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Do I need a UPC and how do I get one?

Do I need a UPC and how do I get one?

UPCs. or Universal Product Codes. are used for tracking products in stores. In a retail environment the ability to track products for inventory is essential and is used globally. Though the first barcodes have been in use commercially since 1966, it became apparent pretty quickly that there would have to be a standardized design. In the early 1970s researchers began developing this standardized scanning design and scanner. The first item to be scanned was a pack of Wrigley’s Gum in June of 1974.

If you are just trying to keep track internally, it is not really necessary; however since these codes are used to track product inventories, consider weather you will be selling your product in a retail store. If so, then you really MUST get a UPC. In order for retailers to properly identify your product among the millions of products currently circulating the trade routes, a random number cannot be used – the number must be unique.

The process for getting a UPC can be a little pricey for some small start ups, especially considering all the little costs that go along with starting a business. If you are simply starting your own small online store you may be able to defer the cost of getting your own UPC until you decide to sell to another retail outlet or distributor.

How do I get one?

In order to obtain your UPC number you join GS1 US. GS1 US is the only entity licensed to issue your unique company prefix in the US. Initial membership fees are about $750 with annual dues of about $150, depending on the amount of products you intend to sell. Your membership gets you your own unique identification number prefix. These are the first few numbers appearing on a UPC. Each product will need its own number. In order to do that, the last few numbers on a code will change from item to item even if its just a change in size.

Another Option

There is another option that is less expensive. You can purchase a single unique UPC one at a time through agencies that are independent of GS1. However, you should understand how it works before deciding to go this route. In this option the agent buys and pays dues to GS1 for a unique company prefix. They then sell you an individual product code made from their own company prefix. Costs for this can be around $125 per code with no annual fees. Initially this may sound like the better deal, especially if you only have 1 or 2 products to sell; however, keep in mind that this option can limit your ability for future growth, removes the advantages of having your own company prefix, and changing a product's UPC further down the road can be a logistical nightmare.

Aug 12, 2013
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