Amazon mandate that sellers use GS1 barcodes

Amazon have started to crack down on Product Identifiers. They have mandated that the only valid Universal Product codes (UPC) are those supplied by GS1, the global authority for issuing Global Trade Item Numbers (GTIN, the numbers behind the bar code.

Amazon have saidWe verify the authenticity of product UPCs by checking the GS1 database. UPCs that do not match the information provided by GS1 will be considered invalid. We recommend obtaining your UPCs directly from GS1 (and not from other third parties selling UPC licenses) to ensure the appropriate information is reflected in the GS1 database“.

There are some sellers who have frankly simply made up UPCs or purchased bar codes from third party retailers. The advantage of using your own UPC is that you can have your own Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN) which prevents products from other sellers appearing on the same Amazon single product page as yours. No competition means you get all the sales from that ASIN and there’s no price competition.

Some sellers have even purchased legitimate UPCs from GS1, but applied them to products which already have a UPC from the manufacturer. This is a grey area as if you make changes to the product it should then be distinguished with a different UPC. For instance if you create a product bundle with two or more products from the same (or different!) manufacturers it needs to be identified as different than the single main product from the bundle.

GS1 Global featAmazon say that they’re quite prepared to come down heavy on sellers using pretend or incorrect UPC codes saying “Important: All invalid product UPC listings will be removed and may result in your ASIN creation or selling privileges being temporarily or permanently removed. For more information on licensing UPCs from GS1, see the GSI standard website“.

From Amazon’s perspective, insisting on valid UPCs from GS1 makes sense. GS1 are the globally recognised authority and can ensure that retailers, distributors and manufacturers get a unique code for their product. Amazon want a clean product database with every item listed once and no more and to do that the easiest way is to have a single authoritative database and that’s GS1. For you it means that if a manufacturer supplies a product without a GTIN then there’s a relatively small cost with GS1 to get a GTIN.

However there are still problems. If you’re the first to add a product to Amazon’s catalogue why should you pay for a GTIN which other sellers are then free to list against if they source the identical product? (Yes the manufacturer would ideally be the one to supply the GTIN). What happens if you ‘brand’ a product by something as simple as putting a sticker on it with your logo – is this now the same or different product to the one your competitor is selling?

Another minor but somewhat troublesome issue is that we have seen problems in the past where US issued GTINs didn’t appear to be recognised in the EU and UK and vice versa. This shouldn’t happen and should be fairly easy to get Amazon (or any other marketplace to rectify).

Ultimately what it means for you as a seller is if you have made up GTINs or have purchased codes from a third party seller, when Amazon check them against the GS1 database they are likely to remove the product and could sanction your selling rights. If you’re listing a product do your utmost to get the manufacturer to supply the GTIN and if you’re the manufacturer then you’ll need to register with GS1 and purchase your own codes.

Final thought, I’ve not managed to find a similar stipulation mandating the use of GS1 on Amazon’s UK or EU websites, but doubtless if it’s not already there it’ll be coming soon.