This is part of our “back to basics” series of small business how-tos. If you create a product that you hope to sell through retail channels, most retailers will require that your product displays a Universal Product Code, or as it is commonly called a barcode.


The familiar barcode provides a standardized means for retailers to track inventory, among other things. If your product comes in different sizes, volumes or flavors (or other variations), you’ll need codes for each version.

So how does one go about obtaining a UPC?

Method #1 | Join GS1 US

GS1 US is a member of GS1, an international group that created and administers UPCs and other standards. Joining GS1 US means your company will be assigned a prefix number that will become part of any UPC you’ll need now and in the future. Downside: You’ll have to pay to join. Membership fees are based on the number of unique product variations you need to identify.

How to apply for membership | You can apply online. Once you receive your prefix number, you can setup barcodes online using GS1 US Data Hub | Product

Method #2: Purchase a UPC through a secondary market

Websites like nationwidebarcode.com sell UPCs that are no longer in use.

Pros: Less expensive that joining GS1

Cons: Your UPC you will start with another company’s prefix number. If you hope to distribute multiple products (or sizes, variations of the same product) you’ll regret not having your own prefix.

(Updated, April 22, 2017: Changed GS1 to GS1 US.)


(Featured Photo: Wikimedia Commons)