I want to implement barcoding...where do I start?

What is barcoding? In a nutshell a barcode is an optical symbol that is machine-readable to extract the data and identify the object in which a barcode label is attached to. Some of the most common questions when it comes to whether a barcode is required are "What is a UPC code?", "How do I get a barcode or UPC/EAN code?", "Who needs a UPC/EAN code?". Let's get started, let's decode the barcode and see if you need one....

What is a barcode?

What is a UPC or EAN code?

  • UPC = Universal Product Code
  • EAN = European Article Number or International Article Number

The UPC code is widely utilized in North America, the U.K., Australia as well as New Zealand. UPC-A is the most common format which comprises 12 numerical digits. Most of us are familiar with seeing this barcode on products or items we purchase from retailers. The UPC codes are also referred to as a GTIN ~ Global Trade Item Number which comprise of a Company Prefix and the numbers the company has assigned to that specifc item. In the United States, the Company Prefix is issued by GS1. GS1 is a non-profit standards based organization that supplies GS1 US company prefixes that are authenticated and accepted by all retailers.

EAN has been adopted as the International Article Number but retained the EAN abbreviation. The EAN code is a 13-digit barcode format (12 data and 1 check digits) and it conforms to the original 12-digit UPC code developed in the United States. The EAN-13 barcodes are used worldwide for marking products often sold at retail point of sale.

Who needs a UPC/EAN code?

If you are a supplier or manufacturer that sells to distributors or retailers then your products may require a UPC barcode that represents the GTIN. If you do not plan to sell the items that you want to barcode to retailers for resale, and you simply want them barcoded for internal purposes i.e. for asset tracking, then you DO NOT need to get a Company Prefix from GS1 for a UPC code. In this instance, you can use any numbering system you choose, and any barcode type you want.

Now that you have a better understanding when a UPC code is required it brings us to the next question..."When does it make sense to use my part number as my barcode label?". This is usually not advised unless your scanned items are your internal assets and/or equipment and these items are not distributed. However, do keep in mind that in the event that your scanned items may someday be distributed to retailers who would rely on a UPC code and you started with a barcode with a part number then this could be a disruption to the automation you worked hard to put in place. In light of this, you will want to plan out the barcoding for your inventory carefully ahead of time

How do I obtain a UPC Code?

Register for a company prefix with GS1 US to get started. This registration process is quick and easy and requires some basic information about your company and a registration fee. Once you receive your prefix, you can create barcode numbers (GTINs) for each product you're selling.

This is part 1 of 4 on the Understanding Barcoding and Barcode Implementation article series. Subscribe to our blog and follow this series. Part 2 of 4 talks about "What hardware will I need to purchase to implement barcoding system?"

Read about how barcoding can help with streamlining orders and shipments...

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