What is a UPC?
UPC, or universal product code, is the standard product ID and barcode format in the US and Canada. UPCs are sold and controlled by an international organization, and are required for retail distribution and Amazon sales.
Do you need a UPC to sell your product online?
It depends on your sales channels. You don’t need a UPC to sell on your website, eBay, or social networks. However, if your product is destined for retail distribution, or your want to sell on Amazon, then a UPC is required.
UPCs for Selling on Amazon
Products you sell on Amazon must have a UPC. If it’s an existing product then use the manufacturer’s UPC. But if it’s your own product, then you’ll need to invest in a UPC. If you’re letting Amazon do fulfillment, then there are bar code label requirements for the UPC also.
Every product variation sold on Amazon or through other retail distribution needs a unique UPC. For example, a shirt with four sizes that comes in five colors needs 20 UPCs. And if comes single or as a two-pack, and short or long sleeve, then you need 80 UPCs.
Who Sells UPCs?
GS1 or Global Standard 1, is the international organization that issues and controls UPCs and sets barcode standards.
When buying blocks of UPCs you’ll register your company or brand. GS1 issues a company prefix, then helps you make a unique id number for each product variation.
UPC Resellers and Counterfeiters
A UPC is just a 12 digit code and it can be counterfeited. Blocks of UPCs may be purchased on eBay for a few dollars and used when setting up a new product on Amazon. While this can work, buying UPCs from online sellers or counterfeiters can lead to problems. Even if the particular UPC has never been used before, the licensee can still discover the fraud and object, or Amazon can reject the UPC and your product listing.
How Much Do UPCs Cost?
The cost for 10 UPCs is $250 for the first year, and $50 per year thereafter. 100 UPCs cost $750 initially with $150 annual renewals, and the fees top out at $10,500 for a block of 100,000 UPCs.
How to Buy a UPC
- Go to gs1us.org
- Pay fee for a block of UPCs
- GS1 assigns a company prefix number
- Generate product number
- Get digital barcode file
- Use barcode in packaging or make labels
Exceptions to UPC Requirements for Selling on Amazon
EAN is the European Article Number, or UPC equivalent. US and Canada recognize the barcode format, so if the product already has an EAN (now called an IAN for International Article Number) assigned then you’re set. However, getting an EAN for a new product involves the same steps as a buying a UPC from the same organization – GS1.
Being in the Amazon Brand Registry lets you use Amazon-assigned product codes, or GCIDs, instead of UPCs. The Brand Registry is open to trademarked brands, although check product category restrictions on Amazon first.
The cost to get a new trademark could be less than buying a 100-pack of UPCs. If Amazon is your only sales channel that requires UPCs, and you have more than ten products, then being in the Brand Registry as a trademarked company could be an option.
How Much Does It Cost to Trademark a Company?
US trademark costs from $225 to $400 for the registration, plus other possible costs such as legal fees, renewals, and proving the use the trademark.