Ecommerce underwent an incredible surge in 2020 as consumers shifted from shopping in-store to online. By the end of the year, 74% of consumers believed the majority of consumer shopping would happen online in the future — up from 69% just months earlier. This and other trends indicate that 2021 holds immense potential for ecommerce entrepreneurs.
In order to provide all the information sellers need to succeed with their Amazon ventures—from launch, to first sale, to growth and scaling—we’ve updated our content for 2021.
Interested in starting an ecommerce business? Our guide to selling on Amazon will teach you everything you need to know.
Barcodes are important for all Amazon sellers because they’re used to keep track of inventory as products move in and out of an FBA warehouse.
For sellers just starting out on Amazon (or for veteran sellers, for that matter), barcodes can be a confusing and frustrating topic. Do you need a barcode on your products? If so, what kind, and where do you get them? UPC, GTIN, FNSKU — just how many acronyms do you need to know?
First, some definitions.
A ‘Global Trade Item Number’, or GTIN, is a unique string of numbers that identifies individual products underneath the barcode, but is not the actual barcode.
Many other codes, including UPCs and ISBNs, are types of GTINs.
UPCs are the most common type of GTIN used for selling on Amazon.com, so does every seller need one?
The short answer is, no. UPCs are common, but not required for every single product sold.
The long answer is that it depends on the brand you want to sell or the category you want to sell in.
If you sell a private-label or handmade product, you may be eligible for what’s called a GTIN exemption, meaning you do not need a UPC to list the product on Amazon. (We’ll get to this shortly.)
Otherwise, Amazon now requires all listed products without the Amazon GTIN exemption to have a GS1 registered barcode. GS1 stands for Global Standards 1 and is a not-for-profit organization that develops and maintains global standards for business communication.
In simpler terms, GS1 is the only legitimate place to purchase a UPC code to use on Amazon.
If you do not have a UPC affiliated with your product or brand, it is required by Amazon to have an Amazon barcode or FNSKU affixed to your product packaging when using FBA. (An FNSKU, or Fulfillment Network Stock Keeping Unit, is an Amazon-specific code for tracking inventory.)
I will go over more of this later on.
There is a lot of conflicting information about how to obtain a UPC barcode for your Amazon products.
Years ago, you were able to purchase UPCs (simply digital lists of numbers) from eBay sellers or other third-party vendors for as low as a couple dollars per barcode.
The problem with doing this was that many of the UPCs were resold, and were in fact previously associated with different brands. That caused issues with products becoming mismatched, listed incorrectly, or created duplicate listings.
For example, you are selling a Sports & Outdoors product and the UPC you bought matches a toy brand.
That will not fly with Amazon. Amazon began regulating the codes used to ensure each product is differentiated, which helped sellers by using codes that matched their brand exactly and caused less confusion for shoppers.
If you continue to use incorrect UPCs, Amazon may suppress your listing or even suspend your seller account.
Simply put, purchase them through GS1.
Amazon’s TOS regarding Valid 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.
All invalid product UPC listings will be removed and may result in your ASIN creation or selling privileges being temporarily or permanently removed.”
Purchasing barcodes through GS1 costs $250 for 1-10 barcodes with a $50 annual renewal fee. The price per barcode gets lower as you purchase more, but for someone just starting out, this can be a big expense.
Applying for an Amazon GTIN exemption is a good short-term solution to get your products that do not have a barcode listed on Amazon. If you want to build a long-term brand in the future, such as list on other marketplaces or sell to a physical store, it is recommended you purchase a GS1 barcode down the line.
Here are some scenarios when you can apply for a GTIN exemption:
* See product ID requirements by category.
You can also download a list of brands provided by Amazon that are required to have a UPC here. According to Amazon, any product that belongs to any of these brands and does not have a GTIN will be suppressed.
Click the link above or type in ‘Apply for GTIN exemption’ using the search function in Amazon Seller Central).
After you sign into your seller account, it will bring you to this page.
As noted by Amazon, once you apply your brand for the exemption, you will not have to apply again when adding new products under that same brand.
For example, your brand name is BC Sports. Once Amazon approves BC Sports to be GTIN-exempt, you can list as many products as you want under the brand name BC Sports in the sports category.
You may also apply for multiple categories and brands at the same time by clicking ‘+ Add more categories’.
You will see in the text box that Amazon states ‘For unbranded items or bundles enter “Generic”‘. This means on your product listings, it will say ‘By Generic’ underneath the title
In the above example, I choose ‘Generic’.
When you choose ‘Generic,’ it may show you an automatic approval for that ‘brand’. If not, you will need to add images of the product showing there is no UPC or brand name.
Now I am able to add a product using the brand name ‘Generic’ in the sports category without having to input a UPC code.
But let me show the steps when you enter an actual brand name.
Using my previous example, I entered BC Sports as the brand name. If the brand name is eligible for an Amazon GTIN exemption, you will see a green check mark under status and you can continue to submit proof.
You will need to provide proof that this product does not have a UPC or GTIN. The first question is, “Do you have a supporting letter from the brand owner, manufacturer or publisher?”
If it is your own private label or handmade product, select ‘No’.
Next, you will need to enter in the product name and at least 2 images of your product and the packaging.
Make sure to include all angles of the product and the packaging that shows there is no UPC code. Your images should also include the brand name on the packaging or on the product somewhere.
It may take up to 48 hours to hear back from Amazon (though it usually only takes a few hours).
You will be able to see the status of the request in your ‘Case Log’. Once Amazon reviews your case, you will receive an email notification with an approval or denial.
Were you approved? Congratulations! Now you can list your products without having to purchase a UPC code.
Amazon recommends that you wait 24 hours before adding your product once you have the UPC exemption. This is to be sure that the exemption is updated in their system.
For your GTIN exemption to work, you must enter in the exact same category and brand you were approved for. If you use different uppercase or lowercase letters, add additional spaces or characters, the system will not recognize your exemption.
From there, click on ‘I’m adding a product not sold on Amazon’.
Since I was approved in the Sports category, I am going to choose Sports & Outdoors as the main category. You’ll need to dig deeper into the subcategories to find the one that matches your product most closely.
After choosing the category, it will bring you to a section to enter in your product information.
Enter your product name (which will be the title on your listing), the manufacturer (you can enter the same as the brand name), and the brand name exactly as it was submitted for the GTIN exemption. Since I was approved for BC Sports, I entered BC Sports.
Notice there is no asterisk next to the product ID field. Since your exemption was approved, you will no longer be required to enter a UPC or EAN for that brand!
When you are finished filling in the other required fields, you can hit ‘Save and finish’. After approximately 15 minutes, your product will be listed under your manage inventory.
After clicking ‘Save and finish’, it will bring you to the ‘Choose Barcode Type’ page. Since you do not have a manufacturer’s barcode (UPC or EAN) you will choose Amazon barcode, which is the FNSKU.
After hitting ‘Save & Continue’, it will bring you to your FBA shipping plan.
Even though you were approved for a GTIN exemption, you will still need to affix the FNSKU label, aka an Amazon barcode, to each unit. That way, Amazon can track your inventory once received in an FBA warehouse. If you are selling through FBM (Fulfilled by Merchant) then you can skip this step.
When continuing on to your shipping plan, you will have an option to have Amazon label the products for you (for a fee) or you can print and label each unit yourself.
In the ‘Label Product’ section, you will be able to print the amount of labels you need. When you download the label PDF, you can also give that exact barcode to your packaging designer so they can add the Amazon barcode to your packaging.
That way, you won’t need to manually label each product or pay Amazon to do it.
You should now see your product in your ‘Manage inventory’ section. Scroll down to your product and on the right hand side click the drop down menu next to ‘Edit’.
Then click on ‘Print item labels’.
If the product or category you are trying to list in is not eligible for a GTIN exemption, then you will need to purchase a UPC code or receive the UPC code from the manufacturer.
Again, we recommend that you purchase from a legitimate source like GS1.
If you wish to build your products and brand outside of Amazon in the future such as selling in a brick and mortar store, you will need to have a UPC or EAN anyway.
Did you apply for a GTIN exemption? Let us know how it worked for you in the comments.