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Universal Product Code (UPC)

Definition - What does Universal Product Code (UPC) mean?

The Universal Product Code (UPC) is a 12-digit barcode that is assigned to a consumer product for identifying it and its manufacturer. The barcode consists of a series of variable-width vertical bars and was originally created by IBM in 1973 for tracking merchandise in stores, mainly at the point of sale (POS). The use of UPC has since spread to other countries as well, such as the UK, Canada, Australia, etc.

The UPC standard is maintained and regulated by GS1, an international non-profit organization that maintains and develops standards for supply-and-demand chains across multiple industry sectors.

Techopedia explains Universal Product Code (UPC)

A UPC is issued to a manufacturer that applies to have its product coded by GS1. The first six digits of the UPC number is the manufacturer identification number, which means that this is the same for all products of that specific manufacturer. The second set of six numbers pertains to the item itself and may be only assigned to a single item. If a manufacturer registers more than one product, it has to pay to get a unique number for each product. The reason this is done by GS1 is to ensure that each product item has a unique UPC, in order to avoid any potential mix-ups during retail. A specific barcode that represents the UPC is also assigned.

The UPC only identifies a specific item and contains no other information such as price or quantity. This is so the vendor or retail outlet can assign its own price to the item. What consumers see happening at the POS at retail stores during scanning is the system using the item's UPC to look up the local item database for the price, and is not actually the UPC giving the price.
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