Barcodes seem very confusing, particularly if you are new to product development. Perhaps it seems quicker and easier to get packaging printed without barcodes and worry about that later. However, if you then find out you need barcodes it could be expensive and time consuming to sticker your products afterwards. Here I’ll answer the simple questions of whether you actually need a barcode in the first place and if so, how to go about getting one.
Barcodes are something I became quite familiar with when commercialising wine products. We were selling a large range of products, all over the world. I often had to figure out what the requirements were not just for Australia but for the US, Canada, Europe, UK, China, Japan, Brazil etc. Every unique product needed it’s own barcode. Then we needed another barcode to go onto the carton! It seemed like a nightmare to manage at first, but once you get to understand what your retailers require it’s actually pretty simple and barcodes can be a pretty useful way to track and identify your products.
Do I need a barcode?
You only need a barcode if you plan to wholesale your product to a retailer who requires barcodes, or to track stock through a warehouse. If you plan to only sell directly to consumers, there is no need for a barcode. You can use whatever means you like to track and identify your own products. You could use codes or special descriptions. Try not to think too short term. What if your business takes off, and suddenly you have a huge product range to manage?
If you already have retailers lined up, talk to them about their barcoding requirements. Larger retailers usually have a policy around barcodes. If you follow the strictest barcoding requirements from your set of retailers it will make life easier long term.
Generally, each unique product (remember each colour and size is also unique) will need it’s own barcode. Then, if you are shipping to the retailer in a box with multiple units inside, you may also need a barcode on the box, so that the retailer can identify it in their warehouse or storeroom.
How do I get a barcode?
Barcode numbers are issued by GS1 Australia or GS1 in the country you reside. Whilst there are other businesses on-selling barcodes, GS1 is the official source used worldwide. Generally you would purchase a prefix and then use GS1’s check digit calculator to give you a range of barcode numbers to use. You can choose how many barcodes you require starting from just 1. There are joining and annual fees associated, so check out the website’s fees calculator. GS1 also have lots of handy cheat sheets, FAQs and training courses available.
In Australia, retail products will usually use a 13-digit barcode for retail products (referred to as a GTIN-13 – ‘global trade item number’). For Australian businesses this will start with the prefix “93” (this is for businesses in Australia, and does not represent country of origin for the actual product).
If you plan to sell your product overseas you will need to find out the requirements of the retailer, and what is generally acceptable in that country. In the US for example it is more common to use 12 digit barcodes (GTIN-12 or UPC-A) on retail products. However, if the retailers are pretty relaxed about what barcode you use, then it would be ideal to just use the same barcode on your product across markets. This means you can purchase less barcodes and get them printed directly onto your packaging, saving time and money!