Are you overwhelmed by the complexity of product identification numbers? Maybe you’re unsure about the purpose of these numbers, which numbers you should be requesting, and how top global marketplaces use them. 

Product codes help to identify your unique products (not your brand or product lines), so that marketplaces can separate different products into individual listings. It’s critical that product codes are standardized to avoid duplicate numbers across numbering systems. 

In this ShippyPro article, we dive into product identification numbers and the most commonly accepted formats. 

What are product identification numbers?

Product identification numbers are labels that are allocated to unique products. They facilitate product tracing, brand reputation management, and consumer transparency.

Product identification numbers can be essential for protecting both consumers and brands when a product is recalled, or when a company is experiencing fake products entering the market.

They allow a marketplace or retailer to very quickly identify the stock of any product. These numbers also come into play in the supply chain. At any stage of the supply chain, a company or supplier can discover where product is located, thus enhancing visibility. 

Particularly for food products and fast-moving consumer goods, where time is of the essence, product codes will be used frequently to check accurate delivery estimates and track progress.

As a business owner, these numbers allow you to assign your products with a unique code that is not used by any company or any product anywhere else in the world.

Below, we’ll review the top product identification numbers. 

Common types of product identification numbers

Without standardization, product codes are rendered useless. These codes are widely adopted around the world in order to ensure that the numbers are truly unique and not replicated by other systems. 

Global Trade Item Number (GTIN)

A global trade item number (GTIN) should be used to uniquely identify all products or services that get priced, ordered, or invoiced in the supply chain. 

This product code structure was developed by the non-profit organization GS1, which maintains global standards for business communication. 

GTIN number system
Image source: Wikipedia

The GTIN is actually a group of identifying numbers, as it has incorporated the following numbers into standard, universal utilization:

  • International Standard Book Number – used globally for books
  • International Standard Serial Number – used globally for serial products such as magazines
  • International Standard Music Number – used globally for printed music
  • International Article Number – encompasses the European Article Number and Japanese Article Number, two codes used primarily for physical products
  • Universal Product Codes – barcode symbology frequently used in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand

Most products around the world have an identification number that is part of the GTIN system. However, in the e–commerce industry, there are other codes which matter for specific platforms. MPN is commonly used on AliExpress and eBay because these platforms sell manufacturer parts, while the ASIN code is used on Amazon to identify specific products. 

Although these codes aren’t part of the GTIN system, they are widely used on those platforms, and we’ll describe them in more detail below. 

Universal Product Code (UPC)

Primarily used in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, UPC codes are barcodes which can be scanned or typed in at a register when purchasing a product.

UPC - Universal Product Code example
Image source: Amazon Seller Central

A UPC barcode is encoded with a 12-digital identification number that is part of the GTIN system. This 12-digit number is unique to the product and is assigned by the global organization GS1. 

The purpose of a UPC is to easily identify product not only unique products but also product features, as a manufacturer can request that product variations each have their own GTIN. 

In order to obtain a UPC, your company must be part of the GS1 system. You can apply for GS1 membership here.

European Article Number (EAN)

A European Article Number (EAN) is very similar to the UPC code, except that it is more widely used in Europe and not used in the US, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.

Similar to the UPC, it includes a GTIN code as part of the GS1 organization. An EAN is either 12 or 13 digits long and is accompanied by a barcode which can be scanned and read by a computer.

EAN - European Article Number example
Image source: Amazon Seller Central

No two EANs are alike, and product manufacturers can request unique numbers for product colors and styles if they want. 

Suppliers, manufacturers, and marketplaces use these codes to find and process products. To sell a physical product in Europe that isn’t a book or magazine, you’ll likely need an EAN.

To apply for an EAN, visit the GS1 website and select your country from the right-hand side. You’ll then be able to contact your local office or get started with the process online.

Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN)

Do you plan to sell products on Amazon FBA or FBM? In that case, you’ll need an Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN).

However, unless you’re selling your own private label product, there may already be an ASIN for the product you want to sell.

Let’s say that you’re reselling a pair of Nike sneakers as part of your retail arbitrage strategy. Amazon doesn’t want you creating a new ASIN for an existing product. Rather, you’ll create an offer under that existing ASIN. 

This allows you to show up as a seller of that product, increasing the chances that you will resell the item on Amazon.

ASIN - Amazon Standard Identification Number example
Image source: Amazon

On the other hand, if you have your own branded product line, then when you add new products for sell in Amazon Seller Central, you can create a new ASIN. 

Unless you are selling a private label product or have exclusive distribution rights for a product, look up an existing ASIN inside of Amazon Seller Central before creating a new one. 

International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

An ISBN is used in place of a UPC for books. This number is part of the GTIN system. Newer books (released in 2007 or later) have 13 digits, which is the most common structure for codes assigned by GS1.

ISBN - International Standard Book Number example
Image source: Amazon Seller Central

An ISBN is unique to each edition of a book, so newly revised editions will have their own number. 

Unless you are a publishing company, you will not need to create your own ISBN in order to sell books online. Resellers can add the ISBN of books they sell to Amazon, eBay, and other book reselling marketplaces. 

Manufacturer Part Number (MPN)

MPN stands for Manufacturer Part Number, and this code is essential for reselling car parts, vacuum parts, etc. Without the correct MPN included in your product listing, customers can’t be confident that they are purchasing the right product to help them repair an item. 

MPN - Manufacturer Part Number example
Image source: AliExpress

Not only will customers often check this number before purchasing a part, but they will also often search for it directly rather than searching the name of a part, in order to pull up the right search results.

An MPN is typically only used when there is not an manufacturer-assigned GTIN, whether that be a UPC or EAN. However, if a part has both numbers, you can include both in your reselling listing to be safe.

If you’re a manufacturer of parts, you should apply for a GTIN (UPC or EAN based on your location) and include this in your proprietary e–commerce store and various marketplace listings. 

Ship your orders easier and faster with ShippyPro

Getting the proper product identification numbers is critical to e–commerce success if you want to track product sales and protect the integrity of your brand.

But once a customer places an order, what’s next? Shipping.

To meet customer expectations, you need to provide multiple shipping options, shipping tracking, shipping updates, and easy online returns. You can do all of this with ShippyPro, no custom software development work required. ShippyPro integrates with your e–commerce store and shipping carriers to help you manage shipping in as little time as possible.