All about barcodes – EAN, UPC, ISBN, EPID and ASIN

All about barcodes – EAN, UPC, ISBN, EPID and ASIN

Product barcodes, what are they and why do we need them? According to, a barcode is a machine readable form of information on a scannable, visual surface.

As such, when you purchase an item from any store, you might notice a label with thin, black lines across it, along with a variation of different numbers. What is this? Well, this label is scanned by the cashier, and the item’s description and price automatically come up. This is used to read data and information based upon the widths of those small black lines.

The barcode has many uses, although most of us think of them as simply a way to price items in the grocery or department store. Barcodes are very useful for maintaining accurate information about inventory, pricing, and other important business-related data.


How many types of barcodes are there? Many.

With the advent of mass manufacture and several stores selling the same product, we need codes, much like names, to identify each product. Barcodes are a way to uniquely identify your products and this is often considered to be an inventory management best-practice. Let’s delve deeper and see how many types of barcodes exist:

  • UPC – Universal Product Code

As the naming might imply, this coding is pretty much universal. Basically, every retailer and every marketplace would use the same code for a certain product. This is the code that goes into barcodes and helps stores keep track of sales. Also, it helps a manufacturer identify how much of a product he has sold worldwide.

A UPC is typically 12 digits long and represents attributes such as the weight of the product, the product type, name, etc.

Also, a UPC applies to virtually every category of products you can think of. It can be applied to everything from electronics and clothing to food, medication and even services.

In order to get a UPC for your products, you first need to register with GS1 and obtain a company code. You prefix this code to all your products to help identify you as the seller.


  • EAN – European Article Number

For a long time, we assumed that products manufactured within US and Canada would sell in these territories alone. We also thought that manufacturers would produce these goods locally as well.

Common knowledge and time have shown that this is often not the case, hence the need for an EAN. The EAN is the same as a UPC, except it has a single digit country code prefixed to it, thus making it 13 digits long.

If your customer base resides in the US and Canada, stick to a UPC as most older barcode readers can only recognize the 12 digit UPC. If you’re selling internationally, you’ll need an EAN.

  • ISBN – International Standard Book Number

Just as products are uniquely identified by UPCs, books, magazines, e-books and other published media can be marked using ISBN. Every book that goes into publishing must have an ISBN code attached to it.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that different editions of the same book will have different ISBNs. Ok, but why are ISBNs so important? Books and published media often travel and sell all around the world, hence the ISBN is a good way for a publisher to keep track of how much it is selling and where.

In order to register an ISBN, you’ll have to contact your local/national ISBN agency.

  • ASIN – Amazon Standard Identification Number


Given how huge and geographically diverse Amazon is, they had to create their own unique identification code sooner or later. It only made sense. So, how does an ASIN help and what is it used for?

You can attach a product to an existing ASIN. This helps both you and the marketplace keep track of inventory. It also prevents them from accepting orders for products that have run out. If you have your own brand, you can register your brand with Amazon and get new ASINs assigned.

The catch here is that unlike a UPC, an ASIN is not necessarily unique to a product. Say you’re selling the same product on Amazon US and Amazon UK. Your product could have different ASINs on these sites.

The only time when an ASIN is universal is when it is matched to a book’s ISBN. Consequently, if you’re selling books, you don’t need to worry about ASIN being a different number. It is almost always the same as the book’s ISBN.

Also – jewelry, beauty products, and personal care can be sold on Amazon without a UPC. Once you upload them, an ASIN is assigned to them.

  • EPID – eBay Product Identifier

In short, this is eBay’s answer to Amazon’s ASIN. It’s more or less the same thing. It is one of the ways for eBay to identify products and can be used instead of other identifiers as the UPC.

To sum up

Having a unique barcode for each product might seem like a hassle at times, but it’s the perfect way to identify your products. Without a unique code to identify products, you may just end up shipping the wrong product.

In addition to this, the use of product identifiers such as barcodes further helps you increase listing visibility, rank higher on search engines and cross-promote your listings next to relevant products.


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