By Michelle Covey, Vice President of Partnerships, GS1 US
Anyone who has listed a product on Amazon has seen the letters GTIN and UPC, but what do they really
mean? To help educate Proventus clients, we’ve put together a crash course on all things related to
these acronyms in order to help Amazon sellers ensure a successful listing.
What are GTINs?
GTIN stands for Global Trade Item Number. They are the numbers encoded into a barcode that uniquely
identify a product when it is listed online or is read by a barcode scanner.
There is a big opportunity for e-commerce businesses to benefit from identifying products with GTINs,
as they help products surface in more search engine results online. GTINs can help small businesses
build credibility. Online marketplaces like Amazon require GTINs because they help sellers prove that
they are selling legitimate products. Retailers and marketplaces consider authentic GTINs so helpful to
their operations that they have started hiding product listings if they are not identified with a proper
GTIN and specifically list GTINs in their seller guidelines as a requirement to ensure consistent product
identity and inventory management. Check out this recent reminder to sellers.
What are UPCs?
A UPC (universal product code) is the most common type of barcode symbol—you see it on products
every day and they are scanned at a store’s checkout counter. It is a data carrier and is used by retail
systems to capture the GTIN via a scan.
It is a common misconception that a UPC and GTIN are interchangeable and the same thing — especially
among the online seller community. Some marketplace guidelines will refer to both UPCs and GTINs,
however, the UPC is a barcode symbol with black lines and the GTIN is the identification number. A UPC
barcode, together with a product’s GTIN make it easy for businesses to track a product. However, GTINs
are increasingly used on their own in online product listings to help form a bridge between a product’s
physical presence and its digital identity and to prove product authenticity.
Amazon accepts different types of GTINs: a GTIN-14, or a 14-digit GTIN, which is used for outer cases
such as multiple packs of the same product, a GTIN-12, a 12-digit GTIN, which is most commonly used
and would be accepted in Amazon’s system as a UPC, and a 13-digit GTIN, which signifies an EAN
(European Article Number), a barcode symbol used predominantly in Europe.
What is GS1 US?
GS1 US is part of one of the largest identification and standards organizations in the world, GS1. There
are multiple offices such as GS1 UK, GS1 Brazil, and over 100 more. Best known as the administrator of
the UPC barcode, GS1 maintains and advocates for the use of a host of data standards that support the
supply chain. As a not-for-profit organization, GS1 helps companies uniquely identify products,
locations, and other assets and share information about them with trading partners and consumers in a consistent way. Additionally, the organization collaborates with a variety of industries to develop best
practices for developing efficient supply chains, effective business relationships and providing
consumers access to trustworthy information about the products they buy.
Obtaining GTINs from GS1
There are two options for obtaining authentic GTINs. For small businesses, the best option may be to
license individual GTINs for $30 each with no renewal fee from GS1 US. This is a new offering recently
launched in response to feedback from members who were looking for more flexible product
identification options. For businesses that plan to launch 10 or more products or product variations,
another option is to license a GS1 Company Prefix, which allows brands to create authentic GTINs in
bundles of 10, 100, and other bulk quantities.
GS1 US offers an estimator tool, which helps business owners determine which option is right for them–
single GTIN or a GS1 Company Prefix or a –based on how many products they have, how many
variations of the product there are, and how they anticipate their company will grow in the future.
What are the benefits of licensing a GS1 Company Prefix?
There are many benefits to licensing a GS1 Company Prefix. It helps sellers manage their growth and
diversify their business long term. The prefix allows members to create additional identifiers often used
in retail supply chain business processes, such as the Serialized Shipping Container Code or GS1-128
label to identify cartons exchanged between trading partners. Also, the Company Prefix makes up the
first few numbers of a product’s GTIN, which can help with inventory management and retailer
relations. For instance, if a brand were to grow their business to the point where they have hundreds of
GTINs to manage, the prefix helps the brand owner classify their inventory and manage where
each GTINs are sold. They help companies manage mixed cases and coupons too, and some healthcare
companies need a prefix to meet various FDA regulations.
How else can you get a GTIN?
It’s important to note that in addition to GS1 US, there are other companies from whom business can
obtain barcodes. These other companies operate outside of the GS1 system and typically resell barcodes
issued to other businesses. Purchasing barcodes this way may mean a company is labeling its product
with another company’s identification number—a short term solution that, in the long run, can cause
confusion with retail partners, lead to unnecessary costs associated with relabeling products and hinder
company growth. Amazon states in its seller guidelines that their product managers will check all GTINs
provided to them against the GS1 database and sellers may be delisted if the numbers are found to be
GS1 US offers a variety of resources and training options to help sellers become more familiar with
unique identification. Please visit www.gs1us.org to learn more.
About the Author:
Michelle Covey is the Vice President of Partnerships at GS1 US.