Frequently Asked Questions
Some common barcode questions answered
1. What are barcodes and why do I need one?
A barcode is essentially a unique number/code (12 or 13 digits in length) that is used by retailers to track your product within their inventory systems. This number is displayed in the form of a barcode image, which you will know of as the collection of black lines located above the barcode number. Almost all retailers in South Africa currently use the barcode system, so if you want to sell your product in these stores, you will need barcodes for your products.
2. How do barcodes work?
When you have arranged to sell your product at a retailer, one of your most important tasks will be to fill out a product information form in which you will detail the product, and enter a variety of other information about your business. As part of this process you will be required to provide a unique GS1-registered barcode number that can be linked to your product. The retailer will then manually enter all this information into their system, including your barcode number. Once entered, whenever your barcode is scanned at the till, their system will be able to credit you with a sale and keep track of stock levels.
3. What is the difference between a UPC and an EAN code, and which should I use?
A UPC code is 12-digits in length and an EAN code is 13-digits in length, that is essentially the only difference between the two. Originally all barcodes were produced in UPC format, but as more countries started to buy into the barcoding system, it was decided to add an extra digit for some countries to expand their quotas. Regarding which you should use, the answer is that both should work fine, so you can choose which ever one suit you most. Almost all scanners around the world are designed to be able to scan both formats. The only place where I would advise that you use a specific format is in the US and Canada, where they mostly still use the UPC format. So perhaps the safe answer is to use the UPC format, unless specifically stated by the retailer.
4. What is the difference between an ISBN and ISSN barcode, and which should I use?
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is the barcode used for all once-off publications such as books, novels or e-books. ISSN stands for International Standard Serial Number and you will need this barcode to sell periodic publications - such as magazines and newspapers - in retail stores, either physical or online. A unique ISBN barcode or ISSN barcode number is needed for each issue, variation or edition of your publication.
5. Does every barcode work in every store?
As long as you have purchased your barcodes from a reputable reseller or directly from the GS1, your barcodes should work in all barcode South Africa stores. I have heard about a couple of stores in the US that do require you to be a direct-member of the GS1 for you to sell your product with them, but there are only a couple and there are none that I am aware of in SA at the moment. I would, however, always advise that you check with your retailers first to make sure that they don't have any special preferences or policies regarding barcodes.
6. Can barcodes be used in more than one country?
This is a question that comes up alot. Essentially, as long as the country that you are expanding into also uses the barcode system, then yes your codes will work there too. You must remember that the whole idea behind authentic barcode numbers is that they are unique around the world, so no other product will be using that number anywhere else on earth. This means that as long as you have gone through a reputable barcode reseller or the GS1, you will be able to use your codes anywhere.
7. How many barcodes do I need?
You will need a separate barcode number for each and every variation of your product. I.e. If you are selling dark and light coloured paints in three different sizes, you will require 6 barcodes in total (one for each colour in the three sizes). The reason that this is required is so that the store can keep track of the differing rates of sales of each individual product. Therefore if your small black paint is selling faster than the other options, the store will know to order more of that specific product, rather than having to manually count the numbers of each. You will also need a barcode for new products that are added to your line or brand over time.
8. Do all products require the same type of barcode?
The only products that I know of that require different barcodes are books and magazines, which require ISBN or ISSN numbers, and some pharmaceutical products. Other than these, almost all other products will require a normal EAN/UPC code.