How to generate GS1 UPC/EAN codes for online shop

How to generate GS1 UPC/EAN codes for online shop

By Dmitry Vasilev
Jan 24, 2024

As we develop barcode related software and some our clients ask if we can generate or provide them with UPC/EAN codes. Unfortunatelly, things are more complicated then it comes to UPC/EAN codes - they are not like SKU, you can't just "make up" these codes.

There are a few key points you need to know about UPC/EAN:

  • EAN/UPC codes are not free for use - you or product producer have to buy them first.
  • Codes have specific structure, 12 digits for UPC and 13 digits for EAN-13 (no letters!)
  • Each EAN/UPC is registered and owned by specific company. You can't use somebody's EAN for your own products - you will be breaking the law.

At some point I asked myself "Our clients need codes, why we are not UPC/EAN resellers yet ?". Fair question, so I started to do a research about UPC/EAN market.

I always knew that GS1 UPC/EAN is a centralized worldwide database managed by GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) organization. So, my first assumption was that GTIN may have an online store.

However I also know that there are dozens of UPC/EAN resellers online who sell codes at very affordable prices.

So, first thing I wanted to figure out is why there are dozens of resellers, if there could be a monopoly from GTIN organization.

A few minutes on google and I found official GTIN UPC/EAN store. And looking at their prices I was stunned for a minute.

Official GTIN Prices:

Prices for single barcodes:
Prices for ranges:

And compare to average prices from resellers:

I always knew that the max price from resellers was about $5 for 1 code, however the official GTIN store has a price of $70 for 1 code! How can resellers sell codes 10 times cheaper compared to their GTIN vendor ? There should be a catch...

After more detailed research I found out interesting warning on GTIN website (read carefully!):

Link to full text here:

When you buy codes from GTIN, they perform a check of your organization and assign these codes to you company (create a prefix) in their worldwide database, so anyone in the world can check your EAN/UPC code and find out who owns this specific product.

Resellers don't do any checks on your company which makes purchase of codes a very fast process. However resellers don't have access to GTIN worldwide database, so codes legally will never be owned by your company.

So, next 4 reasons allow resellers to sell barcodes at lower prices:

  1. Resellers don't perform any manual company checks.
  2. Resellers don't have access to GTIN database, so codes legally will always be owned by somebody else.
  3. Some resellers "buy" EAN/UPC codes from a "dead" companies and sell them to retailers (second hand market). However in most cases (legaly) codes still owned by a "dead" companies.
  4. There is no guarantee that the reseller does not sell the same codes to a few customers (it is not controlled by GTIN or officials).

If you already got codes from reseller, you can check who owns them by using online checker (open GTIN tab):

Is it so important to be the actual owner of codes ?

Yes and no, it actually depends what goals you pursue. If you need codes for a company prestige or just looking for a way to replace terrible SKU numbers then codes from resellers will be a fast and cheap solution. But if you want to publish your products on marketplaces like Amazon or are concerned that customers may find out that codes on product packages are not owned by your company - then definitely buy codes from GTIN website.

So, will our company become a reseller or not ? Actually it is still a question for me. But the one thing is certain - resellers should explain very carefully to their clients what limitations their codes have and to what consequences they may lead to.

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