UK Barcodes

What are Barcodes?

A barcode is a unique sequence of digits that is assigned to a product in a retail space. This number is usually, but not always, accompanied by a barcode image (vertical black bars and spaces of different thicknesses). 

Barcodes numbers are globally unique numbers and you cannot make up your own number. 

There is no information encoded into the number itself. Only the number is encoded into the barcode image (which sits above the barcode number). The retailers attach the product information to the barcode number into their system such as product name, description, retail price, supplier etc. Then, whenever the barcode is scanned at the checkout, all the relevant information will appear.

There are different types of barcodes depending on your products and/or needs:

  • Retail Barcodes – these are assigned to a product and assist retailers in keeping track of sales. They come in different formats:
    1. EAN13 – 13-digit barcodes used in the majority of countries, except for the USA and Canada.
    2. UPC (also known as UPC-A) – 12-digit barcodes commonly used in the USA and Canada, but can be used on products worldwide.
  • Carton Barcodes – also known as ITF-14 barcodes, these are assigned to cartons that contain products within them and are typically used for shipping and storage.
  • QR Codes – these are square-shaped barcodes that contain specific information (such as a competition) or link to a website.
  • Book  & Magazine Barcodes – when publishing books or magazines, you would need to source either an ISBN (for books) or an ISSN (for periodical publications). These would then require an ISBN barcode image or ISSN barcode image that appear on your book/magazine in-store for sale.
  • Other non-retail barcodes that are commonly used are code-128 or code-39 barcodes. These barcodes are usually created based on a series of sequential numbers and are used by large companies for asset tracking, or are used by libraries/ gyms for scanning out books or members.

Advantages of barcodes

There are various advantages to having a barcode for your retail product. The most obvious of these is that the vast majority of retailers use the barcoding system to increase the speed of ‘checking out’ and reduce the number of human errors possible. For this reason, many retailers will require that you have a barcode on your product before they stock it. Even if it is not a requirement, many retailers will prefer that you have a barcode and hence be more likely to stock your product if you have a barcode.

Buying a barcode

There are two ways to get legal retail barcodes:

(1) One option is to get barcodes through your local GS1 organisation, and pay their joining fee and annual membership fees.

(2) The other option is to get barcodes from a reputable barcode reseller (barcode reseller’s resell unused barcodes that come from the GS1 system).

Like with most things, you should be careful of which resellers you buy from. We recommend members of the International Barcodes Network. This is a worldwide organisation that distributes reseller barcode numbers for a one-off cost. They provide certificates of authenticity for every barcode they sell, as well as barcode verification and barcode registration. They have accurate up to date information on any barcode acceptance restrictions and are happy to work through individual issues with clients. They have sold over 100,000 barcodes in over 100 countries. A list of members in a variety of different countries can be seen here.

Buying a barcode in the UK

Below are some members of the International Barcodes Network in the UK: