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What Is The EAN Number?

In the vast and interconnected world of global commerce, European Article Numbers (EANs) play a pivotal role. These barcodes are essential for managing inventories and streamlining operations across international boundaries. This blog post delves into what EAN numbers are, their significance in the marketplace, and how they facilitate smooth commercial transactions worldwide.

Understanding EAN Numbers

EAN numbers are unique 13-digit barcodes used primarily in global retail to identify products. Each EAN uniquely identifies the product, manufacturer, and its attributes. Originally called "European Article Numbers," despite the geographical reference, EANs are used worldwide. The system was developed to improve the efficiency of checkout and supply chain processes, dating back to its introduction in the 1970s as an enhancement of the earlier UPC system, which was predominantly used in the United States.


While EANs and Universal Product Codes (UPCs) are both prevalent in retail environments, they serve slightly different markets. The main difference lies in their geographical usage: EANs are generally used internationally, while UPCs are more common in the United States and Canada. EANs consist of 13 digits compared to the 12-digit UPC, allowing for more product combinations and a broader international application. Businesses often choose between these systems based on their target market's standard practices and the scale of their distribution networks.

How EAN Numbers Work

EAN numbers are primarily used at retail points-of-sale. Each number is encoded into a barcode, which can be scanned by laser or imaging scanners. These barcodes help track products throughout the supply chain, from manufacturing through to final sales, ensuring that inventory levels are maintained accurately and that products are priced correctly. In online commerce, EANs facilitate the organisation of large product catalogs, making it easier for retail labels from platforms like Amazon and eBay to manage listings from multiple sellers.

How to Get an EAN Number

Obtaining an EAN number is essential for retailers looking to sell products globally. The process involves registering with GS1, a non-profit organisation that maintains global standards for business communication. The registration process ensures that each EAN number is unique and mapped accurately to the product it represents. Businesses are required to provide detailed information about their products, including size, color, and other relevant attributes, to receive their EAN numbers.

Benefits of Using EAN Numbers

The benefits of using EAN numbers are manifold. They facilitate efficient stock management, minimise the chances of error during billing, and enhance the checkout process. For businesses operating internationally, EAN numbers are indispensable for ensuring products are compatible with global systems of trade and inventory management. They also help in gathering data analytics on sales trends and inventory usage, crucial for strategic planning and operational adjustments.

EAN numbers are more than just barcodes; they are an integral component of modern retail and e-commerce landscapes. By standardising the way products are identified, EANs streamline operations, support accurate inventory management, and facilitate international trade. As businesses continue to expand their reach across borders, understanding and implementing EAN numbers can significantly enhance operational efficiency and market presence.

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