gS1 UPC Barcodes- the breakdown

In business, sellers manufacture many different products and need a simple way to distinguish one product from another within tracking and computer systems. In order for sellers to uniquely identify their products, barcodes were created. The most common type of barcode is a UPC or Universal Product Code. These are the codes that you see on products when shopping in a store, and that allow the cashier to scan and ring up your products. Here, we’ll break down why GS1 UPC barcodes are so important for business, and everything you need to know about them.

who is GS1?

GS1 is a not-for-profit international organization best known as the administrator of the UPC barcode. There are more than 110 GS1 organizations around the world, with GS1 US being one of the largest and the organization that serves the US business community. GS1 US works to promote high-quality data standards that support the supply chain in selling both in stores and online. GS1 US allows businesses to uniquely identify their products, locations, and more as well as share that information.


GS1 is most well known for their creation of the UPC barcode, which significantly enhanced the way people do business. UPC barcodes come with a product identification number known as a GTIN or Global Trade Item Number. Most companies today use GS1 GTINs because they link a company directly to the product being sold. The GTIN is the number below the lines and spaces of a barcode. It was created more than 50 years ago when the retail industry came together and agreed on one numbering system for multiple retailers to use. Today, the GTIN helps create visibility for a product throughout all the computerized systems, databases, search results, and physical locations it will pass through before it reaches its final destination.


There are many benefits of using UPC barcodes (and GTINs) in selling, which we’ll go over next.


Think of the UPC barcode and the GTIN that it carries as being a gateway to the larger, global supply chain. When a business assigns this unique number to its products, it means that it now has the ability to be found at any point in the supply chain. UPCs are one small but critical part of a larger ecosystem of other types of barcodes and data exchange that can help businesses see how their products are moving in real-time. This makes a business more organized and efficient.

inventory management

Another way in which UPC barcodes and other GS1 standards are super helpful is through inventory management. For example, GS1-128 barcodes significantly simplify managing inventory because employees can scan cartons with multiple items, and information including what the items are, and how many there are, will be added to the inventory tracking system. This is a huge help for warehouses because they receive so many different products and shipments. Having to keep track of inventory manually in today’s day and age would be nearly impossible without barcodes. When UPCs are scanned, retailers can keep track of sales data, and often in combination with other internally used identification numbers like SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) data, they will be able to understand in their systems how many more products are on hand to sell. Thus, UPC barcodes allow for advanced inventory tracking and tracking on a much larger scale than would otherwise be possible.


Aside from contributing to the organization of product information and inventory tracking, UPCs, along with other barcodes, help increase accuracy in an organization. This is because human error is far greater than the chance of error when using barcodes. Data shows that even the most well-trained data entry operator who is manually entering data will have an error rate of about 1 in 300. While the error rate for scanning barcodes is no more than 1 in 394,000 scans. The accuracy of barcodes allows businesses to have a better understanding of inventory, product location, and product information. Any business would benefit from having more accurate records of information, and barcodes provide a relatively simple way to do that.

reduce checkout time

For in-store businesses, UPCs not only help increase accuracy, but greatly reduce checkout time. Before UPCs, checking out in stores like supermarkets involved waiting for a cashier to manually input the prices of products, which was time-consuming. In fact, the idea for the barcode was actually born from this supermarket dilemma. According to an article in the Smithsonian, the barcode was created out of a need for lines and stocktaking to be faster in supermarkets. With reduced checkout time, UPCs help improve customer experience and allow in-person businesses to get more done, faster. Beyond reduced checkout times, the barcode and the number it carries have evolved and continued to stay relevant for more than four decades.  

compact information

Another great thing about barcodes is that they can relay a lot of information in a tiny package. Barcodes are small in size and fit easily on any product. They consist of black bars and white spaces contained within a rectangle. Although the UPC barcode is used mainly for product identification and price lookup, there are other barcodes that can be packed with information such as manufacture date, expiration date, manufacturer name, what country the product came from, and the price of a product. One great example is the GS1 DataBar, which you often see on produce at the grocery store. But barcodes are evolving further! Two-dimensional barcodes, which look very similar to QR codes, will soon be used on more product packaging so that consumers can directly access product information via a smartphone scan. Thus, the innovation of barcodes continues to simplify the process of identifying products.

universal use

One reason UPC barcodes are so common today is that they can be used universally, hence the term, universal product code. Now, many companies already have internal product identification numbers or SKUs. But SKUs do not have an application within the universal marketplace and cannot be identified outside of an organization’s own system. The reason UPCs are so useful is that they can be universally identified by multiple retailers in the marketplace as well as by logistics partners. Thus, from one organization and system to the next, a UPC can be scanned and the information will transfer.

online application

UPCs are used for both in-store and online businesses and there are several additional benefits to using the barcodes online, when coupled with their GTINs. For online businesses, GTINs can improve SEO, validate the authenticity of your product, and ensure the product reaches the right customer. This is because the identification numbers give search engines additional information about a product, helping the engines match the product to the relevant customer search. Many large retailers like Amazon require sellers to provide GTINs because they help them verify the authenticity of products and reflect good inventory management.


To wrap it up, UPCs have many uses and have now become a staple in the business world, both in person and online. UPCs have transformed the supply chain and allow businesses to run more smoothly, and make more of a profit in doing so. If you’re a business owner and want to set up UPCs, GTINs, and more for your products, check out GS1 to help you identify your products and up your game in the business world.