Discounted – Cheap UPC Limitations

Many new companies are unaware that of how important UPC barcodes can impact the success of their company and some are enticed by cheap UPC offers from various websites. There are online firms offering individual UPC’s. Many of these UPC barcode resellers are preying on the lack of understanding by many small new businesses.

Common claims are “Our UPC’s originate with the GS1”, “Official UPC codes”, or “Authentic and Unique UPC barcodes”. Before you take a chance with your company’s future, we encourage you become educated on the actual requirements so you can correctly identify your items and shipments. This alternative might work if you are selling to a few local stores or only on your website. However, you should be fully informed of potential limitations of cheap UPC barcodes.

UPC Code

The UPC Company Prefix is a unique identifier which represents a particular company, and is used in other types of barcodes in addition to the UPC. When a company purchases a UPC from a “reseller” they are only receiving a single UPC number whose company prefix is currently assigned to another company. In fact all of the companies who purchased UPC’s from this company will have identical prefixes.

Problems Caused by Using UPCs with Shared Prefixes

First and foremost, most of the larger retailers and online marketplaces require that suppliers DO NOT use shared prefixes and only obtain UPCs with GS1 Company Prefixes licensed to suppliers’ brand names. These organizations rely on the structure of unique Company Prefixes to insure accurate product identification, facilitate efficient supply processing and combat counterfeiting. It is very common for retailers to have explicit instructions for business requirements, including UPC barcode identification. Here are some examples:

  • Amazon UPC Policy During their early years, Amazon did not adequately convey unified UPC requirements and consequently had problems with trusting the UPCs being provided by suppliers.
  • Walmart UPC Update Walmart’s reliance on GS1 standards covers both items identification and carton marking (GTIN-14). In fact, Wal-Mart has posted the following statement on their website due to the problems caused by the confusion: “Please enclose in your proposal packet a copy of your UCC (GS1) membership letter reporting your firm’s actual number. You must be registered directly with the UCC (GS1) and not through a third party.”
  • Google Merchant Center Google Shopping requires GTINs for brand name products sold by multiple merchants. Google Product Feeds must now not only have GTINs, but Google is will be testing the accuracy of the data provided by manufacturers.

Is purchasing a single cheap UPC from a reseller legal?

UPC barcode identification voluntary and including UPC barcodes on products is not technically a legal requirement. With the exception of FDA related identification requirements for medical devices and drugs, there is no global requirement. On the contrary, including GS1 UPC barcode can only make a company’s products more attractive to potential trading partners and also aid in discoverability on search engines and ecommerce sites.

Retailers and marketplaces mandate that their suppliers have a GS1 Company Prefix licensed to their brand. Since correct and unique production identification is critical to retail supply chains, will not accept UPC barcodes without correctly licensed prefixes. In other words, you cannot use a reseller or another company’s UPCs to identify your products. The GS1 Prefix licenses provide denominations in;1-10, 1-100,1-1000,1-10000,1-100,000,  For exact pricing for US company, please click here.

Where do companies go to purchase UPC Codes?


The question which frequently gets asked is “My company is just starting out and we can not afford the $400 fee for 10 UPCs from your GS1 Barcode Service program, what should we do?” Our recommendation is that you contact your potential retail trading partners (if possible) and inquire if a unique company prefix is required or if you may use another company’s prefix. We also suggest you contact us at 800-662-0701 and voice your concern. If you only need a single UPC because you want to include an item on a website, or sell to an internet company (Amazon), purchasing a single UPC might be a realistic solution, as long as you understand the limitations and potential problems. Please note that many of the online UPC resellers make numerous incorrect claims about where their barcodes can be used, and it is important that you go into UPC barcoding with your eyes wide open.

The worst situation would be if your company purchased cheap UPC barcodes from an unknown source and then began trying to sell to global retailer or Amazon who requires brand licensed GS1 Company Prefix. If that would happen, you would required to reprint or overlabel new UPCs with properly obtain GS1 UPC barcodes.