What is a UPC Symbol?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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A UPC symbol is a series of thick and thin lines stamped on packages, readable by laser scanners. Some may refer to this area as a bar code. 'UPC' stands for Universal Product Code: a standardized means of identifying the manufacturer and the specific description of the product. A UPC symbol allows different retailers to keep track of the products they receive from the same manufacturers and vendors. Every manufacturer is identified by the first five numbers scanned on the UPC symbol, and the specific product is identified by the next set of numbers. A special number called a 'check code' is added to thwart the use of a counterfeit UPC symbol. Even if a hacker discovered the codes for the manufacturer and the product, the secret check code number must match precisely.

The grocery industry first introduced the UPC symbol in the 1970s. According to legend, the first item ever scanned by a bar code reader was a pack of chewing gum. The use of a UPC symbol and the computerized inventory system it represents vastly improved the speed at the checkout lanes and reduced the need for individual pricing on products. The customer may have only recognized the pricing feature of a UPC symbol, but the grocery store manager benefited from the inventory and manufacturer information as well. Orders could be based on the computerized results of sales, not on time-consuming physical inventories.


The use of a UPC symbol has continued to grow in popularity as other retailers realize the benefits of computerized inventory control. Other services such as customer reward programs can also be managed through the use of a UPC symbol. The technology behind generating a bar code can now be obtained by independent vendors and start-up companies. A self-published author, for example, can use a simple computer program to generate a proper UPC symbol for sales in a local bookstore. Many retailers now can provide their own UPC symbol for specialized products not covered under the present UPC codes.

Although the lines of a UPC symbol are scanned by lasers and read much like binary code (light and dark replacing 0 and 1), there may still be some standard numbers and letters included. These numbers are often used as a secondary means of data entry should the laser reader become inoperable. They are not, however, the precise numbers contained in the UPC coding itself. This is yet another means of preventing counterfeiters from adding a false UPC symbol for a substantial discount. Adding or subtracting lines from a UPC symbol will also result in a rejection, because the new numbers generated will not match the check code number.


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Post 4

SurfNTurf- This could cause a problem when replenishing the merchandise because you do not know which the flavors your customers prefer are.

For example, if you run a grocery store, you need to know the sales of the Eddy’s ice cream containers, but you will have to know what the sales trend is for the chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cookies and cream, and mint choc chip for example.

If a customer buys two different flavors of Eddy’s ice cream, but the cashier scans one tub of ice cream twice then the computer in the supermarket will incorrectly inflate the sales of the flavor that the cashier scanned and underreport the other flavor that was also sold.

If the store orders based on these trends they run the problem of overstocking the flavor that was scanned and running out of the flavor that was not scanned. This is why the UPC code has to be accurate.

Post 3

Anon3472-I believe that the UPC bar code symbol is unique with respect to each product.

Even products that are similar but are different flavors of the same product have to have different UPC bar codes for inventory purposes.

Businesses need to know how much of one flavor is sold versus another. If the UPC bar code symbol is the same then it would only register the product but not specify sales of the individual flavors.

Post 2

I would like to receive some information in regards with the use of A UPC code.

We create our own UPC code for our products and use an internet site to get the last digit.

But now we have a question, can we use a same UPC code for two different product numbers ?

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