Wondering what to do About Barcodes for Your Amazon Products?
A lot of sellers, new and experienced, struggle with understanding Amazon barcode requirements. I did, too, until I cracked the code! What makes it confusing is that barcodes come into play in two different ways:
- When setting up a product listing, and
- When shipping inventory into Amazon’s warehouses for Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA).
Each of these barcode types is unique and specific to that situation.
Regardless of whether you are sourcing using the Retail Arbitrage (RA) method, buying wholesale or private labeling, you really need to know the Amazon barcode requirements.
First you need to have a basic understanding of barcodes, their associated terminology and how they relate to listing your products on Amazon. It can seem like a scary mess, but it really isn’t that bad!
Let’s start with some definitions.
Making Sense of the Alphabet Soup
Every industry has its own language and usually there are a lot of terms and acronyms to learn. To be successful at anything you choose to do, you have to learn the language at least to some degree.
Here are some of the terms and acronyms you hear tossed around when it comes to listing a product for sale on Amazon. A solid understanding of these terms and how they relate to your products/brand is really important to getting things set up properly from the start.
GTIN: This means Global Trade Item Number. For simplicity sake, consider it the umbrella term for UPC, EAN and JAN. Each one has a specific format, character length and shows the number in a barcode format. If you are in the United States, like I am, you will be using a UPC.
- UPC: This means Universal Product Code and is the standard in North America. UPCs are barcodes that are mostly used for tracking products at the point of sale. These codes are typically 12-digits.
- EAN: This means European Article Number. Wikipedia states that “EAN barcodes are used worldwide for lookup at retail point of sale, but can also be used as numbers for other purposes such as wholesale ordering or accounting.” These codes are typically 13-digits.
- JAN: This means Japanese Article Number and is specific to Japan. This is a barcode standard that is compatible with the EAN, says Wikipedia. You’ll see a “flag code” of 45 or 49 on these numbers.
ISBN: This means International Standard Book Number and is a 10 or 13-digit number depending on the year it was issued.
ASIN: This means Amazon Standard Identification Number and is a unique block of 10 letters and/or numbers that identify products in Amazon’s catalog. Amazon’s system generates the ASIN for each new listing added to the catalog. The exception to this is books. In this case, Amazon uses the ISBN as the ASIN.
Seller SKU: This is a unique alpha/numeric string Amazon assigns to your specific offer within their catalog. If you don’t specify what you want the string to be, Amazon will create one for you. Word to the wise, create a thought-out naming convention and use it. This will make life much easier in the future!
The image below is a screen capture from my My Beer Cozy Seller Central inventory list. It shows two “offers” for the same product. This was my very first private label product I sold on Amazon. I set it up this way so that one offer was merchant fulfilled that could go live right away and the other was the FBA offer.
I don’t do it this way anymore, but I’m using this to illustrate the point that the ASIN is the same for both offers, but the SKU is different. This is how Amazon’s system keeps it straight when multiple sellers are listing offers for the same product.
There are two more important terms to cover…
Product ID: This is a required field in Amazon’s system that holds the GTIN (remember, that’s the UPC, EAN, etc.) When setting up a new product listing you absolutely must know what you are going to put in this field. (Note: if you are adding your offer to an existing listing, you don’t have to worry about the Product ID because it was established when the listing was originally created!).
The only way out of putting in a valid GTIN is to:
- Apply for a GTIN exemption. I’ll talk more about that below.
- Be a participant in Amazon’s Brand Registry and choose a different identifier (such as Manufacturer Part #). When this is set up properly, you can leave the Product ID and Product ID Type fields blank.
GCID: This means Global Catalog Identifier and is a code generated by Amazon for products in the Brand Registry when the seller chose GCID during the Brand Registry setup. This is SUPER IMPORTANT!!!! If you want to avoid the risk of using 3rd party UPCs or the cost of buying them from the GS1, then make sure you choose GCID as your product identifier.
All is not lost if you make a mistake because this can be changed later. It just makes extra work for you. How do I know? Because I was stupid and chose UPC instead of GCID while completing the Brand Registry application. It pays to understand your options!
A Visual Flow of How it Works
As they say, a picture is worth a 1,000 words. To me, it helps to see a process flow so I made one.
As you can see, before you ever get to the part where you create your new listing you really need to know if a GTIN exists or if you need to obtain one or request an exemption.
4 Options for Dealing with the GTIN Problem
If you read in the Amazon forums, you’ll hear people strongly advise that you should only obtain UPCs (GTINs) through the GS1. Amazon also strongly recommends this and the language is pretty clear that you could even get your account suspended if you are found to be using invalid UPCs. This is taken directly from Amazon’s help topic on the subject:
Important: All invalid product UPC listings will be removed and may result in your ASIN creation or selling privileges being temporarily or permanently removed. For more information on licensing UPCs from GS1, see the GSI standard website.
Below are four options for dealing with the GTIN problem.
Option 1: Apply for Brand Registry
If you are private labeling and meet the requirements for Brand Registry, then this is your best option for avoiding the cost/risk associated with buying UPCs. While the new Brand Registry application requirements are still not available at the time I’m writing this post, I have confirmed with Seller Support that GCID will remain a valid alternative to using UPCs.
When you choose GCID as your product identifier, you must use one of the other specified fields for identifying your products, like manufacturer part number, model number, style number, etc. Be sure to create a solid naming convention for the field you choose so you can easily track your products down the line.
Option 2: Buy your UPCs directly from the GS1
At first blush, this seems like the logical solution since there is risk using 3rd party barcodes. BUT… it is VERY expensive to go this route. Not only do you have to pay for the barcodes upfront, but you have to pay an annual renewal fee and it can be steep! Here’s the pricing as of the time of this writing.
Option 3: Request an Exemption
Thankfully, Amazon has a process whereby you can request an exemption from having to provide a GTIN (ya know…a UPC). Had I known about this option back when I started selling retail arbitrage bundles on Amazon, I would have submitted my exemption request ASAP.
But at that time, I was overwhelmed by the whole subject, didn’t know if I was going to do this long term and so I just went the easy route and bought from Nationwide Barcode. So far it hasn’t hurt me, but it could.
Option 4: Get your UPCs from a 3rd Party Vendor
Before I cracked the code on Amazon barcode requirements I purchased UPCs from Nationwide Barcode. I have used over 100 of these codes since I started creating RA bundles and private labeling in 2014 and they have been working just fine. But that doesn’t mean they will continue to work.
Here is a link to some excellent information on Nationwide Barcode’s site that specifically addresses their barcodes for use on Amazon.
How to Get an Exemption
If you are not eligible for Amazon’s Brand Registry (or it has been temporarily suspended like it is now), you can apply for a GTIN Exemption.
It’s fairly straight forward and I just did this for my My Beer Cozy brand. Amazon outlines their guidelines here. Essentially, it’s a matter of completing a simple letter (or getting your manufacturer to do so if you are buying wholesale). The letter template can be found in their guidelines topic and looks like this.
Amazon states that they will let you know within two business days if your exemption request is approved. I was notified of my approval in less than 24 hours.
Once you have your exemption it is valid for only three months so be sure to set up your listings in that timeframe. I asked a few questions of the support person who approved my application; here are my questions and their answers:
- Why is the exemption limited to three months?
Answer: The exemption is provided for a maximum of 90 days due to our system’s functionality.
Once the exemption expires, you are welcome to apply for GTIN exemption and we will be happy to provide you the same. Please note that this will not have any impact on the listings that were already created within this 90 day period. You will have to reapply for GTIN exemption only if you have to create new products.
- Can I leave my existing products as they are or am I required to relist them without the GTIN? I don’t want to lose my reviews on my existing products.
Answer: Products that you have listed before the GTIN exemption was provided do not need to be relisted without the Product ID.
- I use the Excel templates to upload my products. These templates require a Product ID, which requires a GTIN. Can I leave the Product ID and Product ID Type fields blank?
Answer: Yes, leave those two fields blank while the exemption is in effect.
Understanding FBA Shipment Barcodes
You don’t need a GTIN (UPC, EAN, etc.) to ship inventory into Amazon’s warehouses for FBA. Remember that the UPC is a piece of data you need to set up a new listing.
The barcode you need to send your inventory in to Amazon’s warehouses is a unique code that Amazon generates once you convert your inventory to FBA and create a shipment.
While creating your shipment, Amazon generates a set of barcodes that you must print and affix to each unit being shipped. The code will be the same each time you send inventory into their warehouses.
If you are having product packaging made unique to your brand, you can request that your manufacturer print the FBA barcode directly on your packaging. That eliminates a step in your process. Each time you have to touch the product, there is a cost involved so the fewer times you have to handle it the better.
Call to Action
Don’t let the alphabet soup and scary warnings keep you from making progress. And remember, I’m here to help if you feel stuck. We would all love to hear your comments, stories or thoughts about this subject so don’t be shy, leave a comment below!
Now back to work for me!
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