Consultant’s Corner: Obtaining UPC Barcodes

Obtaining USB Barcodes

Q: How can my business obtain UPC barcodes for products we manufacture?

Generally businesses obtain UPC barcodes from GS1 US, the organization that administers the GS1 System of standards in the U.S. Most retailers require their product suppliers to have their own unique identification number in the UPC barcodes found on their products. Only GS1 US can assign your company its own a unique identification number for UPC barcode purposes. If you use a reseller to obtain your UPC barcodes, your UPC barcodes will contain the unique identification number of the reseller. As discussed in the articles below…

“Universal product codes — UPCs — are the 12-digit numbers that appear under the barcodes on many U.S. products. They are given out by GS1 US, a nonprofit group that sets standards for international commerce.

Here’s how it works: Businesses pay to join GS1 US, and in exchange, it assigns each member its own identification number that appears as the first part of its UPC.

Companies usually need different UPC codes for each product they sell, even if it is just a different size. So companies will add more numbers to their GS1-issued identification code to identify each of their products. Each UPC can be used to produce a specific barcode that can then be printed out and attached to products or, ideally, incorporated into the product design so that it is easily scanned at the register.

GS1 US charges capacity-based membership fees that begin at $250, plus annual renewal fees starting at $50. The fees depend on the number of unique products you sell. A membership form can be filled out online on GS1′s website,

Another option: Some Internet-based companies, including, now resell UPC codes for less than $100, so small companies don’t have to pay to join GS1 themselves.

You will be paying for the use of that company’s identification number — not your own. That means your products’ UPC will begin with another company’s ID number. It can be a fine solution if you are cash-strapped or working with small or independent retailers — if the retailers don’t mind — and just selling one or two products.

But it won’t work if you’re planning to sell through major retailers because they generally require product makers to have their own identification numbers.”

“GS1 US is the US standards organization, which establishes identification standards for various industries (i.e. retail, healthcare) and assigns UPC identifiers.  In fact, they are the only source retail suppliers should go to for UPC assignments…

Most retailers have a formal policy regarding accepting UPC barcodes which are DIRECTLY assigned from GS1 US.  The following list is just a small sampling of retailers who will only accept products with UPC barcodes and GS1 Company Prefixes assigned directly by GS1 US.

Wal-Mart | Kroger | Home Depot | Sears | Lowes | PetsMart | Whole Foods | Lord & Taylor | Best Buy | Nordstrom | Wegmans | CVS | True Value | Kohl’s | Macys | Sports Authority | JCPenney | Target | SuperValu | Dillards | Jo-Anne Stores | Michaels

*The retailers listed have explicit instructions or guidelines on their supplier requirements. Most other retailers (small and large) simply request suppliers to follow GS1 guidelines and they are not aware of the damaging reseller market. Before you risk spending money (on) wasted packaging, call your retail clients or prospects…

As of October 1, 2013, GS1 US lowered pricing for small quantity UPC assignments. Click here for pricing information and instructions.”


Bill Wortman

Bill Wortman

Bill Wortman is the Chief Business Consultant for, with over 40 years of business experience. In addition to 12 years consulting small business owners, Bill’s professional career includes a big-eight CPA accounting firm, national consumer finance, big-three automotive manufacturing, Arby’s fast food, marketing, and other industries. He’s held multiple executive-level positions and fulfilled the role of CFO at large, publicly held (NYSE, NASDAQ, and AMEX) corporations. In addition, he’s been an owner of private ventures involving residential real estate development and a General Motors new car dealership.