Seller Questions: Do I need GS1 barcodes to sell products on Amazon?
March 11, 2020
I want to launch a new line of clothing on Amazon, but the cost of getting Amazon-approved barcodes seems ridiculous. It seems I have to have one for every variation, which means hundreds of UPCs. This will cost me thousands of dollars. I can buy UPCs from other sites for almost nothing -- why is it so important I buy them from GS1?
The debate has been raging for years: Do you really need to buy “official” GS1 barcodes to create listings on Amazon?
Everyone seems to have a different answer to this quandary. Gurus will tell you one thing while Amazon’s own seller support agents say something completely different.
As it turns out, most people are asking the wrong question. With a new emphasis on brand registration, there have been some major shifts in Amazon’s product identification policy in the past 18 months. This blog post will address these changes, as well as answer the most common identification-related questions we get from Amazon sellers.
If you want the TLDR version of this post, click here.
Each product that Amazon fulfills must have a scannable identification label. Almost all North American manufacturers already provide this in the form of a UPC code. These codes are leased to businesses by an international organization called GS1.
Many Amazon sellers never have to worry about this; they simply buy products with existing barcodes from wholesalers. The complication comes in creating bundles, multi-packs or private label listings. No two listings on Amazon can share the same identifier, so each needs a unique GS1 UPC code.
Sellers can lease UPCs directly from GS1, but they’re not cheap -- packages start at $250, plus an annual renewal fee. There’s also the issue of prefixes. GS1 assigns a specific piece of a barcode that identifies a company name, called a prefix. UPCs with a company prefix can only be purchased once -- you can’t add more UPCs to a specific prefix after you initially buy them. This means you’ll want to buy all the barcodes your company will ever use upfront, which can be prohibitively expensive.
Prefix Pricing Schedule*
|Number of items needing a barcode/GTIN**||Initial fee||Annual renewal fee|
|1 – 10||$250||$50|
|1 – 100||$750||$150|
|1 – 1,000||$2,500||$500|
|1 – 10,000||$6,500||$1,300|
|1 – 100,000||$10,500||$2,100|
Here’s where it gets confusing. A quick Google search shows hundreds of companies that sell UPC codes for a fraction of the cost of GS1. You can even buy them on eBay for a few pennies. Why spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars when you can get them dirt cheap?
GS1 is the only UPC generator in the world; all other companies are reselling UPC codes they bought through GS1 more than a decade ago. Until the mid-2000s, GS1 sold codes, which allowed purchasers the rights to resell the unused codes. Eventually, GS1 moved to leasing codes, which removed the resell rights from buyers.
There are still millions of pre-2000s GS1 UPC codes available from companies like Speedy Barcodes, but they aren’t registered to the GS1 database under your company name. In short: these UPC codes aren’t (and can never be) formally connected to your company.
In 2018, Amazon started enforcing its already-existing policy stating that it would check UPCs against the official GS1 database. This move was meant to stop sellers from creating listings using existing brand names (think Fisher-Price), but it also caused an uptick in fear among small sellers without the means to purchase official GS1 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.
When creating a product listing, you’ll often see the following message: “The validity of a Product ID is checked against the GS1 GEPIR and ISBN.org 3 databases. If your Product ID is not registered with GS1 then the linked ASIN will be suppressed and it may result in the removal of your product creation privileges.”
As of 2019, Amazon still hasn’t enforced this rule beyond restricting the creation of listings with specific major brands. There are still hundreds of thousands of sellers using unregistered UPCs. Amazon can technically remove these listings at any point, though it is unlikely because of the incredible impact it would have on their catalog.
In short, yes; you can technically buy UPC barcodes without going through GS1 and they’ll likely work on Amazon. However, this is a high-risk decision if you plan to sell on Amazon long term.
The good news is, there is one approved loophole for Amazon sellers who don’t want to deal with the time or logistics of GS1 barcodes -- a GTIN exemption.
What is a GTIN exemption?
A GTIN exemption is when Amazon allows you to sell generic or self-branded products without a UPC code. Instead, they provide an Amazon-generated label with a non-UPC barcode. Traditionally, GTIN exemptions were hard to get. Many sellers reported waiting weeks or months for Amazon to approve their request. In 2019, Amazon has made this process much more smooth -- the application only takes a few minutes, and they respond to most requests in two business days.
Applying for a GTIN exemption
- If you have an active seller account, visit the GTIN Exemption page. You do not have to apply for an exemption for each product; simply apply for a brand within each category once. After approval, you can add as many of your products as desired on Amazon without applying for the brand/category exemption again.
- Choose the product category and brand name (if applicable) to check if you’re eligible for an exemption.
- As of this blog post (December 2019) some categories may be automatically approved for exemption based on account history. Jewelry is the only category that is auto-approved universally. The other categories will require you to submit documentation -- either a letter from the brand owner or pictures of an item (if you’re selling a private label product). Important: Make sure you write down the names of the brands you’re trying to get an exemption for. If they are auto-approved, Amazon does not provide a way for you to re-access your list of exemptions. You need the exact brand name you registered when creating listings. If you are not auto-approved, a case will be opened with the name of the brand exemption you’re seeking.
- Amazon responds to most GTIN exemptions in less than 48 hours. 24 hours after approval, you can create a listing with your exemption. Fill in the brand field with the exact name you put in your GTIN exemption application. It won’t work if you add extra characters or spaces. Leave the product ID blank.
Common Questions about Amazon UPCs
What is GS1?
GS1 is an international nonprofit that aids in business communications. They lease UPC barcodes -- symbols printed on products that can be scanned electronically. GS1 barcodes are scanned billions of times every day
When do I need a GS1 UPC?
Technically, you don’t have to use GS1 UPC. There are no legal requirements that necessitate having one on your products and getting an exemption from Amazon is fairly easy in most categories. This being said, you’ll need GS1 UPCs if you are planning to sell your products outside of Amazon. Almost all major retailers and distributors require it.
Why can’t I buy UPCs from 3rd party sites?
GS1 is the only UPC generator in the world; all other companies are reselling UPC codes they bought through GS1 more than a decade ago. UPCs from a 3rd party will be registered under a random company’s name -- not yours. Amazon’s official Amazon states they will cross-check your UPC with the official GS1 database to make sure the company information matches. At this time there is no proof that Amazon is enforcing this, but they could choose to do so at any time.
What happens if I’m already selling a product with a non-GS1 UPC or barcode on Amazon?
Most likely nothing. If Amazon removed every product that has used a non-GS1 UPC in the past decade, a huge piece of their catalog would disappear. This being said, the only way to completely stay within the terms of service is to redo the listing completely. Amazon does not change product identifiers on existing listings.
What barcode do I use for Amazon multipacks?
Before purchasing a UPC, make sure there is not an existing listing of your multi-pack. The entire point of Amazon’s UPC policy is to avoid duplicate listings; there is no point in recreating something that already exists. In addition, make sure your request does not fall under the restricted brands list. You cannot make listings involving these brands without written permission from the brand owner.
Most of the time a multipack will qualify for a GTIN exemption, so there’s no need to purchase a UPC.
What barcode do I use for Amazon bundles?
Just like multipacks, make sure your request does not fall under the restricted brands list. You cannot make listings under these brand names without explicit permission from the brand owner.
Most of the time a bundle will qualify for a GTIN exemption, so there’s no need to purchase a UPC. Do not list a bundle under the UPC of one of the products within the bundle (i.e. using the UPC of a bar of soap to create a listing for a spa gift basket). This would allow another seller to change your listing to the correct product in the future.
Can I get a UPC exemption if I’m brand registered?
Yes -- the status of brand registration is irrelevant. Any seller can apply for an exemption.
How do I check the company name my current barcodes are registered under?
GS1 provides a search tool for this purpose.