GTIN Made Simple: Your Go-To FAQ Resource for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

GS1 US  is part of one of the largest identification and standards organizations in the world. Best known as the administrator of the UPC barcode, GS1 US maintains and advocates for the use of a host of other data standards that support the supply chain. A not-for-profit organization, GS1 US helps companies uniquely identify products, locations, and other assets and share information about them with trading partners and consumers in a consistent way. Additionally, the organization collaborates with a variety of industries to develop best practices for developing efficient supply chains, effective business relationships and providing consumers access to trustworthy information about the products they buy.

What is a GTIN?

A GTIN® is the acronym for Global Trade Item Number®. It’s a number that uniquely identifies a product. GTINs are used as the global standard to identify products and all of their unique variations such as size and color. GTINs may be used online to improve SEO, list on marketplaces, and identify your products with logistics centers. You most likely encounter GTINs every day, listed at the bottom of UPC barcodes. The UPC (Universal Product Code) is the most widely used barcode in the world and is seen on just about every product in physical stores and online.

How do I get a GTIN?

While there are third party barcode companies that allow a business to simply purchase barcodes and the identification numbers encoded in them, most retailers rely on GS1-issued GTINs to link the company’s brand identity to the product or service being sold. You can ensure you have GS1 US-issued GTINs that link your brand to your product by joining GS1 US in one of two ways:

  1. License a GS1 Company Prefix. A GS1 Company Prefix is a unique number that is assigned to your company alone and will serve as the first several digits of your GTINs. Prefixes come in different capacities and prices depending on how many identification numbers you need to create.
  2. License a single GS1 US GTIN. If you only need a few GTINs, you can license individual GTINs. When you license a GS1 US GTIN, your company is uniquely and exclusively identified as the owner of that number, and you get access to other GS1 US member benefits.

What is the difference between a UPC and a GTIN?

Some marketplace guidelines will refer to both UPCs and GTINs, however, the UPC is a barcode symbol with black lines and spaces, and the GTIN is the identification number encoded into the barcode. A UPC barcode, together with a product’s GTIN make it easy for businesses to track a product. However, GTINs are increasingly used on their own in online product listings to help form a bridge between a product’s physical presence and its digital identity and to prove product authenticity.

Can’t I just use my SKUs as my GTINs/UPC s?

SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) created within your propriety systems cannot be used as GTINs. Unlike a SKU, a GTIN issued by GS1 US is unique and globally identifiable as belonging to you alone. However, many businesses use GTINs as SKUs to maintain one consistent identifier for each product.

Do I need a UPC barcode if I only sell my product online? What about a GTIN?

The short answer is “maybe.” Although there are some exemptions, many marketplaces require GTINs or UPCs for unique product identification, so it is always a good idea to check vendor requirements documents. Just keep in mind that unique identification will likely be required if you intend to grow your business and an early investment in unique product identification is a great way to scale seamlessly. Licensing a GS1 US GTIN and associating it with your product online also improves search engine optimization, can validate your product authenticity online, and ensure that the right product reaches the right consumer.

I have licensed my GS1 Company Prefix or GS1 US GTIN and I need to create a barcode. Now what?

Whether you licensed a GS1 Company Prefix or a single GS1 US GTIN, you have access to GS1 US Data Hub | Product, which is an online tool for GS1 US members to create and manage GTINs and barcodes. Once logged in to Data Hub, users can download barcodes in .png format and send to partners digitally. Many members work with a GS1 US Solution Partner to outsource barcode labeling and printing needs. These providers are trained by GS1 US on GS1 Standards for barcodes.

How do I access my GS1 US certificate?

What is a GLN? Many businesses have a need to identify locations similar to the way they identify products. This can help a company enhance their supply chain visibility and transparency. A Global Location Number (GLN) is another type of GS1 identification number used primarily in electronic messages to identify legal and physical locations. For example, the warehouse where you store your product may have a GLN, or even a specific bay or shelf where products are stored can be identified. You might assign your business a GLN to provide it a distinct, global identity for electronic data exchange. You can create GLNs from a GS1 Company Prefix or purchase individual GLNs.

What are some useful tools to help me get started?

One of the first steps that many businesses take before a product launch is to visit the GS1 US Barcode Estimator. This online tool can help you determine how many GTINs you will need based on simple questions about your product variations such as style, color, and size.

Also, for small businesses starting out, the GS1 US Small Business Page features Q&As and videos with other business owners who shared advice about barcoding and other product launch considerations.

Have Additional Questions? Reach out to the GS1 US Member Support Team directly online or by phone.

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