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How GS1 GTINs Can Power Your Ecommerce Business Across Platforms and Marketplaces

13 min read

The list of challenges that ecommerce businesses face may be long, but knowing how to label your products with the proper identification numbers and barcodes doesn’t have to be one of them.

If you are preparing to sell your products on your website, through major marketplaces, or to retailers, you want to show consumers that you are a credible brand. You can improve your business by becoming knowledgeable about the Global Trade Item Number or GTIN.

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What Is a GTIN?

Did you know that you come across GTINs every day on the retail items you commonly see or purchase? The GTIN is the number below the lines and spaces of a barcode. The GTIN uniquely identifies a product when it is scanned at the checkout counter or listed online.

The GTIN was created more than 50 years ago when the retail industry came together and agreed that each product should have its own unique identification number that links back to the company that created it. This helped the retail industry increase speed at checkout and manage price changes.

Today the GTIN helps power retail in every channel, both in physical stores and online. And before a product arrives in your online cart or is scanned at checkout, the GTIN provides item identification and visibility throughout all the computerized systems, databases, search results, and physical locations it will pass through before it reaches its final destination.

An example of a UPC-A barcode and the GTIN-12 that is encoded into it

What Is the Difference Between a UPC and a GTIN?

Some websites and marketplace guidelines will refer to both UPCs and GTINs as one and the same. However, they are different.

The UPC, or Universal Product Code, is the actual barcode symbol, or the lines and spaces. The GTIN is the identification number encoded into the barcode.

A UPC barcode, together with a product’s GTIN, makes it easy for businesses to track a product, work within retailer requirements for point-of-sale readiness, and manage inventory efficiently.


However, GTINs are increasingly used on their own in online product listings to help form a bridge between a product’s physical presence and its digital identity and to prove product authenticity.

Here are some of the most common GTIN combinations:

  • GTIN 12: This is the most common GTIN to assign to your products if you are a brand owner operating out of North America. It is a 12-digit number printed below a UPC-A barcode.
  • GTIN 13: This GTIN is most common outside of North America, primarily in Europe. It is a 13-digit number that is printed below an EAN-13 barcode, which stands for European Article Number.

The good news is both the GTIN 12 and the GTIN 13 are interoperable and can be listed on marketplaces or scanned at point-of-sale no matter where your products are sold. For example, if your product is marked with the GTIN-12 but sold in Europe, you can still mark it with a GTIN-12 and it can still be scanned.

If you run an Ecwid store, you can add product codes such as UPCs or GTINs in your product attributes. Watch the video below for quick instructions.


How Is a GTIN Different from SKU?

A Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) is a code that a company uses to identify products internally. It is usually made up of letters and numbers and has logic built into the format for easy internal reference, making the format efficient for quick internal reference. Each company creates its own SKUs, even if they are selling the same product.

You can specify a product’s SKU on your product pages in your Ecwid store

A GTIN is a unique identification number that is assigned to a product and is linked to the licensee company, giving it a consistent identity as it moves across the supply chain. It can be shared, scanned, and ingested into platforms used by suppliers, distributors, logistics providers, retailers, marketplaces, or other supply chain participants. They will index the GTIN and its associated product attributes as part of their onboarding and verification process.

If you run an Ecwid store and would like to add a GTIN to your product details, first add GTIN as a product attribute in your store settings. Then you’ll be able to specify its value in product details.

Specifying a GTIN for a product in the Ecwid store

Where Do You Get a GTIN?

GTINs are issued by GS1, the largest identification and supply chain standards organization in the world.

If you are a company, brand, or seller based in the United States, you will typically acquire your GTINs from GS1 US.

If you are a non-US brand, you can access your country’s GS1 member organization through the GS1 global website.

While GS1 US is known as the administrator of the UPC barcode, the organization maintains and advocates for the use of a host of other data standards that support the supply chain. For example, in addition to standards to identify products, GS1 US advocates for the use of standards to identify locations, synchronize data, and also help support many regulatory requirements for a number of industries including healthcare and the food industry.

GS1 US collaborates with a variety of industries to develop best practices for developing sufficient supply chains, effective business relationships, and providing consumers access to trustworthy information about the products they purchase.

Ensure you get your GTINs from GS1 member organizations such as GS1 US

Businesses that opt for another GTIN source may not have the opportunity to realize the full benefits of GS1 US membership. Business owners can gain peace of mind knowing that they can take advantage of future business opportunities, as many retailers and marketplaces only accept GTINs issued directly from GS1.

You can ensure that you have GTINs that link your brand to your product by joining GS1 US in one of two ways:

  • License a GS1 Company Prefix. A GS1 Company Prefix is a unique number that is assigned to your company alone and will serve as the first several digits of your GTINs. Prefixes come in different capacities, and prices depend on how many identification numbers you need to create.
  • License a single GS1 US GTIN. If you only need a few GTINs, you can license individual ones. When you license a GS1 US GTIN, your company is uniquely and exclusively identified as the owner of that number. You also get access to other GS1 US member benefits.

How Many GTINs Do I Need?

The most important thing to understand is that each variation of each product you sell requires a unique GTIN. For example, if you sell a line of candles and they come in 3 colors, you will need 3 GTINs. If they also come in 3 sizes, you will need 9 GTINs (3×3=9). If they also come in 3 scents, you will need 27 GTINs (3x3x3=27).

If you expect to be adding products frequently or changing your assortment seasonally, you may want to consider a GS1 Company Prefix and procure a quantity of GTINs that can support your current and near-future product assortment. You don’t have to assign all the GTINs at once. You can have a reserve stock for future product additions.

However, if you are just getting started, only have a few products, and don’t foresee near future product additions, the single GS1 US GTIN is probably right for you.

You can use the GS1 US Barcode Estimator tool to help you figure out how many GTINs you will need to create before you decide which option works best for you.

The GS1 US Barcode Estimator tool helps you decide on the right number of barcodes for your current and future products

Once I Have My GTIN, How Can It Help Sell My Products on My Website?

When you are setting up your product catalog for your website listing, your GTIN as an attribute is not only a good idea but also required in some cases.

Most website platforms will provide a field for a GTIN. Even though it may be optional on your website platform, including the GTIN on your product page is best practice. Once your product page is published, various search engines, like Google and Bing, will index this information to make future searches from potential customers more accurate.

Google has used GTIN information to improve search results since 2015 because each code is unique to the product it represents and it works globally. For example, a product created in the United States can also be served up to a customer searching in France.

When adding GTIN information to all of your product pages, you are making it easy for search engines to surface your specific product in customer searches, boosting your sales conversions.

How Can a GTIN Help Sell My Product on a Marketplace Listing?

Marketplaces and large omnichannel retailers use the GTIN to uniquely identify, index, and categorize the millions of products they are hosting on their platforms so they can return the accurate product in response to their customers’ search. They use the GTIN to present the accurate product when customers use their search engine.

Because the GTIN is a unique product identification number, it also enables them to authenticate the company listing the item. This helps these platforms support legitimate sellers’ listing on their platforms and identify bad actors or unauthorized sellers.

Amazon, for example, will suppress a listing if it is found to contain a GTIN that is not linked directly to the company listing the product. They clearly state in their seller guidelines that GTINs must be sourced directly from GS1.

To Sum Up

Ultimately, Global Trade Item Numbers have been powering commerce across the globe for more than 50 years and continue to remain relevant in today’s ecommerce dominant world. By understanding the appropriate channels to obtain, create, and use GTINs, a business is well on its way to leveraging a global standardized supply chain language that is foundational to your product and your company’s success.

(In this publication, the letters “UPC” are used solely as an abbreviation for the “Universal Product Code,” which is a product identification system. They do not refer to the UPC®, which is a federally registered certification mark of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (‘IAPMO’) to certify compliance with the Uniform Plumbing Code as authorized by IAPMO).


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About the author

As business development director, ecommerce, Shane Morris engages with a wide variety of solution providers, tech companies, and marketplaces that serve the small business community and provide critical services that help them grow. He serves as an ambassador for GS1 US, seeking out evangelists to help raise awareness for the value of GS1-sourced product identification, including barcodes, QR codes, and other global standards that play a crucial supporting role in the supply chain and the retail industry overall.

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