Uncovering the Truth Behind Amazon UPCs

A Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) is a 14-digit number used to identify items, products, or services. Universal Product Codes, or UPCs, are a type of GTIN used in the US. European countries use a GTIN known as EAN, while books use a GTIN known as ISBN.

Many articles contain conflicting reports about the use of barcodes on the Amazon US marketplace.  In the past, sellers purchased barcodes from 3rd parties and used them on Amazon without issue. However, Amazon policy now recommends that sellers buy barcodes from GS1, the official non-profit organization that develops and maintains global standards like UPC assignments.

Various 3rd party UPC vendors will assure you of the authenticity of their codes, and some send you an authenticity certificate. These vendors will claim that their barcodes work with Amazon. For instance, buyabarcode.com’s FAQ states that Amazon will only require verification if you enable the advanced option to create your brand:

However, you should still heed Amazon’s policy:

What this conflicting information means for sellers is that there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the use of 3rd party UPCs. The best advice is to purchase your GTINs from GS1. GS1 barcodes prevent any problems with Amazon.

You may have read that some sellers are successful using 3rd party UPCs purchased from eBay. 3rd-party UPC vendors promise that their UPCs are valid. However, marketplaces like Amazon will sometimes not accept the codes if since some UPC resellers sell codes that have already been used on the marketplace.

This confusion has to do with how GS1 creates barcodes. When you lease UPCs from GS1, you are assigned a prefix for your business. Some 3rd-party resellers sell the same block of codes to different people, whether by design or mistake. The result is that sometimes the codes are already used on marketplaces like Amazon.

See the image below for how those GS1 determines your barcodes.

Why should this matter to you?

When you purchase barcodes from 3rd party vendors, you’ll get codes that belong to a different company.  A quick check against the GS1 database will show who has registered those codes. This difference is the inconsistency that confuses sellers and Amazon.

You can check the GTIN or UPC at GS1’s website here. Click on the GTIN tab and enter the UPC to see what company shows up.

What does that mean for Amazon sellers who need UPCs but don’t want to pay GS1’s prices?

There’s no guarantee that you will be safe buying 3rd party barcodes even if you can use them successfully. You may be able to use those UPCs on marketplaces like eBay or Walmart, but you may not be able to use those UPCs on Amazon should Amazon check GS1’s database. At the time of this article, Amazon has not enforced a requirement for GS1 UPCs. So you’re still able to use 3rd-party UPC vendors. You can buy these UPCs on eBay or see our article on some low-cost 3rd-party UPC vendors.

The best advice is to purchase UPCs from GS1 if you need them. It may be more expensive initially. But as your business expands, having GS1 GTINs will mean less headache later if Amazon starts to enforce the policy. Also, certain retail outlets will only accept official GS1 GTINs, so if you’re thinking about seeing your products on store shelves, you may want to consider official UPCs registered to your business.