Single UPC Resellers

Many new companies are unaware that they need to obtain a Company Prefix directly from GS1 US (formerly the Uniform Code Council). There are online firms offering individual UPC's. Some of these companies are preying on the lack of understanding by many small new businesses. Common claims are "Our UPC's originate with the GS1", "Official UPC codes", or "Authentic and Unique UPC barcodes". Before you take a chance with your company's future, we encourage you become educated on the actual requirements and processes required to properly mark your items and shipments. This alternative might work for your situation, but you should be fully informed of potential limitations.

Please visit www.gs1-us.info or call us at 800-662-0701 x240 for assistance.

The Company Prefix is a unique identifier which represents a particular company, and is used in other types of barcodes in addition to the UPC. When a company purchases a UPC from a "reseller" they are only receiving a single UPC number whose company prefix is currently assigned to another company. In fact all of the companies who purchased UPC's from this company will have identical prefixes.

Is purchasing a single UPC from a reseller legal?

Including UPC barcodes on products is not a legal requirement. However, most retailers around the world have adopted the GS1 system (UPC/EAN) for item identification.

As a reaction to a court case, which the Uniform Code Council settled for $3.89 million, in August of 2002, they amended their contract to state "The license agreement for our membership prohibits any use of the Company Prefix other than for the use of the owner company, including but not limited to selling, sharing, leasing, sub-dividing, or re-selling the Company Prefix". Since this statement was not included in the application for any company who purchased a membership and received a Company Prefix prior to that date, these limitations were never part of the original agreement.  Consequently, reseller companies use this settlement as justification that they can sub-divide numbers from older prefixes.  

Most major retailers will probably request their suppliers to obtain their own prefix and there are not any retailers who endorse this practice. In fact, Wal-Mart has posted the following statement on their website due to the problems caused by the confusion: "Please enclose in your proposal packet a copy of your UCC (GS1) membership letter reporting your firm's actual number. You must be registered directly with the UCC (GS1) and not through a third party."

Important Things to Consider

  • If your company intends to someday supply product to medium and large retailers, your company must have its own unique Company Prefix. There are other types of barcodes and EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) transactions which include this unique company identifier. The barcode example below illustrates a common barcode used on shipping labels, and the Company Prefix must be unique.

    The above example is the SSCC-18 barcode commonly used on carton labels by many retailers (i.e. Wal-Mart, Wegmans, Sears, JCPenney, Target, Barnes & Noble, Kroger, Sports Authority, Walgreens ). When a company ships a product to retail trading partner, this particular barcode specifies the individual supplier and uniquely identifies a specific carton by a serialized number. In this example, there is a padded "0" and "614141" is the Company Prefix. If multiple companies purchased UPC's from the same reseller, their SSCC-18 barcodes would cause problems at most retailers. Consequently, these suppliers may be subject to compliance offset charges.

  • If you purchase a UPC from a reseller, you better have confidence in that company to assign unique UPC numbers to varying customers. What assurance are you given that the number assigned has not already been sold to someone else? If you do decide to work with a reseller, make sure you feel comfortable with the legitimacy and security of the company you choose. There are some resellers which do provide physical company addresses and offer actual certificates illustrating the unique UPC number assignment. One recommendation is to call the company during business hours to verify that they are indeed a legitimate business. Remember, NOT EVERYTHING STATED ON A WEBSITE IS TRUTHFUL. There is even one reseller claiming to have sold over 2,390,000 unique numbers, which is more than 30 times the number of numbers available per company prefix. Silly names like cheap_barcodes and barcode_talk should be a telling sign that they are not official organizations.

  • Is the barcode image file you receive a vector based image made to the requirements of your packaging? The GS1 US recommends that original UPC barcode digital files be created based on resolution and packaging requirements. Depending on the printing process and dimensional requirements, UPC barcode can vary in size. Most of these resellers simply provide a low resolution jpg or gif file, which is not acceptable for proper reproduction. If a barcode can not be scanned, it is worthless and the money you might have saved was wasted.

  • If a reseller is offering to provide you both UPC and EAN code, do not use them! They have no idea what they are doing.  UPC numbers by definition are universally acceptable worldwide, and they are only type necessary for US manufacturers who wish to sell their goods globally.

Recommendations

The question which frequently gets asked is "My company is just starting out and we can not afford the $760 fee from the GS1 US, what should we do?" First, as of October 2013, GS1 US substantially lowered their fees for small users. The starting fee is now $250 for a small user who needs 10 numbers.  Second, contact your potential retail trading partners (if possible) and inquire if a unique company prefix is required or if you may use another company's prefix. We also suggest you contact us at 800-662-0701 and voice your concern. If you only need a single UPC because you want to include an item on a website, or sell to an internet company (Amazon), purchasing a single UPC might be a realistic solution, as long as you understand the limitations and potential problems.

We always encourage speaking to a live representative.

For additional information on UPC/EAN EAN numbering and barcode requirements please visit www.gs1-us.info.

There has been a dramatic increase in the dependency on UPC symbols, since companies are investing millions of dollars in computer systems and scanning equipment to take advantage of automatic data collection. The foundation of these systems is contingent on barcode print quality. When symbols can not be read or decode incorrectly, the efficiency of these systems is brought to a halt. Consequently, many retailers are severely penalizing consumer goods manufacturers who furnish substandard UPC symbols.