Understanding EAN/UPC Barcodes, GS1 Membership and Catalogue Integration

Many marketplaces impose EAN or UPC barcodes for tracking products in the business feed.

Without an organizational code of some type to differentiate between products, consumers would have a very difficult time accurately searching for and finding specific products. Even (and perhaps especially) in a digital marketplace like Amazon, sellers use differentiated EAN/UPC barcodes to organize products that are the same or different from others.

Many are confused by the difference between the EAN barcode used in Europe and the UPC used in the United States, since both look the same. The EAN uses 13 digits and the UPC uses 12, since the GS1 didn’t see a need for country codes at first. Both the US and Canada now have a country code of “0” and UPC barcodes simply leave off that first 0 (where the country code goes on EAN barcodes). Source : http://www.nationwidebarcode.com/are-upc-a-and-ean-13-the-same/

Because many marketplaces today offer a number of global products, the barcode has become the recent norm for product organization. Of course, this common product reference translates into e-commerce and will be a necessary part of offering your products in the virtual marketplace.


Increasing Your Trading Power

Adopting barcodes for your products will have a major impact on your catalogue and improve your trading position with other marketplaces. You will notice the most impact when you branch out to other marketplaces where you hope to influence consumers with your products.

Starting out early with bar coding for your product catalog means easier penetration into distribution networks. Participating in supermarkets, hypermarkets and the global market is a transition made much easier by preemptive product coding.

EAN coding also adds an important identification to your product. With the barcode, however, your products are differentiated from other products while remaining consistent from market to market. This is especially important if customers are looking at sites that compare your product deals from one marketplace to another.

This added value, then, makes the annual subscription to GS1, a small factor in your overall business expenses and gains. Though product coding will cost your business money, it is well worth having a catalogue that is better prepared and better organized.


Private Coding

Internal reference codes may be used for items, like fruits and vegetables, that do not have official barcodes. These products will need to be catalogued, but they are often the products that are sold loose.

Private or internal EAN/UPC barcodes typically start with the number 2 and still provide the full, 13-digits of a typical EAN/UPC code.

These private codes limit the sale of items outside of your business, since they are internal numbers that organize but don’t fully differentiate for the worldwide marketplace. It is wise to use private codes sparingly and for items you do not plan to sell outside of your personal business framework.

You may, however, receive offers from marketplaces that want to assign private code sequences to “accelerate market integration.” This is actually an indication that your products are ready for official barcodes and the extra step of the internal coding is unnecessary.


Bar Code Generators

There are a number of available barcode generators that promise to provide a coding solution for your products. At best this software will provide a restricted, private code that only applies in your own business framework. But, this could also result in a false control key and fake barcodes that do not actually belong to you.

With EAN barcode generating, illegal codes may be created by duplicating properly registered codes. Since you submitted the improper codes under the guise of being official, it will be your business that is under fire for illegal activity.


Barcode Sale Websites

Don’t fall for the scam of a website claiming to sell barcodes. This is strictly prohibited by GS1 and all barcodes are solely organized, generated and catalogued by them.

Code ownership rights are provided by GS1 to a specific corporation and are non-transferable. This means that barcode resale is not legal.

If you are caught trying to purchase these prohibited barcodes, you will (at best case scenario) lose money. However, your products could also be excluded from the marketplace you tried to enter with purchased barcodes and you could lose a sales venue, take a large step backward in business development and end up losing time on top of money.

Obviously, this illegal method for obtaining bar codes will only result in pain and sorrows.


Exemptions for Barcodes

Bar coding is not required for crafted jewelry products or cottage industry. While most manufactured products need an official barcode to be integrated in additional marketplaces, there are some products that are exempt from the norm.

Most often, the product target marketplace determines the coding preference. Manufacturers or distributors, however, can get a requirement exemption for specific products and avoid the official coding.

The Amazon Marketplace, for example, not only uses official barcodes, but also identifies its catalogue with an application called the Global Catalog Identifier (GCID). This application organizes product codes with numbers for the brand and manufacturer, making products possible to reference without an official barcode.

The GCID is used instead of bar coding and certain products, then, don’t need barcodes to be part of the integrated catalogue. This applies to similar products in all marketplaces.


Correctly Obtaining Official Bar Codes

The barcode issuing body for EAN/UPC barcodes is the GS1. Because, as mentioned above, barcodes are most commonly used for global marketplaces, working with GS1 to get your EAN/UPC coding is the next step you will want to take towards marketplace integration.

If contacting the GS1 seems like a daunting task to get this ball rolling, you have no need to worry. Our company has already contacted GS1 for you and talked to their representatives.

If your company needs codes for manufactured products that have never before been registered, you can simply visit their website and check out the membership application here:


GS1 has a division for every country, to help keep the coding forms and product codes organized. Each country is provided with a localized service to help with applications and coding. For example, the link for France’s applications forms is here:


Once you have found the correct company registration certificate, signing up only takes a few minutes. You will pay the minimal subscription fee immediately and receive your codes in 48 hours.

The small fee for barcoding registration (8 Euros/year) is to be paid yearly and provides your company with 100 officially registered barcodes. Additional codes are provided free of charge, though you will need to file a request with an explanation for the additional codes.

Once you receive the file with your barcodes, you will simply allocate them to your products in your own catalogue.


Structuring Your CMS Product Sheets

A Content Management System (CMS), like Prestashop, Big Commerce, Magento or OpenCart, will help organize your product information and complete database.

A valid CMS product sheet must be created for each product or product combination in your catalogue and should minimally contain:

A unique product name
A unique product reference
An official barcode
For each item that is listed and sold, you will need to have a separate way to officially and internally identify it.

You will need to be aware that some CMS software, like Prestashop, will duplicate the main reference of the product sheet and apply it to combinations by default when generating. This makes the product combinations temporary invalid, and you will need to add a unique value to distinguish product combinations from singular products.

Your internal product reference is chosen by you and known as a Stock-Keeping Unit (SKU). Using mnemonic SKU codes (a name that coincides with the product instead of numbers or randomized letters) will help you remember what product the product reference is actually referring to. Each SKU will need to be unique and should follow some kind of intuitive format to help you remain organized and aware of what product the SKU is referring to.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the SKU must be unique (for organization) and the EAN barcode must be unique (legally) for each product (or product combination) to be a viable manufactured product ready for the largest marketplace.