What is a UPC Code? The Universal Product Code

The Complete Guide to Your Universal Product Code

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A UPC Code, or Universal Product Code is a crucial tool for many retailers and ecommerce companies. More than just a simple piece of information, these codes can help to make your business more efficient and profitable, by assisting you in tracking products, inventory, and more.

Used correctly, UPCs can reduce checkout times, leading to better customer experiences, make it easier to fulfill orders, and even assist in keeping your stock levels on track. Here’s everything you need to know about the UPC barcode, and its function.

What is a UPC Code? Defining UPC

The term “UPC” stands for Universal Product Code. Essentially, a UPC is a barcode, a specialist visual code combined with a 12-digit number, included on the packaging for most products. UPCs are scannable symbols, which contain valuable data about an item or product.

They often provide insights into the price of the item, and the product’s features, such as the brand name or manufacturer, item name, size, and color. While the scannable section of the UPC is generally what companies refer to when they mention a “Universal Product Code”, the 12-digit number underneath is known as the Global Trade Item Number, or GTIN.

In the 12-digit GTIN, the first 6 digits identify the manufacturer of the product, while the remaining digits offer insights into product characteristics. The next five digits in the sequence are dedicated to the specific number. Each item in a company’s portfolio will get its own distinct number. The final digit in the GTIN code is the check digit. It essentially verifies the code for scanners.

Every variation of a product in a company’s portfolio requires its own unique UPC. Even if a product has the same fundamental features, but comes in different sizes or colors, it might need its own UPC.

The Different Types of UPC Codes

Notably, there are a few different types of “UPCs” which appear in the retail and ecommerce space. The most common is the UPC-A, which is intended for products sold using retail point of sale technology. UPC-As are scannable barcodes which appear on virtually every product you’ll find in a physical store or supermarket. Other common UPCs include:

  • ITF-14 barcodes: These are barcodes typically used for boxes, supply materials, and other objects like pallets used in distribution centers and warehouses. They help users to identify cartons, cases, and pallets containing multiple items.
  • QR Codes: A more modern version of the UPC code, QR codes are two-dimensional patterns which link users to online information about a product. These codes are both used internally by members of staff at a store, and by consumers.
  • GS1 Databar codes: These barcodes are specifically intended for produce, fresh items, and coupons. They contain more information than the average UPC code, highlighting expiration dates and best-before data.
  • GS1-128 codes: These barcodes often combine a GTIN with another visual code intended to provide information about a product. Information can include everything from product features to expiration dates.

How do Companies Get a UTC Code?

Getting a UPC is relatively straightforward, but it can take some time. To obtain a code for use with any product, a company needs to first determine how many specific barcodes it needs for every product, and each variation of that product. For instance, if you’re selling a shirt that comes in 3 colors and 3 sizes, you’d need 9 barcodes.

Next, you’ll need to choose where to obtain your UPC. The easiest option is to apply to become a member of the GS1 organization. Businesses can purchase UPCs from GS1, or choose another company to create their codes. However, it’s worth double-checking which UPCs are accepted on the platforms you’re planning on using for your products.

You’ll need to pay a fee for your code, which can vary depending on the provider and the number of barcodes you need. You may also need to pay to renew your code regularly. Finally, once you’ve purchased your codes, you can usually download them and print them onto packaging, stickers, and boxes for your products.

Why are UPCs Important?

Used correctly, UPCs can have a number of advantages for both businesses and consumers alike. They make it easier for employees using a scanner to immediately identify a product, and the price associated with it, which helps to improve the speed and efficiency of the checkout process.

Universal Product Codes also make it easier to track inventory accurately, rather than relying on hand-counting. This makes it much easier to monitor inventory levels, and determine when more stock is needed in warehouses or retail shelves.

Additionally, when there’s an issue with a product, and it needs to be recalled, or customers need to be alerted, UPCs allow each item affected to be tracked through production, to distribution, and into the homes of customers.

Universal Product Code FAQ

What is the meaning of “UPC”?

UPC stands for Universal Product Code, a combination of a scannable symbol and 12-digit number printed onto individual products sold online and in stores. It’s used to track and identify products as they’re sold, distributed, and shipped to customers around the world.

What is a UPC on Amazon?

Many online marketplaces, including Amazon, leverage Universal Product Codes to manage inventory, warehousing, and shipping processes. UPCs are used by Amazon to identify and track products to be sent to customers. They can also sometimes be used for price comparisons, by companies looking for insights into the average price of a product.

How do you use a Universal Product Code?

For retailers, using a UPC is as simple as applying for a code with a reputable vendor, and applying it to your products using stickers or packaging printing techniques. Consumers can use UPCs in their shopping experience too. For instance, self-service checkouts allow users to scan the codes on their items to tally up the total of their bill.

Where can you find a Universal Product Code?

UPCs are typically found on product labels and packaging. They can be printed just about anywhere on a product, from on a dedicated label or tag, to on the bottom or pack of an item.

Rebekah Carter

Rebekah Carter is an experienced content creator, news reporter, and blogger specializing in marketing, business development, and technology. Her expertise covers everything from artificial intelligence to email marketing software and extended reality devices. When she’s not writing, Rebekah spends most of her time reading, exploring the great outdoors, and gaming.

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