What is an EAN-13 barcode?
The 13-digit European Article Number (EAN-13) is the most commonly used retail barcode worldwide. A retail barcode is a string of numbers which have never been used on a product in a shop before. Barcodes allow product information like price, stock and description to be quickly recalled at the point of sale or other operations of a shop without the risk of two different products sharing the same number. Most shops require products to have high-quality barcodes printed, as modern checkouts rely on barcodes to serve customers as quickly as possible.
What are EAN-13 barcodes used for?
EAN-13 are product identifiers in retail environments. Having product information available by simply scanning a barcode is invaluable to retailers, not only for selling goods over the checkout but also for receiving goods, tracking stock, reordering low stock, and quickly accessing product details for customers. Every unique product needs its own barcode. For example, mint-flavoured gum and cola-flavoured gum made by the same company would use two different barcodes. However, one barcode is enough to sell an unlimited number of the gum type it is assigned to. This allows shops to set different prices for different flavours and to keep track of stock for each variant to ensure they don’t run out of one type.
How are EAN-13 barcodes unique?
The system of retail barcodes as product identifiers is only effective if numbers are regulated to ensure they are unique. If anyone made up their own number, there would be chaos when two different products use the same number. This is done by carefully controlling the issuance of EAN13 barcodes so that each number is assigned only once. There are two ways to get genuine barcodes. The first is through membership of an organisation called GS1. GS1 rents large blocks of numbers out for a yearly fee. The second way is to buy barcode numbers in your desired quantity from a legitimate barcode reseller such as Barcodes Ireland. These barcode numbers are of GS1 origin (which means they are unique) and can be sold individually.
When were they introduced?
The first retail barcodes were developed by the Uniform Code Council (UCC) in the USA during the early 1970s. In 1974 in Ohio, the first barcode was used on a pack of chewing gum. Since then, barcodes have become the worldwide standard for identifying retail products due to their simplicity, clarity and efficiency.
Other types of retail barcode
While EAN-13 barcodes are the most commonly used codes in Ireland, there are other variants which serve slightly different purposes or are popular in other parts of the world. Some other types of barcodes are:
UPC-A: This 12-digit barcode is the most commonly used retail code in North America. It serves the exact same purpose as an EAN-13, but it is 12 digits instead of 13. Barcodes Ireland can provide UPC-A barcodes to customers who prefer this format. The vast majority of shops worldwide accept both EAN-13 and UPC-A barcodes.
EAN-8: This 8-digit barcode is used for very small products which cannot fit a standard retail barcode. The only way to obtain these is by renting them from GS1. They are in limited supply.
ITF-14: Also known as a TUN or carton barcode, these 14-digit codes are used in inward goods to process shipments from suppliers. ITF-14 barcodes are not for products.
QR Code: While some shops are experimenting with using QR codes for over-the-counter purchases, most QR codes in a retail setting are used by the manufacturer to link to some sort of content that will provide value to consumers- a website, instruction manual, video, or any other online resource.
Difference between UPC and EAN13
While UPC and EAN codes are very similar in appearance and function, it is important to understand the difference between the two when deciding which format is best suited for your purposes. Both UPC and EANs are retail barcodes. The image to the left displays a side-by-side comparison of these two barcode formats. The most immediately obvious difference is that the UPC code is 12 digits, whereas the EAN13 is 13. All retail barcodes sold by Barcodes Ireland can be supplied in either format by adding or removing the leading 0, which is the 13th digit. In either format, the actual bars of the barcodes are identical, which means if a scanner is capable of reading an EAN code, it can usually also scan a UPC.
Another notable difference between the UPC-A and EAN13 codes is that the former is most commonly used in North America, while the rest of the world favours the EAN-13 format. We advise our clients that they choose the barcode type most common to the region they are conducting the majority of their business, but most shops can process either format.
Symbology of the EAN code
The 13-digit EAN code is made up of a 12-digit string plus a check digit at the end. The 12 digits are a unique series that has never been assigned to a retail product before, and the last digit corrects for errors in scanning or data entry. There is a 5-step process used to calculate the check digit based on the previous 12 digits:
1: Start from the end of the barcode number and add up every alternate digit. Do not include the check digit if it is already present. For example, if our barcode number is 0712345678911, we will remove the 1 at the end (because it is the check digit) and then add up every second number starting on the right side. So we will get 1+8+6+4+2+7 = 28
2: Multiply the result from the previous step by 3. 28 x 3 = 84
3: Add up all the remaining digits (excluding check digit again if present), so in our example, this will be 0+1+3+5+7+9 = 25
4: Add the result from step 3 to the result from step 4. 84+25 = 109
5: The check digit is the smallest number which can be added to the result of step 4 to create a multiple of 10. So in our case, we can add 1 to 109 to make 110, a multiple of 10. This makes 1 our check digit.
How barcodes work
The black bars of the barcode encodes the numbers represented underneath in a format that a digital scanner can read. Each number is represented by two black bars and two empty white spaces. The width of the bars and spaces is what differentiates the digits when the barcode is scanned. There are three different encoding schemes (different bar combinations for each digit 0-9), known as L, G and R. All EAN barcodes begin with an L-encoded digit and end with an R-encoded digit which means that scanners can determine the beginning and end of a barcode and thus scan it upside down without issues.
Advantages of EAN-13 barcodes
EAN13 barcodes bring a host of advantages to manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and customers, including:
Shortening checkout wait times for customers by efficiently accessing product details like the price
Reducing human error through the use of scanners instead of manual number entry
Stocktaking with a single scan instead of counting individual products
Easy processing of inward goods with an integrated and developed barcoding system
Tracking of goods throughout the supply chain
Access to larger retail shops that require barcodes for all products they stock
Operational simplicity reduces employee training required