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Computer, Shopping, Checkout, Ecommerce

Why Authentic Product Identification is More Important than Ever

Sep 23, 2021
TOPIC: Technology
4 min read

Well before terms like “social distancing” and “positivity rates” became a regular part of our lexicon, Americans were already beginning to spend more of their hard-earned dollars online. The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a new wave of ecommerce reliance in a way no one quite expected. According to eMarketer data, online spending soared to $795 billion in 2020, up 32.4 percent year-over-year.

However, today, consumers are also feeling more comfortable shopping in-store. For example, store traffic surged 43.2% for the week starting May 10 compared to a year ago, according to analytics firm Placer.ai. At the same time, we see this uptick, the brick-and-mortar experience is changing to accommodate consumer interest in product details. Shoppers want instant access to information such as where a product was made if it was made with minimal environmental impact, and details about ingredients or material to help them determine if it aligns with their values, beliefs, or diets. To win long-term brand loyalty, small and large brands alike must focus on a product’s digital identity to ensure consumers are satisfied with what they purchase, no matter which channel they use.

It all starts with building a foundation for the product using authentic identification numbers. Marketplaces like Amazon and Google are sending clear messages to sellers that authentic product identification—specifically, obtaining GS1-sourced Global Trade Item Numbers or GTINs—is an important part of maintaining credibility and delivering quality products to consumers. The GTIN, often referred to as a UPC, is the number encoded into a barcode that uniquely identifies a product in the supply chain.

In a recent post on the Google Search Central blog called “Providing better product information for shoppers,” Google writes that “organizing product information for shoppers and retailers is an essential part” of Google’s mission—and that “to best help users find your content and products in Search, we recommend that websites clearly identify products with GTINs.”

This is not unique to just Google—most online marketplaces prefer sellers to identify products with GTINs, as they help form a necessary bridge between the product’s physical presence and its digital representation. Using GTINs in product listings enables better search so that products can be found online and consumers benefit from increased product selection.

Additionally, Amazon has signaled that it will no longer tolerate invalid GTINs being used in product listings. In an April post on Seller Central called “Reminder: Provide product IDs (GTINs) for listings,” Amazon says “GTINs are considered invalid if they are not GS1 vended or not recognized by the brand owner. To check for products with invalid GTINs, you need to visit fix your product and provide the requested information immediately or your listings will be removed.”

These two messages to sellers reiterate the value of GTINs. These product identification numbers are global in reach and are in essence like a passport to help small businesses gain entry into a worldwide system of commerce. When sellers obtain a GTIN for their products from GS1 US, this means they are entered into the GS1 database—a reference point for almost all retailers that helps them confirm the product matches the number and that the right company is linked to the product.  

For example, if a bottle of lotion is found to be listed using a GTIN for a bag of potato chips, this can obviously cause problems with getting the right product to the right person at the right time. Using unique product identification adds more reassurance to the consumer that the sellers and the platform they are using are trustworthy.   

The good news is it’s never been easier to obtain authentic GTINs from GS1 US. For small businesses, the best option may be to license single GTINs for $30 each. This is a new offering recently launched at the end of 2020 in response to feedback from members who were looking for more flexible product identification options.

An Amazon seller who makes only two types of lip balm, for example, now has an easier on-ramp to launching their product and does not have to resort to shortcut methods like using a third-party vendor. While these codes seem cheap and easy to use, this can be a costly action in the long run, as retailers will often reject codes not sourced directly from GS1 organizations because they do not link the product to the brand owner. Imagine you’ve spent years of time and effort building up a product listing with great reviews, only to be delisted because the GTIN was found to be invalid.

Also, for businesses who have grown to the point where they have 10 or more products, or many product variations such as styles, colors, flavors, and scents, another option is to license a GS1 Company Prefix, which allows brands to create authentic GTINs in bundles of 10, 100, and other bulk quantities.

GS1 US offers an estimator tool, which helps business owners determine which option is right for them—a single GTIN or a GS1 Company Prefix-based on how many products they have, how many variations of the product there are, and how they anticipate their company will grow in the future.

With authentic GTINs in place, small businesses can leverage other various GS1 Standards as they grow. If a business expands to encompass multiple locations or stores, the Global Location Number (GLN) may become a critical component of their supply chain management strategy, as they help uniquely identify warehouses, stores, even specific locations like shelves or loading docks, so a company can capture barcode scans at every step of the product’s journey to the consumer. This can especially be valuable for food brands focused on optimizing food safety as they play a key role in tracing potentially affected products in the event of a recall.

To that end, the future is bright for the use of GS1 Standards to further engage consumers too. The recently introduced GS1 Digital Link standard provides consumers with a direct link to trustworthy product information with a scan of a QR code or other two-dimensional barcode with their smartphones. It is a way to connect physical products with their digital identities, as GTINs can be embedded into a specific web address for the product, creating a Web-enabled barcode.

It is part of a system of emerging digital solutions designed to seamlessly connect consumers to dynamic trustworthy product information, promotional offers, images, and video while simultaneously creating more automation where it is needed. As consumers start to view the package as an information portal, brands will have nearly unlimited engagement opportunities.

It all starts with having authentic GTINs. Brands eyeing future growth can benefit from educating themselves about the possibilities that data standards can enable. For more resources on unique product identification, please visit www.gs1us.org, or check out a variety of helpful videos on YouTube at www.youtube.com/gs1us.

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