you’ll need different UPC codes for each.


The fee to register with GS1 ranges dramatically, from hundreds of dollars to thousands, depending on how many products you need UPC codes for. Annual license renewal fees range from $50 to $2,100.


Your other option is to buy existing UPC codes from an online reseller to avoid having to join GS1, but this is not recommended, especially if you’re planning to sell through major retailers like Amazon.


5: Once you secure product codes, you can hire someone to help you with product labeling.


So, you’ve done your due diligence and secured product codes. Now what? Your next step is designing your product packaging—whether it’s a box, a glass bottle, or vacuum-sealed plastic wrap.


This requires computer design expertise … which requires translating designs into 3D and getting feedback on whether it works or not. If this sounds overwhelming or you don’t have the budget to hire a dedicated product designer, you have another option: getting help from an expert.


GCB Solutions, Inc. offers custom packaging services, including carton erecting and filling, taping, gluing, coding, and labeling using state-of-the-art printing equipment. We can integrate UPC and other product codes, expiration/best by dates, lot numbers, and batch codes into existing packaging, or we can design new packaging lines to meet your needs. Call us today at (904) 263-2804 for a consultation and free quote.

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