May 20, 2015

IDEA Dictionary: What is a Product Identifier?

When dealing with data, and all related terminology, you may feel like you’re trying to speak a foreign language. In the interest of keeping things clear and simple, we will introduce commonly used terms in each newsletter that will help you navigate the data shorthand and learn the lingo. This issue, we bring you: product identifiers.

Manufacturers assign unique numeric identifier codes to their products to facilitate electronic communication with trading partners. These product identifiers are then used as the structure to create a barcode symbology for each product, tying physical products in a business system to corresponding electronic business information. This connection assists with logistical and warehouse management system scanning and point-of-sale transactions. The different product identifiers are as follows:

  • UPC (Universal Product Code; GTIN12): A twelve-digit identifier, used primarily in the US and Canada to create the UPC barcode symbology.
  • EAN (International Article Number; GTIN13): A thirteen-digit identifier, used primarily outside of the US and Canada to create the EAN barcode symbology.           
  • GTIN (Global Trade Identification Number; GTIN14): A fourteen-digit identifier based on the GS1 international standards, which can be used across the globe and can accommodate all smaller identifiers (UPC or EAN). With fourteen digits, the GTIN structure is large enough to house the smaller structures and can be used to encode each type of barcode symbology.

Although manufacturers may use any code structure, the identifier codes are not interchangeable and cannot be swapped out for one another. No single product should be identified with more than one type of code. IDEA’s Industry Data Warehouse (IDW) can accommodate all three types of identifiers, so manufacturers may use whichever type they have assigned to their products when loading data into the IDW.

If you have any further questions about product identifiers, please contact us at for additional resources.