A Universal Product Code (UPC)?
UPC, or universal product code, is a type of code printed on retail packaging to identify a particular item. It consists of two parts – a machine-readable barcode, consisting of a series of black bars, and a unique 12-digit number underneath it.
When an item is scanned at checkout, UPC codes make it easy to identify features of a product, such as the brand name, item, size, and color. In fact, that was the very reason that they were developed in the first place – to streamline the grocery store checkout process. Stores and warehouses can also track inventory with UPCs.
An organization must first apply to become part of the UPC system in order to obtain a UPC for its product. UPCs in the US are assigned by GS1 US, the Global Standards Organization, formerly known as the Uniform Code Council.
Following the company’s payment of a fee to join, GS1 issues it a 6-digit manufacturer identification number, which becomes the first six digits of the UPC on all its products. The manufacturer of an item is identified by that number.
The next five digits of the UPC are called an item number. This number is associated with the product itself. It is the responsibility of one person within each company to assign item numbers, to ensure that the same number does not appear more than once and that old numbers referring to discontinued products are phased out.
There are several variations among consumer products, based on, for example, their size, flavor, or color. There is a corresponding item number for each variety. Boxes of 24 one-inch nails have a different item number than boxes of 24 two-inch nails or boxes of 50 one-inch nails.
In a 12-digit UPC, the last digit is called the check digit. A valid UPC is the result of several calculations – adding and multiplying several digits in the code – by the checkout scanner. The UPC will not scan correctly if the check digit code is incorrect.
Advantages of UPCs
Businesses and consumers benefit from UPCs in a number of ways. UPCs improve speed by allowing barcode scanners to instantly identify a product and its associated price.
Through their use, productivity and efficiency are improved, as product data is no longer required to be manually entered.
They also allow companies to track inventory much more accurately than hand counting, so they are aware when more product is needed on retail shelves or in warehouses. A UPC allows products to be tracked from production to distribution to retail stores and even into consumer homes when there is an issue with a particular product and consumers need to be notified or a recall is needed.