The GS1 and the supply chain.

As soon as you start selling your products to major retailers, you’ll need to create unique identifiers for your products. It doesn’t matter if your products are sold at physical locations or online, your trading partners want to be able scan and immediately identify them. You'll need a GS1, but maybe you're wondering: what is a GS1?

In simple terms, the GS1 is a prefix that can be purchased, which will allow you to assign unique identifiers to your products. Even if you are brand-new to selling products, you certainly know the ubiquitous beep of a bar code being scanned in a checkout line. That's made possible by the GS1.

If you’re launching a product for the first time or ramping up production and starting to work with major retailers, you may be unclear about the process of procuring one. While the GS1 process may seem daunting at the outset, it adds genuine efficiency and keeps the supply chain moving. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a world without things like the UPC and other identifiers, and the GS1—along with labels it is used on—makes it all happen.

The GS1 Prefix.

Before you can start generating identification codes such as a Universal Product Code (UPC), a Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC), or a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), you’ll need to obtain a GS1 Company Prefix. A GS1 Company Prefix is a unique identification number that GS1 US® issues just to your company—and it is a part of every UPC, SSCC, and any other identification number you create. With a GS1 Company Prefix, you have the internationally accepted way to uniquely identify your brand in the global supply chain.

The first step in the process of securing your GS1 Prefix is to determine how many unique barcodes you expect to need. Remember, even if you have only one product, you probably have some variations of it — a T-shirt in multiple sizes, candles in different shapes, backpacks in numerous colors. Each one will need its own unique barcode. You'll want to put some careful thought into your total number of SKUs—you'll need enough unique barcodes but you also don't want to spend more than you require.

The GS1 Prefix—how many barcodes will you need?

How many barcodes you require will determine the length you need from your GS1 Prefix. It’s no surprise that you pay more for a Prefix that can accommodate more barcodes — a bigger investment translates into a shorter Prefix with more capacity.

When you’re choosing a GS1 Prefix, bring a steely business sense to your decision. Consider both your current product line and the goals you have for your brand. You don’t want to spend more than necessary on barcodes, so it’s important to venture into the decision with a realistic idea about your current product line and sales numbers. On the flip side, you also want to be able to easily add barcodes if you have terrific growth, so don’t underestimate your potential.

How much does a GS1 Prefix cost?

At the moment, if you need 10 barcodes or less, you’ll spend around $250, followed by an annual renewal fee. A major brand with a wide-ranging product line could need considerably more.

The GS1 Prefix will contain four to twelve digits—more digits allow you to generate more barcodes. For $250, you can uniquely identify 10 products. At the other end of the pricing range, you can spend $10,500 for a GS1 Prefix that will allow you to create a unique identifier as many as 100,000 products.

Will your product be scanned in a checkout aisle? Is it sold online?

If your product is sold at a traditional checkout, you will likely use a UPC. It’s the most common code used by North American retailers and is designed for rapid product scanning.

Of course, it's now the rare company that doesn’t sell at least some products through an online marketplace. How should you manage that? Well, most retailers that sell exclusively online use the same process as stores with physical locations, but most will require that your products also carry a Global Trade Item Number® (GTIN®). You may also have a trading partner who sells your products at brick-and-mortar locations and on their online store—think or  The most efficient way to manage it all? Use the same GTIN for online outlets as you do for brick-and-mortar stores.

GS1-128, ITF-14, and GTIN—moving products through distribution centers.

If you have products that move through your own warehouse or a distribution center managed by a 3PL provider, they will be transported in cartons, cases, and on pallets.

In general distribution and logistics environments—not retail point-of-sale—you'll need a GS1-128 and ITF-14 barcode. GS1-128 barcodes can carry all GS1 identifiers, while ITF-14 barcodes carry only the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). When a barcode requires only the GTIN but needs to be printed directly on a corrugated box, the ITF-14 barcode is often applied since it is easier to print and the required barcode quality grade is less strict.

The GS1-128 shipping label.

With a GS1-128 shipping label, your products can be easily identified no matter where they are in the supply chain. Each GS1-128 shipping label will usually have zones within it, and each one of these areas will have a barcode or text or both.

The bottom zone of the label is commonly used to host the SSCC (Serial Shipping Container Code), a unique number sent with the Shipment Notice, also known as the ASN. When the shipment arrives, the SSCC can be scanned to connect it with the EDI document so the retailer knows exactly what the container holds. The SSCC holds your GS1 Prefix and a Serial Reference number you generate incrementally with each shipment—most retailers require companies to avoid using the same Serial Reference number for at least 12 months.

Your trading partners will probably have their own zone requirements, varying with each one. This can make things difficult for suppliers and, to add a layer of complexity to the label, many retailers also require a Store (or Destination) barcode in Zone G.

Shipping Integrations


Whew. Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into these codes, more than we can cover here, and they are important for efficient, seamless supply chain operation.

The good news is that you don’t have to know everything right away. If you work with eZCom, we can guide you through the process, just like we have with hundreds of other companies. The experts on our Setup Team will ensure that you establish all of it correctly, and our in-house experts in Customer Support can also provide insight that will help you work through issues.

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