UPC Codes and Your Amazon Selling Account

If you’ve ever purchased something from a store or online, you’ve seen them, even though until you became an Amazon seller, you probably didn’t even notice them. They’re UPC codes, or bar codes, and they’re that 12-digit code that’s on the product label or printed directly on the product itself.

If you’re just getting started selling on Amazon, you may have questions about when and how to use them. Here are the basics on these codes:

What is a UPC code?

UPC stands for Universal Product Code. The 12 digits of black bars and white spaces were first used in the 1970s. The barcode symbol is encoded with pricing and product information; the information on the barcodes is “read” when they’re scanned.

On Amazon, every product has a unique UPC. Amazon then takes the UPC and uses it to make a FNSKU number, a unique number and barcode that ties your product specifically to your account.

Here’s an example: If you and another seller both sell Fantastic Toilet Paper, the UPC of the same product will be the same. But your Fantastic Toilet Paper will have a different FNSKU than the other guy’s.

Where do UPC codes come from?

A nonprofit group that set standards for international commerce called GS1 US creates UPC codes.

If I sell on Amazon, do I need UPC codes?

It depends. If you are selling products that already have listings in the Amazon database, you do not need a UPC; one was required by the person who set up the listing. This is a common situation if you practice retail arbitrage.

If you purchase a product to sell and create a new listing for a product that has a UPC listed on it by the original manufacturer, you do not need another UPC. Simply enter the numbers of the barcode in the UPC field when you create your listing.

If you are private labeling a product, manufacturing your own design, or creating a “bundle” (where you package together several complementary products), you will need a new UPC.

Also, if you are creating a listing for a new product that has different sizes or colors (or any kind of variation), you will need a UPC for each size or variation. If the product has five colors, you will need five UPCs, for example.

Where do I put the UPC info?

When you create your listing, the UPC is entered at the bottom of the Vital Info tab (the same page where the Product Title is listed).

Where can I get UPC codes?

You can join GS1 US for $250 and up, plus an annual renewal fee of $50+. This membership provides you with a unique identifier, or prefix, that allows you to create barcodes for the products you sell. GS1 US’s website is www.gs1us.org.

If you require just a few barcodes, you can purchase them in smaller quantities from companies that already have a GS1 US membership. These UPCs will come coded with the other company’s prefix. If your product will sell in brick and mortar stores, it’s better to pay for the GS US1 membership.

But if you just need a few codes for the purposes of creating new listings on Amazon, then this is an economical solution.

Some options for buying UPCs online include BuyABarCode.com and Leading Edge Codes (via Ebay). Once you purchase the codes, you will be sent either a numeric list of your codes or the list of codes and associated barcode artwork.

If your supplier requires that you create the actual barcode art but it didn’t come with your codes, you can use a barcode generator, such as www.barcodesinc.com/generator/index.php and www.barcode-generator.org, along with the UPC, to create the image.

Anything else?

If you purchase a small number of codes from an online seller, be sure to delete the old codes once you’ve used them. When you’re creating an Amazon listing, a UPC cannot be reused, and you will not be able to complete your listing with an already used UPC. I created a .txt document that lists all codes; once I’ve pasted one into the Amazon listing, I delete it from the .txt file and save to be sure I don’t reuse them.