Many misconceptions surround how barcodes function and what the numbers signify. This fact sheet aims to dispel common barcode myths and guide you in understanding retail barcodes correctly.
Purpose of Barcodes: Barcodes primarily assist retailers by providing quick access to product data. They eliminate human errors associated with manual entry, ensuring fast and accurate transactions at checkout.
Main Barcode Formats: The two main retail barcode formats globally are EAN-13 and UPC-A. EAN-13 numbers have a leading zero (13 digits), while UPCs drop this zero (12 digits). Our prefix range is 060–089 for EAN and 60–89 for UPC.
Suitability: EAN-13 and UPC-A are suitable for almost every product category, excluding books and magazines.
Unique Barcode Numbers: A unique barcode number is required for each unique product. This number can be replicated on every unit and scanned multiple times.
Legal Requirements: Barcodes are not legally mandated. Retailers set their own requirements based on industry standards and GS1 guidelines. While some large retailers require direct GS1 membership, others may only need a barcode verification report.
Barcode Content: Barcodes only contain numbers below the bars; the product data is stored in the retailer's database, which varies between retailers.
Centralised Database: There is no centralized global database for individual barcode/product information. Data appears only in the relevant database for that product. Note that GS1's GEPIR only shows licensee holder (not product data). Verified by GS1 is incomplete and not integrated with retail stores.
Retailer Registration: Contrary to common belief, there is no global database for products that all stores plug into. Retailers register product data by scanning or manually entering the barcode number along with product details into their database. This registration process enables the product information to be accessible at the Point of Sale (P.O.S.), allowing for efficient transactions and accurate tracking within each retailer's system. Each retailer has its own independent database, and product information is not automatically shared between different retail establishments.
GEPIR: GS1's GEPIR shows the first holder of the barcode prefix but does not provide product information. Numerous online databases and smartphone apps offer product information.
GS1 Membership: GS1 is a voluntary membership organization. Globally unique retail barcodes sold or licensed originate with GS1/UCC but membership is not mandatory.
Country of Origin: Barcodes do not indicate the country of origin. The "Country Code" shows the branch of GS1 that issued the barcode, not where the product is manufactured.
Free Generator Barcodes: Made-up or free generator barcodes are suitable only for internal use and may collide with GS1/UCC barcodes.
Barcode Assignment Responsibility: The product owner is responsible for barcode assignment, whether obtained through a third party or directly through GS1.
Global Scannability: Our EAN-13 and UPC-A barcodes (GTINs) can be scanned worldwide.
Exceptions for Certain Products: EAN-13 and UPC-A barcodes are suitable for all retail products except books, magazines, and pharmaceuticals.
Substitutes for Retail Barcodes: QR codes, Code39s, etc., are not substitutes for retail barcodes (EAN-13 and UPC-A); for example, a QR code cannot be scanned at the point of sale.