Do Amazon sellers and Ecommerce companies really need barcodes, or is it a mere relic that is about to be swept aside? And, if you really need a barcode, how do you get them? These, and many other questions, are answered by Ricky Jones at GS1UK.
In this Q&A, you will learn how Amazon sellers and Ecommerce companies can use barcodes to track and protect their brands, save on logistics costs and cut delivery times.
Ricky, please tell us a bit about yourself and your work at GS1UK
I work in the marketplaces team at GS1 UK. We focus ourselves on our SME members and helping them to trade online.
Before joining the marketplaces team I’ve worked in quite a broad range of marketing roles. I’ve always had more of a digital focus with expertise particularly around SEO and launching websites for international markets. Although, have had the chance to lead much wider marketing projects also – brand development as well as content and communications.
What exactly is the role of GS1?
We help our two million members trade together more easily – by creating common practices (or standards) for how they identify and exchange information about products but also anything else in their supply chain.
When trading with most of the world’s leading brands, retailers or marketplaces you’ll need to use these common practices agreed by the community to trade. To do this you need to start with getting a unique identifier – officially known as the GTIN.
GTINs (the number that sits under the barcode image and sometimes referred to as an EAN or UPC) can be likened to a passport number for your product enabling the product to be linked back to your company anywhere in the world. When you join GS1 you get passport control for your products.
Some of the companies that use and require GS1 GTINs include: Amazon, Tesco, Sainsburys, John Lewis, WHSmith, Unilever, Ocado, Nestle, Google, Fruugo, La Redoute, New Egg, NHS, Walmart, Macy’s
Is it mandatory to use barcodes?
Retailers and trading platforms usually decide whether a GTIN is mandatory for trading with their customers. The GTIN is often a required field when you’re adding your product information to list on a marketplace or on the new lines form for selling into a large retailer.
Ultimately the brand owner or manufacturer should make the decision and decide that building and protecting their brand is important – which will likely make identifying each product uniquely necessary. Particularly as products travel across borders through different channels and check points.
Let’s say that I own an online store. How can a barcode help me?
For online stores the GTINs can be useful in a number of ways:
a. Authentication of you and your product – A GTIN doesn’t just uniquely identify your product anywhere in the world, it also identifies you as the brand owner. This is really useful when selling on platforms like Amazon as they can check a seller has the authority to sell a product when it’s being listed.
b. Catalogue management – Unique identifier allows marketplaces to understand more about what’s being sold, helping them to remove duplicate or low GMV listings. This isn’t just for their benefit though. With a cleaner more appealing shopping experience, buyers will want to spend more time on the site and buy more products.
c. Linked data – Knowing for certainty two products are the same or different allows marketplaces to be more creative with how they merchandise items. So on a site like eBay their structured data project is leading to a more product base shopping experience giving new ways for customers to interact and browse the site.
Barcodes have a long list of benefits throughout the supply chain and onto the end customer of any retail business. So, while an online store doesn’t have a physical point of sale to worry about they have other challenges to overcome. For instance, using barcodes:
a. Improves pick accuracy – there is an ever increasing selection of merchandise across the internet, so ensuring the right product is sent out in the right variation (be it colour, size etc) in critical.
For an online store this is even more important when e-commerce consumer expects a wide selection of unique product offerings, mobile-site ordering capability, order accuracy, fast and free delivery, and free returns.
The cost of fulfilment and handling the corresponding return for sending out the wrong product or not meeting the customers expectation eats into a business’ margin significantly – our research has found fulfilment and returns can account for up to a third of operational costs!
b. Efficiently maintain accurate stock records – scanning a product’s barcode as it’s picked means your stock file can be updated instantly.
Removing the need to rekey information or wait for a manual intervention takes away boring administrative tasks and improves the accuracy of the records. Maintaining accurate stock information is crucial to an online business – if your website displays a product as out of stock you simply won’t be selling any!
How can barcodes help if I am selling on Amazon or Ebay?
As marketplaces develop their websites, their main objective is to continually improve the seller, and most importantly, the shopper’s experience. Ensuring authentic, genuine products with accurate information in addition to embracing future technology is driving the need for product identifiers and structured product data.
Product identifiers and structured data therefore provide an opportunity to help you grow your business. Search engines such as Google and Bing are also using product identifiers as a way of tying together the information about your product in a structured way – this makes it easier for them to return your listings for relevant search queries in addition to driving features such as product reviews and creating smarter offers for shoppers – thereby improving traffic to your listings.
You have offices all over the world. However, do you send the barcodes to factories in Asia – or do they print them out on themselves?
When you join a GS1 member organisation (your local country office) you’ll licence a company prefix. The prefix you with a range of numbers that you can use to assign to each product at SKU level.
Most GS1 MOs have an online service to help you keep track of and manage the numbers you’ve already allocated from your prefix – in the UK we call this service MyNumberbank.
Once you’ve allocated a GTIN to your product, you can either generate a barcode image using one of the free tools available online, or alternatively, your packaging designer/printer may be able to generate the barcode image for the number – GTIN.
How much should I expect to pay for the barcodes?
GS1 is a community and offer a membership fee structure based on a company’s turnover. The lowest fee starts at £119 per year. The membership includes a prefix with a range of GTINs and other value add services. These services vary from receiving your own account; to manage your numbers and create barcode images, to access to online resources and events, not forgetting access to the wider community of partners and businesses.
The fee structure takes into consideration the size of each business, the range of GTINs and support required and secures ongoing development and maintenance of the GS1 System. So, if you’re a new or small business, you’re paying our lowest fees.
Can I get barcodes directly from your website?
Yes, you can register at www.gs1uk.org and if you opt to pay by card you’ll receive your company prefix within a few hours – which means you can start assigning GTINs on the day you join.
Are there different standards and types of barcodes?
GS1 are best known as the barcode people – so we have several types of barcodes for various purposes and products. The barcodes that most people will use and require are for products. There can be a little confusion around these also as there are two; the Universal Product Code (UPC) and European Article Number (EAN).
A UPC is usually a 12-digit barcode used in North America to identify most products. The rest of the world uses 13-digit EAN barcodes to identify products. However, both types of numbers and barcodes are part of the GS1 System of international standards, so both are accepted globally.
Thank you. If I want to buy barcodes for my products, how can GS1 help me?
If you’re a brand owner – you can join GS1 UK today and start giving your products their own passport number so your products can be sold anywhere and linked back your company across leading marketplace and retail platforms.
To do this you need to join the GS1 community and join GS1 UK as a member, then you’ll have your own company prefix from which you can allocate your products a GTIN. If you need any help with this you can always get in touch with our dedicated support team – [email protected] . They’re always happy to help!
As a membership organisation we’re about a lot more than just adding barcodes to your products though. When you become a member you’ll get access to training, webinars, and our resource library of content that can give you help and advice on how to grow your business.