Universal Product Code (UPC): E-Commerce Explained

Discover the ins and outs of Universal Product Code (UPC) and how it impacts e-commerce.

Understanding the Universal Product Code (UPC)

The Universal Product Code, or UPC, is a unique code assigned to every product in the retail industry. It is a system of numbers and symbols that helps identify a product and its manufacturer. UPC barcodes are commonly found on the packaging of products worldwide, and they serve a crucial role in product identification, tracking and inventory management in the retail industry.

When a product is scanned at the point of sale, the UPC barcode is read by a scanner, and the information is transmitted to a computer system that matches the code to the product in the store's database. This allows for accurate pricing, inventory tracking, and sales reporting.

History of the UPC

The UPC was introduced in the 1970s, created by George Laurer, a computer engineer working at IBM. The first product to feature a UPC barcode was a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum, sold at a supermarket in Ohio in June 1974. The introduction of the UPC system revolutionized the retail industry, making it easier for stores to manage inventory and track sales.

Before the UPC, products were identified using a variety of different systems, including manual pricing and inventory tracking, which was time-consuming and prone to errors. The UPC system streamlined these processes, making it easier for stores to manage their inventory and provide accurate pricing to customers.

Components of a UPC

A UPC barcode consists of two main parts: a machine-readable barcode and a number. The barcode is made up of vertical lines of varying thickness and spacing that represent the number encoded below it. The number is typically 12 digits in length and uniquely identifies the product, manufacturer, and country of origin. The first six numbers represent the manufacturer or supplier code, while the last six digits represent the product code.

The UPC system also includes a check digit, which is used to ensure that the barcode is read correctly by scanners. The check digit is calculated based on the other digits in the code, and it helps to prevent errors in scanning and data entry.

Types of UPCs

There are two types of UPC codes: GTIN-12, which are standard UPC codes used on most consumer products, and GTIN-14, which are used to encode more extensive information about shipping cases, pallets, and other non-consumer uses.

The GTIN-14 code is used to identify products that are sold in bulk, such as cases of soda or pallets of merchandise. This code includes additional information, such as the quantity of products in the shipment and the date of manufacture.

Overall, the UPC system has revolutionized the retail industry, making it easier for stores to manage inventory, track sales, and provide accurate pricing to customers. The system continues to evolve, with new technologies such as mobile barcodes and RFID tags being developed to further improve the efficiency and accuracy of product identification and tracking.

The Role of UPC in E-Commerce

UPCs play an integral role in the world of e-commerce. They are used for product identification, tracking, inventory management, and pricing and promotions. Without UPCs, e-commerce retailers would face significant difficulties in managing their products and providing a seamless shopping experience for their customers.

Product Identification and Tracking

One of the most critical functions of UPCs is product identification and tracking. As online retailers typically use a product catalog to organize their product listings, each product in the catalog must have a unique identifier. The UPC provides this unique identifier, which makes it easy to scan and identify a product in the warehouse or during shipping and delivery. This process helps ensure that the right products are delivered to the right customers in a timely and efficient manner.

Moreover, the use of UPCs allows for greater accuracy in tracking products at various stages of the supply chain. From the manufacturer to the warehouse to the retailer and finally to the customer, UPCs help ensure that products are tracked and accounted for at every step of the way.

Inventory Management

UPC barcodes also play a crucial role in inventory management. With a unique identifier for each product, e-commerce retailers can easily track their stock levels and make informed decisions on purchasing and restocking. This process helps ensure that retailers always have the products their customers want in stock and ready to ship.

Additionally, the use of UPCs in inventory management can help reduce the risk of overstocking or understocking. By accurately tracking stock levels, retailers can avoid the costs associated with having too much inventory on hand or the lost sales that result from not having enough inventory available.

Pricing and Promotions

UPCs enable e-commerce retailers to apply pricing and promotional strategies accurately. With UPCs, retailers can match products with pricing information and apply discounts or promotional pricing selectively. This method encourages product-specific promotions and customized discounts that can enhance the customer's shopping experience.

Moreover, the use of UPCs in pricing and promotions allows for greater flexibility and agility in responding to market conditions. E-commerce retailers can quickly adjust their pricing and promotional strategies based on changes in demand, competition, or other factors. This agility helps ensure that retailers remain competitive and relevant in a rapidly evolving e-commerce landscape.

In conclusion, UPCs are an essential tool for e-commerce retailers. They help ensure product identification and tracking, inventory management, and accurate pricing and promotions. By using UPCs, e-commerce retailers can provide a seamless shopping experience for their customers and remain competitive in a dynamic and ever-changing market.

How to Obtain a UPC for Your Products

Obtaining a UPC code for your products is essential for joining the retail industry. There are two primary methods of getting a UPC code- registering with GS1 or purchasing codes from resellers.

Registering with GS1

GS1 is an organization responsible for assigning the unique identification numbers used in the UPC barcodes of products worldwide. You can get a UPC code for your product by registering with GS1. Registration involves a one-time fee and yearly renewal payments, depending on your product's number of variations.

Purchasing UPCs from Resellers

You can also purchase UPCs from authorized resellers. These resellers have acquired UPCs from the GS1 but sell them to businesses for a more affordable rate than GS1. The downside of using an authorized reseller is that you may run the risk of duplicating UPCs and running into issues with inventory management and product tracking. So always ensure that an authorized reseller sells original GS1- issued codes.

Creating and Printing UPC Labels

When you get UPCs for your products, you also need to create and print UPC labels. The labels must contain the 12-digit number and a scannable barcode. You can use specialized software or hire a third-party service to help with this process.

Integrating UPCs into Your E-Commerce Platform

After obtaining and printing UPC labels for your products, the next step is to integrate the UPCs into your e-commerce platform. UPCs are essential in creating an efficient product identification system that can facilitate inventory management, order fulfillment, and product tracking.

Adding UPCs to Product Listings

You should add the UPC code next to each product in your product listings. This ensures that the UPC is visible to customers and enables accurate product identification and tracking.

Utilizing UPCs for Search and Filtering

Most e-commerce platforms enable customers to search for products based on specific criteria, such as color, size, or brand. By adding the UPCs to your product listings, you enable accurate search and filtering capabilities, making it easier for customers to find and purchase the products they need.

Implementing UPCs in Shipping and Fulfillment Processes

When you receive orders, you use the UPC code to identify the product in the warehouse, prepare it for shipping, and track it during the fulfillment process. Ups integrate with shipping platforms such as USPS, Fedex, and UPS, and allow for faster and more accurate shipping with real-time tracking information.


From product identification and tracking to inventory management and seamless order fulfillment, the Universal Product Code is a necessary component of e-commerce. Obtaining and integrating UPCs into your e-commerce platform is a straightforward process that can enhance the efficiency and profitability of an online store. Whether you register with GS1 or purchase UPCs from authorized resellers, you can benefit from a unique identification system that can help you track products, prices, and promotions accurately.

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