Skip links

What is a UPC? (Universal Product Code)

A UPC barcode is short for universal product code. It is a type of barcode that is usually found printed at the back retail product packaging to aid in identifying a particular product. It consists of a few parts. The barcode that is readable by a machine, which looks like a series of unique black bars. And the unique 12-digit barcode number beneath it.


The purpose of a UPC code is to make it simple to identify product features. This includes title, price and location. When the product is scanned at checkout of either a physical store or online ecommerce store. It’s actually why they were created initially. To make the checkout process faster at grocery stores. UPC barcode numbers are also very useful in tracking inventory within a database, store or warehouse.


To buy a barcode such as a UPC code for use on a product, a company either has to first apply to become part of the system. Which is GS1 US, the Global Standards Organisation, formerly known as the UCC. Which is short for Uniform Code Council, manages the assigning of UPCs within the US. Or simply buy ean barcodes from There are a few differences in the 2 organisations. With GS1, they are significantly more expensive and have yearly fees. Whereas Barcode Market acquired these UPC barcode numbers before the existence of GS1 and therefore can charge whatever we like. 


Parts of a UPC barcode number


After paying a hefty fee to join, GS1 fixes a 6-digit manufacturer ID number, which then becomes the first six digits in the UPC on all the company’s items. This UPC barcode number then identifies the specific supplier of the item.

The following five digits of the UPC barcode number is called the item number. It refers to the item itself. Within each business there is a dedicated person responsible for issuing UPC barcode numbers, to ensure that the same barcode number isn’t duplicated and that old numbers that refer to discontinued products are slowly phased out..


Many products that are sold to the public have many different variations, based on, for example, size, colour or flavour. Each variable of the product requires its own item number. So a box of 24-pack of crisps of the same flavour has a different item number than a box of 24 different flavoured crisps, or a box of 50 crisps consisting of the same flavour.


The final digit in the UPC barcode is named the check digit. It’s the barcode number of several calculations – adding and multiplying several numbers in the code – to finalise to the scanner used at checkout that the UPC is valid. If the check digit code is invalid, then the UPC code won’t scan correctly.


Advantages of UPC barcode numbers 


UPC codes come with a number of advantages to companies and individuals. Because it is now possible for barcode scanners to instantly identify the item and its associated information. UPC barcode numbers are fast.

Efficiency and productivity is improved by getting rid of the need to manually enter product details.

Tracking inventory is also made possible with much more precision than manually counting, you would be notified exactly when you are running low on products. When you need to replenish your stock you would also know when there is a problem with a specific product. Consumers who recently bought it would then have to be notified or a recall issued. UPC barcode numbers would allow items to be tracked through manufacturing to distribution to physical retail stores and even directly into peoples homes.

Leave a comment