Amazon’s new barcode policy suggests that Amazon has started cross checking listing UPC’s against the GS1 database. What does that mean for sellers?
Those digits in a barcode- they actually mean something. The first 6-9 digits, known as the company prefix, is a unique identifier of the product’s manufacturer. The ONLY place you can buy legitimate, registered barcodes is through GS1.
Is it illegal to buy barcodes from someone other than GS1? Kind of… I consider UPC’s obtained from any source other than GS1 to be grey market. As of 2002, GS1’s license agreement has stated, “The license agreement for our membership prohibits any use of the Company Prefix other than for the use of the owner company, including but not limited to selling, sharing, leasing, sub-dividing, or re-selling the Company Prefix.” Most resellers are selling codes obtained prior to 2002. So they are not breaking the law. However, you are breaking Amazon policy if you use these codes on Amazon.
Acronyms to know:
GS1: (Global Standards 1) is a not-for-profit, international organization that develops and maintains standards for supply and demand chains across multiple sectors. (http://www.gs1.org/about/how-we-got-here).
GS1 supply companies with GTINs (Global Trade Item Numbers).
UPCs (Unique Product Codes), EANs (European Article Numbers) and JANs (Japanese Article Numbers) are all different kinds of GTINs
Listing Branded Products That Aren’t Your Brand
If you’re listing a branded product, that is NOT your brand, then you should be using the barcode supplied by the manufacturer.
If you try to put your own UPC on someone else’s product, that is against Amazon policy. Your listing and likely your seller account will be shut down. You may even hear from the brand owner’s lawyers. Just don’t do it.
What if the products I’m reselling don’t have a barcode?
Contact your supplier. If the products do not have GTINs, you can apply for an exemption from Amazon’s UPC requirement. You need a letter from the brand owner confirming that their products do not have a GTIN, a link to the product website, or images of the products. You can apply for the exemption here.
Listing Your Own Private Label Products
You should ONLY be buying your UPC’s from GS1. GS1 will assign you a company prefix, that will identify you as a brand owner.
May I buy cheap UPC’s from ebay or another reseller?
No. No, you may not. Go back and read Barcode 101. If you buy UPC’s from a reseller, the codes will identify someone else as the brand owner.
Should you ever decide to sell your products to major retailers, they will only accept GS1 issued UPCs with your company prefix.
May I list my private label products without a UPC?
In certain categories, you can apply for an exemption through Amazon’s Brand Registry. Amazon will assign your products a Global Catalog Identifier (GCID), which can be used in place of a UPC. You can apply for the Brand Registry here.
Here’s where things get tricky. Product bundles require a unique UPC.
The safest option is to only create bundles of your own private label products.
The second safest option is to only create bundles of products for which you are an authorized reseller (and can supply the documentation to back this up), put the bundle under your own private label, and your own GS1 issued UPC.
The least safe option (and not recommended) is to bundle items of different brands, for whom you are not an authorized reseller, and avoid using those brand names in the product titles. This is the current loophole some sellers are taking advantage of. It looks like a fast track to blocked listings and an account suspension, to me.
Listings with Incorrect Barcodes
I’m guessing that when you started out on Amazon, someone told you you could buy cheap UPCs from ebay. I still see this advice given regularly. So, chances are, you have existing listings with not-so-legit UPCs. Now what?
Is there already a listing with the correct information? List against that and shut down your listing with the incorrect UPC.
If there isn’t a correct listing, you should still shut down your listing, and re-list with the correct information.
At this point, it looks like Amazon are targeting sellers listing other brands, and new listings. However, Amazon’s policy does state,
“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.”
It is only a matter of time before they begin cleaning up their entire catalog. Your best option is to close your listings and create new, correct listings with GS1 UPCs. Yes, you will lose your reviews. Would you rather lose your seller account?
Alternatively, you can try to contact Seller Central and ask them to update your listing with a new UPC. They may say yes. They may say no. Or they may choose to shut down your listing anyway.
2016 is the year of catalog cleanup for Amazon. It’s in their interest and it’s in their customer’s interest to maintain the integrity of their product listings. As a seller, you need to make sure your seller account is policy compliant. Weigh the expense of following the rules against the potential lost profits that comes with blocked listings and account suspension. You decide whether it’s worth it.
Leah has over 7 years of ecommerce experience, as an operations manager and then ecommerce consultant. She co-created the Amazon Appeal course with Chris McCabe and they are currently working together on a new one (or two).
She takes full advantage of working online by living as a digital nomad. If you see her in a co-working space, come and say hi.