Private Label Sellers and UPC Codes

Amazon requires every listing to be identified with a valid GTIN (Global Trade Item Number). This is most often a UPC code or EAN (in Europe). Many private label sellers purchase barcodes from third-party sites like Speedy Barcodes or Nationwide Barcodes. Some have done this for years without any trouble. For the sake of this discussion, I will use UPC codes to refer to GTIN codes.

The concept of a valid UPC code is a topic of debate among Amazon sellers. Below is Amazon’s definition of a valid UPC, taken from this terms of service page:

Valid UPCs

We verify the authenticity of product UPCs by checking the GS1 database. UPCs that do not match the information provided by GS1 will be considered invalid. We recommend obtaining your UPCs directly from GS1 (and not from other third parties selling UPC licenses) to ensure the appropriate information is reflected in the GS1 database.

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.

A recommendation or a requirement?

While many Amazon sellers and even some third-party barcode suppliers assert that this is only a recommendation, the language is clear that Amazon REQUIRES a valid UPC. The only recommendation mentioned is the recommendation to purchase the UPC from GS1. If GS1 is the only place you can purchase a barcode that is going to meet Amazon’s definition of valid, then yes, Amazon does require that UPC codes be purchased from GS1.

What Is a Third-Party Barcode?

Third-party barcodes are unused recycled barcodes

A third-party barcode is basically a recycled barcode that was never used by the company that originally purchased it. Whenever a company purchases barcodes from GS1, the barcode is permanently listed in the GS1 database with the company’s name. When you buy barcodes from third-party sites, you are purchasing a GS1 barcode that is listed in the GS1 database under another company’s name.

Amazon compares your UPC to the GS1 database. Will it match?

When Amazon checks the GS1 database, the brand name listed in the database will not match yours. According to the information above, this violates Amazon’s policies and can result in your listing or even your ASIN creation privileges being suspended.

Why Are So Many Sellers Able to List Without an Issue ?

You are taking a chance when you use 3rd party barcodes. Are you willing to gamble your account?

Amazon does not check the database every single time. They do have bots that do an automatic check to make sure your UPC code exists in the GS1 database, but they don’t always check to make sure it matches. However, we know from the information above that they can check, and sometimes they do.

Amazon seems to be checking more and more. It could be just a matter of time before Amazon decides to clean up their catalog and remove all listings that do not have barcodes that meet their standard of validity.

What Are Your Options?

Purchasing codes directly from GS1 is shockingly expensive

GS1 barcodes are expensive. The smallest package of just 10 barcodes costs $250 upfront plus $50 per year to maintain your membership (so you are basically just leasing the numbers). The next package up, 100 barcodes, costs $750 upfront plus a $150 annual renewal fee, and it just keeps going up from there. Every variation of every product requires its own barcode. You can go through 10 or even 100 barcodes very quickly. You can view this page for pricing information and information to help you estimate how many barcodes you will need.

These prices are generally too high for new private label sellers, who need to keep as much capital as they can to acquire products. Fortunately, Amazon does offer another option, and this one is FREE: You can request a GTIN exemption. This will give you the right to list products without a UPC code.

How To Apply For A GTIN Exemption

Amazon has complete information about this exemption here. The application process is simple. Just follow the steps below:

  • Go to this link and enter your brand name (or names if you have more than one), along with any categories you might list your private label products under. Click Check for Eligibility.
  • You will be taken to a page where your eligible brands/categories will be listed. Click Continue to Submit Proof.
  • For your first (or only) brand, you will be asked if you have a supporting letter from the brand owner, manufacturer, or publisher. Your answer needs to be yes.
  • You will be prompted to upload a supporting letter. Beneath the upload area, you should see a link that says “Download sample letter.” This is a template where you can enter your own information. Enter your information, print, sign, and upload the letter. Click submit.
  • You will be taken to a confirmation page. Most sellers report this process is fast and easy.

As long as you are selling on online marketplaces like Amazon, you really don’t need GS1 barcodes. If you decide to sell in retail stores like Walmart or brick and mortar businesses, offline or online, those businesses may require you to have GS1 barcodes. If you are just planning to sell on Amazon, I recommend applying for the GTIN exemption. It is fast and easy, it doesn’t cost anything, and it can help keep your Amazon account in good standing.

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