Do You Need a UPC to Sell on Amazon?

September 22, 2023

As the world's largest online marketplace, Amazon provides an unparalleled platform for sellers to reach global audiences. However, with such a vast marketplace comes stringent requirements to maintain consistency, transparency, and reliability, and one of the questions most frequently pondered by new sellers is, "Do I need a UPC to sell on Amazon?" The short answer is both yes and no, so let's take a closer look at UPCs and their role in the Amazon ecosystem.

What are UPCs?

A Universal Product Code (UPC) is a 12-digit number that uniquely identifies products. Accompanied by a barcode, UPCs are used globally for tracking items in stores, managing inventory, and ensuring a standardised system for product identification. These codes provide a uniform mechanism for retailers and marketplaces, like Amazon, to identify millions of diverse products quickly.

Amazon's Requirements for Product Identification

Amazon emphasises accuracy and consistency in its product listings to maintain a seamless shopping experience for its users. To achieve this, Amazon uses unique identifiers, such as UPCs, European Article Numbers (EANs), or International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) for books, to organise and manage its vast product database.

By requiring sellers to use these unique identifiers, Amazon ensures that:

  • Products are not duplicated on its platform
  • Customers can find and compare products easily
  • Inventory management and order fulfilment processes are streamlined

When UPCs Are Required

Typically, if you're adding a new product to Amazon's catalogue that hasn't been sold on the platform before, you will need a UPC (or another recognised identifier), as this ensures that the product can be uniquely identified within Amazon’s expansive database.

Furthermore, brand owners enrolled in Amazon’s Brand Registry programme must provide a globally recognised identifier, like a UPC, when listing their products; this stipulation aids in preserving the integrity of branded products on the platform and safeguards against counterfeit items.

Exemptions and Alternatives

While UPCs are the norm, there are exceptions, and Amazon does acknowledge that not every product or seller might have access to UPCs. In such cases:

  • Brand Registry: If you’re a brand owner without a UPC, enrolling in Amazon’s Brand Registry might provide an alternative. Once approved, brand owners can use other unique identifiers to list their products
  • GTIN Exemption: Some categories or products might be eligible for a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) exemption. It means that you can list products in specific categories without a traditional UPC or EAN

However, it’s important to understand that these alternatives have their criteria, and sellers must meet Amazon’s requirements to qualify. Don’t forget that as Amazon's platform becomes increasingly competitive, working with experts, such as an Amazon PPC agency can provide invaluable insights into best practices and ensure compliance with Amazon's guidelines.

Benefits of Using UPCs

Using UPCs, beyond just compliance with Amazon's requirements, offers several benefits:

  • Enhanced Product Visibility: A unique product identifier ensures that your products are correctly categorised, leading to better visibility in search results
  • Trust and Credibility: Buyers often feel more confident purchasing products with clear identifiers, associating them with legitimacy and quality
  • Streamlined Inventory Management: UPCs enable more efficient inventory management, reducing the likelihood of overselling or underselling items
  • Accurate Data Analysis: By using UPCs, sellers can more accurately track sales performance, identify trends, and adjust strategies accordingly

How to Obtain UPCs

For those wondering how to acquire UPCs for their products, the process is relatively straightforward:

  1. Contact the GS1: The official distributor of UPCs is GS1, a non-profit organisation that ensures the standardisation of global commerce codes.
  2. Choose a Licence: Depending on the number of unique products you intend to sell, select an appropriate licence from GS1. The fees vary based on the number of UPCs needed.
  3. Assign UPCs to Products: Once you have your UPCs, assign each one to a specific product. Ensure that each product variant (like size or colour) has a unique UPC.
  4. Integrate with Amazon: After obtaining and assigning your UPCs, input them into your Amazon product listings.

Key Takeaways

When it comes to online retail, especially on a platform as vast and complex as Amazon, selling - and succeeding - requires a meticulous approach. While the question of UPCs might seem confusing initially, the process and its benefits are absolutely worth the time investment.

By using UPCs, you won’t just ensure compliance with Amazon’s listing requirements, but also position yourself for greater success, leveraging the tools that standardised identification offers. Whether you're expanding an existing product line or launching a brand-new product, UPCs play a pivotal role in the product's journey on Amazon - and therefore in your success.

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