Top 10 Barcode Mistakes New Amazon Sellers Make
1 - Making up your own barcode
It should go without saying, this is illegal. Making up a UPC or EAN (GTIN) barcode number is a bad idea, not only is it illegal, it will quickly get your item delisted once caught and you could be banned from any store or website you do this on, not just Amazon. Stores take their inventory data seriously and if they find out a new seller is being an amateur at best, or crooked at worst, they may ban you from ever selling with them.
“Why is it wrong?”, you may ask, “Aren’t barcodes just random numbers?” Not quite, each barcode number is globally unique, no two alike, and comes from a single source, GS1. GS1 is a non-profit and non-governmental organization that handles barcode formatting globally. This is why each barcode number is unique to your product no matter what store you distribute to on earth. Making up a number, though not hard, is a quick way to be in conflict with another business or brand. If found using another’s barcode the nicest thing they could do is send you a cease and desist. Barcodes are inexpensive these days, there are options to legally own as well as license, more on this later.
2 - Using someone else's barcode
Normally in the real world, you would never do this, but with Amazon, it is oddly commonplace to use another manufacturer's UPC or EAN number. While this is doable, it is not always recommended, even on Amazon.
Pros: You don’t have to get your own barcodes, you can be tied to an existing listing (less effort) and saves some time.
Cons: You are piggy-backing off of another listing. Unless you’re the #1 seller on that listing you do not have control over it, so some other seller can change key attributes and screw up what you have going on. This can cause chaos or false expectations if the pictures of the item no longer match the product you’ve been shipping the whole time.
3 - Entering the wrong barcode format
We all make mistakes, barcodes are new to most sellers, so it is easy to enter the wrong number or format in the product ID field. If this happens the error message will say: “The value specified is invalid.”
What this means is you didn’t enter the whole barcode number or you picked the wrong format. Example is having a UPC barcode (12 digits) but instead of selecting the UPC from the drop down you select the “EAN” (13 digits) as your product ID. Their system will expect 13 digits (since that’s what you told them) but you entered 12 digits, so it’s one digit short and comes back invalid.
The remedy? Count the digits, verify the barcode format you have (likely a UPC or EAN). If in doubt use the simple key below to guide you:
Format = Digits
UPC = 12 digits
EAN = 13 digits
ISBN = 13 digits (begins with 978)
JAN = 13 digits (begins with 450 through 459)
4 - Entering the wrong barcode number
Unlike the previous scenario, if you have a typo and enter the wrong barcode number for your listing you may not get an error message. This is because amazon’s automated system only checks two things before moving on. The first is to make sure that the number you’re entering matches the format (product ID) you told them it was. Second, it makes sure the unique UPC or EAN has not already been used on their platform already. Amazon does NOT verify if you own that GTIN, have permission to use that GTIN, or anything along those lines. Be sure to enter the exact digits that you received from either GS1 or your verified barcode reseller. Once that GTIN is used for your listing, it is locked to the ASIN that amazon creates, this process is not easily reversed.
5 - Buying a fake barcode
Start-ups are not flush with cash, so being lean and frugal can go a long way to bringing your product to market. In the world of barcodes, there are roughly 3 barcode sources. Those are
2: Barcode resellers that broker Pre-2002 “legacy” GS1-USA barcodes.
3: Shady sites and Ebay sellers that likely sell fraudulent or “made-up” barcodes for pennies.
Just like making up a barcode is illegal, selling a fake GTIN is a worse level of illegal. While you will not find a specific barcode law codified anywhere globally, GTINs are a unique business asset and fall under basic ownership law and intellectual Property. Each and every GTIN on earth (about a trillion of them) are known and accounted for. So while it may seem like there’s so many that no one would notice, with the internet not forgetting anything these days, people and companies eventually find out. Just one barcode illegally used by a charcoal company in New Jersey had to pay $200,000 in damages by copying another companies GTIN. Long story short, do not skimp on legal GTINs, be sure to buy from a trusted, legal source. More on how to spot shady sites (HERE)
6 - Listing a major brand’s items using your new barcode
This is an all too common error that first time sellers run into trying to sell items lying around their house, or creating bundles of “Disney DVDs”, etc etc. What most people don’t know is that Amazon’s automated system automatically checks your barcode in comparison to the name/words you enter into the brand field. So if you type in “Disney” and then try to use your own barcode, amazon (having private data from Disney) knows that your new barcode that you just bought for $5 is not Disney’s own barcode that they use themselves.
What this error message looks like:
Why is this? Amazon knows you are not Disney, Nike, Apple etc.., they are tired of every seller trying to create another “Apple Airpods” when there’s only 1 Apple company. To cut down on millions of duplicate listings they have a back-end database that knows which barcodes are associated with which brands and keep this information private.
The solution: Enter your own company name, Amazon seller name or DBA into the brand field instead. Eg: Bob’s shoe mart vs Nike. Helen’s Animated classics vs Disney and so on. This way you are displaying your authentic company and not trying to pretend to be someone else.
Alternatively, if you do not have your own brand/company, search online to see if that product that you want to sell has a barcode number already. You can likely find a listing already active and sell against that listing, aka: Piggy-backing.
7 - Barcodes for Books & Audiobooks
All barcodes are not created equal. Books, audiobooks and other literature retail items like graphic novels can sometimes need an ISBN barcode. It can be easy to make this mistake, after all they look very similar and oftentimes books have UPC’s on the back of the cover alongside the ISBN barcode too. The ISBN barcode is a specific barcode format used for decades for books alone. It is very similar to the UPC/EAN. Modern ISBN’s are 13 digits now, they used to be 10 digits years ago, and always begins with 978 in the barcode number.
Amazon and other book sellers prefer to list a book by the ISBN as the primary identifier. So be sure that you aren’t trying to use a UPC or EAN when an ISBN is required for this special type of listing. ISBN’s can only be acquired from ISBN.org
8 - Brand Registry
Trying to use your barcodes in Brand Registry without knowing the rules can be quite frustrating. If you are not licensing your GTINs from GS1 directly and attempt to list an item you’ll get an error message like this:
(You’re not seeing double, Amazon provides the same error message as in #6 above)
Back in March of 2018 this amazon seller-program newly requires renting/licensing GTINs from GS1 directly. What this means is that you cannot buy/own your GTIN's and use them for any Brand registered items. This even applies if you were a part of Brand Registry 1.0. We believe this is due to amazon joining the board of directors of GS1 in late 2016. In addition to amazon requiring that you rent your GTINs from GS1 they also require you to have both copyrights & trademarks on your brand to be a part of this program.
Most sellers find that patents, trademarks, and renting from GS1 can all be financially burdensome (especially for start-ups). One other solution is getting a GTIN exemption, this process if approved can alleviate the need for GTINs for your listings completely. Click (HERE) to learn more about getting a GTIN exemption. *Note: You will need to log into your seller central account to read.
9 - Not having a barcode!
If you’re new to selling retail online you may not know that even online “digital” items still need a good ole barcode. Why would it need a barcode if it’s never going to be scanned at a register, you ask? Because the simple 12 or 13 digit UPC/EAN barcode number itself is one of the world’s most prolific, simple, and understood retail IDs. Created by the U.C.C. (now known as GS1) back in the early 1970s, the UPC was the perfect combination of simplicity and tracking technology that make it blast off like a rocket. Within a decade the entire world wanted them and got them. The UPC grew into covering the entire USA & Canada. The EAN was then invented to cover the rest of the globe and between those 2 formats, the whole world got its fix for accurate retail inventory control.
What’s this got to do with Amazon? Since Amazon is one of the largest “stores” on earth they didn’t decide to reinvent the wheel, they embraced the simple, effective “GTIN” or UPC and EAN barcode and require it for creating a new listing just like every other retailer globally.
To learn how to buy GTINs safely and securely click (HERE)
10 - Knowing when to buy vs rent your GTINs
As we already covered there are many places to get GTINs that you own for life and only one place that rents them (GS1). What most sellers don’t know starting out is why would anyone in their frugal mind ever shell out thousands for barcodes you never own, plus pay annual fees on top of that? Well, it’s really because they have no choice in the matter. GS1 is the nonprofit org that created the UPC and EAN and has an almost monopolistic grip on this barcode industry globally. GS1 also has strategic partnerships in place with some of the largest retailers in the world to make sure that their vendors (you) are required to get your barcodes from only GS1. While this doesn’t sound fair, it’s legal, or at the least is uncontested.
Generally you’ll find a theme that the stores that force their vendors to rent from GS1 are also on the board of governors or board of directors for GS1. So if you are a big fish in a small pond, there’s a good chance you’ll be working with some of the companies in business with GS1. We detail the known stores that behave this way (HERE). For most small to medium-sized companies, owning your GTINs is far more beneficial let alone affordable.