It’s a universal symbol featured on nearly every product on the market today—the UPC barcode.
For a small business, getting your products barcoded can be a significant moment in the launch phase. The dream becomes a reality, and you are ready to compete in the marketplace. However, not all barcodes are created equal.
You don’t want just any barcode to be attached to your product—it must properly identify the items you are selling and connect you as the brand owner to the product. This is increasingly important when selling online today, as retailers and marketplaces recognize that the product identification numbers encoded into UPC barcodes, called Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs), are essential for product listings to uniquely identify products. GTINs enable products to be discoverable in search results by forming a necessary bridge between a product’s physical presence and its digital representation.
Several websites offer cheap barcodes; however, the global standards organization, GS1, is the only organization authorized to license authentic GTINs. Purchasing them from a third party could mean you are buying GTINs that were already issued to other businesses. Here are three reasons to avoid these shortcuts and make sure you use authentic GS1 identification numbers and barcodes.
Build Credibility With Retailers
When you identify your product with an authentic barcode that links your product to your brand, the product joins a global retail system that has operated for almost 50 years. GTINs are universally accepted by many kinds of retailers, distributors, and other supply chain participants.
Within the last decade, as online shopping has exploded, marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Google have started requiring GTINs because they help sellers prove that they are selling legitimate products. Amazon states in its seller guidelines that their product managers will check all GTINs provided to them against the GS1 database and may delist sellers if the numbers are found to be invalid. You could also incur unnecessary costs associated with relabeling or repackaging products, in addition to a delay in getting to market.
Online marketplaces are taking these kinds of steps to curb the growth of counterfeit products and stop them from circulating to unsuspecting consumers. A study conducted by the Government Accountability Office found that 20 of 47 items purchased from third-party sellers on popular consumer websites were counterfeit.
Also, hijacking is a growing problem among the Amazon community. Hijacked listings usually result from bad actors posing as legitimate sellers who steal a company’s product listing, claim it as their own, and collect sales earnings for products that are never shipped. Some sellers, looking for a shortcut around the marketplace’s requirements, just make up a random GTIN without any real knowledge of how unique product identification via GTINs and UPCs work.
In any case, online marketplaces may ask sellers to prove they are the rightful owner of their product by providing a GS1 Company Prefix or GTIN ownership certificate that effectively demonstrates the link between the company and the product via the GTINs assigned to those products. In fact, a recent announcement sent to Amazon sellers stated, as a reminder, that a certificate of ownership from GS1 is an essential part of validating GTINs.
For small businesses with limited budgets, the best option to identify their limited number of products may be to license individual GTINs for $30 each from GS1 US. This new offering was recently launched in response to feedback from members looking for more flexible product identification options. For businesses that plan to launch ten or more products or product variations, another option is to license a GS1 Company Prefix, allowing brands to create authentic GTINs in bundles of 10, 100, and other bulk quantities. The Prefix represents the first few numbers of the product GTIN and links a brand to a product.
Whether you opt for a single GTIN or to use a Company Prefix, either option ensures your product is accepted by a multitude of retailer inventory management systems. A GTIN identifies your product at every stop it makes, from the manufacturing site to the point of sale to the customer’s doorstep. As a standards organization, GS1’s job is to make sure each product has its own unique identity throughout this process so that fewer order mix-ups occur and product data can be exchanged consistently and efficiently.
Retailers will ultimately value the steps you have taken to prove you are a credible partner and willing to work within their system and guidelines.
Plan for Future Growth
Layoffs, furloughs, closed businesses, and increased work from home led to an explosion of e-commerce in 2020 due to the pandemic, and it is expected to continue through the rest of 2021. The spike in new products launched can also be attributed to the fact that there have never been more accessible options for selling online. Companies that offer e-commerce solutions such as Etsy have reported exponential growth and make it easy for side-hustlers, serial entrepreneurs, or home business owners to break into e-commerce and reach a wide variety of consumers.
While pandemic-era products have become a huge opportunity, small businesses need to think about their long-term growth and make careful decisions about their products according to those plans. For example, Christopher Rutledge, a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur, began launching his new product, a curated kit of cleaning and wellness supplies for flying safely, called Flygienic, earlier this year. His primary profession, commercial real estate, has taken him to more than 40 states in the U.S. As a seasoned traveler, he knew the product would tap into an emerging need but also be essential to fliers who were already vigilant about cleanliness.
“I created this kit and filled it with items that I personally know I have needed for travel,” said Rutledge. “This is something that I truly believe will stand the test of time after COVID because we’re all more aware of hygiene now, and there are always places the cleaning crews may have missed.”
When Rutledge realized he needed to barcode his new product, he researched the requirements of major retailers and consulted mentors to understand how it fits into his growth plan. “I figured out pretty easily that getting authentic barcodes would enable growth for my business beyond the immediate opportunity of COVID,” he said.
Similar to Rutledge, Melissa Egts, founder of J.M. Hartfiel Healthcare, said getting a previously owned barcode was never really an option that she considered. She is proud to bring her product, the O2Fresh Nasal Cannula Cover for users of supplemental oxygen, to market later this year. To her, having an authentic barcode means the product would be credible in a long-established global system of commerce.
“I read, of course, that you can buy other kinds of barcodes, but I want one that’s specific to my business,” said Egts. “I built this company and product, and just as I want my name on my patent, I want my name associated with my barcode.”
Get Your Product Discovered
In addition to resting assured that you will be perceived positively by retailers, they can also help boost your sales from day one. Identifying products with GTINs allows products to surface in more search engine results and optimizes your chances of being seen by more online shoppers.
For online products, the value of a search engine is like a display shelf in a physical store. How items are presented on that shelf influences how consumers find a product. When a search is poorly optimized, products have poor “digital shelf” positioning, making them more difficult to find and purchase.
The same data structure used by suppliers and retailers in backend retail inventory management systems is also necessary to provide consumers with what they are looking for in product searches. In addition to using GTINs in product listings, it benefits you to present all key product details to help provide consumers with the full picture of what you’re selling.
For example, a shopper may search for a “large blue teddy bear,” which can produce varying results. Listings could range from those packed with details such as the product height, weight, the type of material it is made from, or some with more basic or opinionated descriptions, such as “cute and perfect size.”
In addition to quality product information, online shoppers want visual engagement as well. Most online shoppers consider high-quality visual content from brands to be an increasingly important factor in purchase decisions when shopping online, according to research from Splashlight.
Ultimately, while bringing a product to market may bring challenges, it is an exciting time where an entrepreneur’s hard work and passion can really start to pay off. Authentic barcodes are a must-have to support your business growth, prove you have a valid product, and ensure a faster speed to market. For more information, please visit https://www.gs1us.org.