This column previously appeared in Cross-Border Magazine Nr.4, October 2017
Despite working for several global retailers, until recently I was not aware of how the barcode works and the significance of the number that sits underneath it. The products I have worked with just seemed to already have barcodes. But smaller businesses do not have the advantage of experienced supply chains and IT teams that can manage these for them, so I wanted to share the basics with you. Since working for GS1UK, I have learnt a lot about what the number enables and the importance of getting it right – even more so when you decide to start selling cross-border.
UPCs, EANs, ISBNs or GTINs – which one do you need…?
They all refer to the number that sits beneath the barcode to identify the product, rather than the image itself. GTIN, EAN and UPC are essentially all the same, and except for ISBN, these are exclusively used for books. UPC is the name commonly used in the USA, EAN is used in Europe but GTIN is the collective name, since the arrival of the global system.
Think of it like a passport number – it enables your product to travel wherever it needs to go and is always traceable back to your company.
Who uses this system?
There is a community of over 2 million businesses globally using GS1 standards – this includes a broad range of well- known companies such as Tesco, Apple, Nike, Google, Amazon, eBay, Zalando, WHSmith, Sainsburys, Mondelez, Nestle; Walmart to the newer start-ups.
What do the numbers enable you to do and do I need them?
If you are a manufacturer or brand owner producing products then you should be uniquely identifying them to enable you to control your brand identity. This will give you a better visibility of the products through both the supply chain, stores and online. When you decide to make the move to sell your products through other businesses and channels, these companies will need to make sure that all the items they sell do not clash at the point of sale. Whether that be at the till or online, a globally managed system of product identifiers is the only way to ensure your customer gets the right product at the right price.
Some ways in which they are used:
- Google requires a GTIN if you are selling through Google Shopping, particularly when more than one seller is listing against the same product
- Amazon validates new listings against the GS1 database to tackle counterfeiting and reduce duplication of product listings
- eBay requires GTINs for listing products to appear in the new mobile focused on-site merchandising and pull in product reviews from external sites
- Cdiscount (the French marketplace) needs products to have GTINs to be able to take part in merchandising
- La Redoute (the French fashion marketplace and retailer) requires all products to have GTINs to be able to list
What should I do next?
If you would like to become part of the GS1 community that is working to make business easier for everyone, there is likely to be an office in the country you operate in – we have 112 around the world. This will enable you to get the most localised help, specific to your territory. Visit GS1.org to find your local GS1 membership organisation or, for those of you in the UK, please visit gs1uk.org where we have a new industry engagement team that focusses specifically on online trading and SME companies. We would love to hear from you and find ways to assist your business grow.
Lorna is an experienced e-commerce professional working for GS1UK, the standards organisation behind the barcode. She managed multiple marketplaces for several global brands over the years giving a well rounded background in international and cross-border trading before moving to a non for profit to focus on helping SMEs to grow their businesses through online channels.