Earlier this year, Amazon rolled out a new plan to crack down on invalid UPC codes that have been cluttering the marketplace and creating confusion for buyers. Their new requirements state that the only valid Universal Product Codes (UPCs) are those supplied by GS1, the global authority for issuing Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs, the numbers behind the bar code).
Previously, Amazon would only identify different products through their UPCs. This allowed some sellers to buy false UPCs from eBay and other online stores—for much cheaper than a GS1 UPC—and relist an identical product with a different UPC. Currently, Amazon is stocked with millions of duplicate products in which someone administered their own barcode onto an existing product.
After the changes to the Product UPC and GTINs policy, it now states:
"We 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."
Aside from reducing the number of fake products on the market, the updated GS1 policy allows for tighter control of what constitutes a valid listing. If you’re not a barcode wizard, however, Amazon’s change to the UPC program can be confusing. For some context, here are a few notes on the history of barcodes.
In the age of the Internet of Things, people are searching for more efficient ways to identify a product without spelling out every letter and description of the item. What we have now is a swarm of unique barcodes that identifies everything from the seller’s company to a product’s color variation.
The wider classification of product identification from the Global Standard 1 (GS1) is GTINs (Global Trade Item Numbers). Amazon’s UPCs are one of the more narrow identifiers, much like EANs (European Article Numbers) and JANs (Japanese Article Numbers).
After product identification, the GTINs are turned into barcodes that are machine-readable. Barcodes consist of a series of numbers and patterns of parallel lines of varying width to identify the specific product. UPC’s may look like a random assortment of numbers, but there is a method to the madness. Of the 12 possible digits, the first 6-10 are a company prefix to identify the product and seller. For this reason, all UPCs have to be ran through the GS1 network.
Receiving UPCs from outside sources? While probably legal at the time, using a UPC code that isn’t registered with your specific company could now lead to temporary or permanent expulsion from selling on Amazon. If you are using UPCs from a third party, make sure they are valid with the help of GS1’s Global Electronic Party Information Registry.
If for some reason your GTINs aren’t associated with your company on the database, either your GTINs are invalid or there is a bug in the system. Either way, get it fixed. If following the rules and obtaining valid UPCs means you avoid the fatal blow of account suspension, it’s absolutely worth it.
Private Label Sellers
For private label sellers, Amazon’s catalog cleanup could cause a few bumps in your business operation. While most of your items are generic products repackaged with your brand, the UPC associated with the product will still be connected to the manufacturer. In these situations, the private label seller has little to no ownership over the product. To make sure you don’t lose your selling rights on Amazon, private sellers are urged to close any improperly identified listings and create new listings with proper identification. Even if you don’t have a registered company, you can create unique company tags through the GS1 service and continue to sell your products with your own branded logo. Don’t act too fast, though—creating a new listing with a different UPC will lose all of the reviews attached to it. For some, this might be a blessing; for others, losing hard-earned reviews can be a huge setback.
The Moral of the Story
Whether or not you have been using invalid UPCs, now is the time to look over your stock. Amazon will soon be clearing its online catalog of any duplicate products and items with UPCs unrelated to the brand they represent. In order to avoid account suspension, check your UPC codes to make sure you are up-to-date. With Amazon Prime Day less than a week away, it’s even more vital that you make sure your business is Amazon Seller Account policy compliant.
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