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Anatomy of a UPC Code in Global Trade

Global Trade and Marketing Application

by Greg Carter


The UPC (Universal Product Code) was introduced in 1974 allowing supermarkets to automate checkout. It wasn’t long after that other industries embraced the innovation. The UPC is a Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN). This 12-digit number is the glue that helps link model numbers, images, data sheets, product descriptions, attributes and more. At Electrical Marketing, our E-Commerce Content Solutions usually includes a UPC Code. for many reasons, which I’ll explain here.

This article will de-mystify this little label that seems to on everything!

Starting, middle and end bars give structure for barcode reader to identify the product.

According to the GS1, a non-profit governing body that oversees the numbering system, they “give you a common language to identify, capture and share supply chain data – ensuring important information is accessible, accurate and easy to understand.”

Four visual components in a bar code are at play: Narrow Spaces, Wide Spaces, Narrow Bars, Wide Bars. It’s interesting to note that barcodes are not encrypted, so it’s possible for a human to actually study the sequences and widths of bars and spaces to interpret the product being represented.

What’s in a UPC Code?
Manufacturers pay GS1 a fee to be assigned a unique Manufacturer ID or Manufacturer Code known as the “company prefix”. Generally speaking, the Manufacturer Code section — the first section — refers to the manufacturer’s Item Number, while the Product Code section refers to product attributes.

Starting, middle and end bars present a structure indicating where the UPC sections begin and end. Bars and numbers in the Product Code section indicate whether the item is a non-food, drug, weight, price and many other data points that help our customers find exactly what they’re looking for.

Because of Global trade, you’ll often see UPC referred to as EAN/UPC. EAN is the international equivalent of a UPC. They’re interchangeable.

 TIP: When optimizing web stores, consider optimizing for the UPC. 

It’s easy to get UPC confused with UNSPSC since they’re present in so many of the datasets we see in e-Commerce. Unlike UPC’s, you won’t find UNSPSC codes marked on packaging or products. UNSPSC’s are commodity classifiers for global trade and often used to create taxonomies (i.e. Product Categories) in e-commerce for website navigation.

Application in Digital Marketing
Now let’s put this into practical application. Copy and paste “82091925124” into a search engine. You’ll see that this represents an Allen Bradley PowerFlex 70 AC Drive 52 A at 40 Hp 20A (see below). If you’re like me, your brain just shifted into digital marketing mode! When optimizing your web stores, you should consider optimizing for the UPC as well.

Whenever we’re working with an e-Commerce project, I like to visualize the customer holding or using the product. If they needed a replacement, what information would they be looking for? The model number? The UPC?  Other features?  We obviously want this information in our data, and the UPC is often overlooked.

For Industrial Automation, this UPC Code precisely identifies an Allen Bradley PowerFlex 70 AC Drive 52 A at 40 Hp 20A.

If you are outsourcing components of your Digital Marketing initiatives, here’s where you’ll want to be careful.

e-commerce opportunities can be easily missed by traditional digital marketing companies or staff marketers not yet thinking “inside the box”. Smart buyers want to be precise when buying online, and they’re using UPC/EAN numbers to find precisely what they’re shopping for. Consider the UPC in optimization strategy. Look for it in your product data set and display it in your product details.

Industrial Superglue
UPC’s and other GTINs transcend business operations. They’re a lynchpin for raw data, product catalogs, shipping, warehouse operations and purchasing. Beyond internal operations, your e-Business should include optimizing around UPC’s as they look to gain an edge in driving search traffic to your storefront.


Are you an Electrical/Industrial distributor? visit IDEA (Industry Data Exchange Association).For specifics on data standardization, visit GS1.





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