How investing in UPCs opens the door to many marketplaces

August 12, 2016 04:36 PM

“There are two things you never want to see being made: laws and sausages.” After spending the last three months knee deep and under the hood in ecommerce marketplaces, I’d like to add seller restrictions to that list.

A project for work required me to research the listing requirements of all the major online retail platforms. The end result was a flowchart infographic for businesses to find the best sites on which to sell their products (scroll down to see the infographic), as well as me knowing more about marketplace restrictions than I do about my own mother. Here’s one takeaway I had: UPCs are kind of like your ecommerce driver’s license.

Let me explain. First of all, UPC stands for Universal Product Code. It’s an internationally accepted designation system for products. You’ll definitely recognize the barcode system used on almost everything you buy commercially. That’s a UPC. Official UPC codes will cost you $250 for your first ten, or $750 for your first hundred, plus annual renewal fees. They must be purchased from the GS1, the governing body of international business language.

You can buy secondhand UPCs from a variety of websites, but this less expensive route is frowned upon by some larger retailers and limits your expansion. This is because the GS1 registration info won’t be in your name. There’s no way you, the GS1, or a marketplace can tell for sure whether or not the UPC you’re listing corresponds to the item you’re selling. If UPCs are a driver’s license, then second UPCs are fake IDs: they might get you some of the benefits, but they aren’t foolproof.

That’s not where the comparisons end either. Think about it.

They both signal maturity

I have a friend who’s in his early twenties and starting his first business selling skateboard stickers. He sells solely from a Facebook page to his family and friends. He fulfills all his own orders. The last time I was at his apartment I had to step over a half dozen cardboard boxes full of stickers to get to his couch. This is fine for someone just starting out, but once you’ve reached a certain number of listings and sales, it becomes necessary to purchase UPCs in order to make a commitment to flawless shipping and accurate inventory management. If you’ve taken that step, it means you’ve graduated from having a hobby to having a business.

They both make life easier

You can get through life without having a driver’s license, just like you can get through business life without having UPCs. Sites like Etsy and social media will open up selling paths for those who don’t want to invest in UPCs. But running an ecommerce operation without UPCs is like riding a bike everywhere when you could instead buy a car. It’s an investment in your future as a business. Fulfilling all your own orders and keeping track of your inventory on a spreadsheet is neither sustainable nor scalable. It might work at twenty orders a month, but it can’t work at 2,000. Buying UPCs for your products opens up fastlane options like Fulfillment by Amazon that can make you better organized and save you time. 

They both let you go new places

We are excited for the day we get our driver’s license because it signals that we can travel places we weren’t able to go before. When I got my driver’s license (admittedly late on my 18th birthday) I was finally able to go hang out with friends in other towns and go to concerts my parents weren’t willing to drive me to. When it comes to UPCs, you’re able to go to marketplaces that you weren’t able to go to before. Official GS1 UPCs help marketplaces better police their stores, assuring that third-party sellers are listing legitimate goods. This creates a more consistent experience for the buyer that can increase sales for the site. Selling on social media, Craigslist, or your own website is fine, but without UPCs your options for expansion are pretty limited. Here are four marketplaces you can expand to once you invest in UPCs.


Sears brings their trusted brand name to the online sphere. Their famous catalogs and mall-anchoring brick and mortar stores are ingrained in American culture. It has now focused a lot of its energy into ecommerce. It’s difficult to build up brand trust, so leveraging the trust of an established name, one that receives 22 million unique hits per month, introduces your products to a large audience ready to buy. Sellers fees are $39.99 a month plus a commission depending on the product. Sears will waive the monthly fee if your sales don’t reach $400.


Tech nerds like myself have known about Newegg for a while now, and it’s finally making a bigger splash on the mainstream ecommerce market. Newegg is a marketplace that specializes in electronic goods, but also sells a small catalog of apparel. Since Best Buy closed its doors to third party sellers in February, Newegg assumed the de facto spot as the #1 destination for sellers of niche electronics, and their push into the mainstream makes them an even better value for sellers. There are no listing fees on Newegg, but they’ll charge a commission on your sales, which means you don’t have to pay anything until you start making sales. That’s a plus to businesses just getting started with expansion.


Rakuten used to be known as before it was purchased by the biggest ecommerce site in Japan. Some have even called it Japan’s Amazon. The Rakuten marketplace boasts $4.6 billion in transactions. Its model is to be seller-centric, creating an environment that encourages third party sellers rather than competing against them. The result is a robust marketplace where sellers feel empowered.

A lot has been made about Jet’s place in the market, and the future of the marketplace was up in the air, and that’s even more true now that Wal-Mart has acquired Jet. But what can’t be denied is that Jet buyers love the savings offered to them. Its product taxonomy that offers buyers savings on related items will continue to be a hit for the foreseeable future. The algorithm requires you to have a UPC so the site can more accurately keep up with the products. That taxonomy puts your products in front of customers already buying, as’s messaging encourages them: “The more you buy, the more you save.” The model for calculating commissions is based on what you’re selling and how the price was adjusted during each sale.

UPCs are an investment that you should definitely make because they allow you to scale your business and expand to new markets and make more sales.

Ecomdash is a provider of inventory and order management software.




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