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A Guide to Understanding UPCs and EANs

Posted: December 16, 2014

If your company is taking a product to market, purchasing barcodes is likely high on your “to-do” list. Providing retailers with the ability to track the purchase of your product, Universal Product Codes (UPC) and European Article Number Codes (EAN) are 12 digit numbers that appear beneath every bar code. Originally created to help grocery stores speed up the check-out process and keep track of inventory, these identification numbers are now used across the board by almost every retailer. 

Today we’re going to answer some basic UPC and EAN questions in order to assist you in beginning your barcode purchasing process:

Q: What’s the difference between UPC and EAN Codes?

A. UPC codes work in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and several other countries. Certain countries will only accept EAN codes, although some countries will accept both. Bar Codes Talk sells both EAN and UPC codes, enabling you to purchase all your bar codes through one single, straight-forward checkout. Before purchasing your codes, be sure to check with your retailers to determine their specific needs.

Q. Who is GS1? Do I need to buy from them? 

A. GS1 (formerly known as the Uniform Code Council or UCC) is the company originally responsible for distributing bar codes to retailers. From 1973 until 2002, GS1 was the sole distributor of UPC Codes, but the company was eventually sued on the basis of unjust renewal fees and a fee structure skewed against companies drawing higher profits. Bar Codes Talk purchased our bar codes in bulk from GS1 before the litigation in 2002, enabling us to sell to our customers without requiring further annual fees (which can be upwards of $2000 through GS1!). We provide our codes to clients with a clear-cut fee structure, enabling you to compare our low prices with that of our competitors. 

Some large retailers such as Walmart, Macy’s, Kroger Family Grocery Stores, Fred Meyer, Bloomingdale’s and Sam’s club do not accept products that utilize UPC bar code numbers that have been resold, necessitating the need for some companies to keep purchasing from GS1. Again, always check first with your desired retailers before purchasing your bar codes.



Q. Where can I use UPC/EAN Codes?

A. If you are looking to sell in any online or bricks and mortar store that utilizes bar codes for tracking purposes, a UPC or EAN code will be required. Whether working with Amazon, Google Merchant Center, Whole Foods, CVS pharmacy, Target, Sears, or Walgreens, your product will need a UPC code in order to be purchased.

Got questions about your company’s UPC/EAN code needs? Reach out to the team at Bar Codes Talk for more information. A family-owned business with over 150,000 loyal customers, Bar Codes Talk offers the lowest prices on bar codes with immediate access to your purchase, satisfaction guaranteed. Contact us today to learn more!

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