What Are the Different Item Codes?

6 min read

Learn about:

  • Different item codes
  • How to figure out which code to use for your business
  • How item codes work

Retailers, vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers are probably familiar with different item codes. Item codes allow companies to classify products appropriately and help them to manage their merchandise better. This guide will enable suppliers to understand how to organize items in their warehouse correctly.

Item code

Every sector uses Item codes from grocers to manufacturers. These codes are a numeric representation of a service or product type relayed from the department to every customer. Each product needs to have a unique item code to ensure appropriate classification, and item codes are essential for proper invoicing.

Vendors may come up with item codes themselves, but they should make sure that they are consistent across product offerings. Vendors should also ensure that the system is logical enough for others to understand their item codes during an absence. Many of the other numbers in this list fall under the umbrella of item codes. 

European Article Numbers (EAN)

The EAN refers to International Article Numbers or European Article numbers and is a universal standard that dictates how an item’s barcode should look. They deal with particular types of products and help make global trade smoother. 

Suppliers that work with any international goods will need to utilize EANs to ensure each item has the correct item number classification. EAN is one of the most recognized item codes that suppliers and retailers use when dealing with the global market. 


A barcode is one of the most common item codes, and most are very familiar with this type of code. It is on virtually all products. At its core, barcodes are symbols that represent data patterns. Each barcode is unique and consists of different lines or bars and spaces. This pattern lets the computer know what the item is and how to price it accordingly.

Several different types of barcodes exist, but the most popular ones are UPC-A, UPC-B, and UPC-C. American companies usually use UPC-A, and European companies might use different ones with additional letters. 

Generally, barcodes have 12 numbers affiliated with them. Various computer programs can generate unique barcodes for a company and its products, so it’s easier than ever to take advantage of this popular item code.

14-digit Global Trade Item Number (GTIN-14)

A 14-digit Global Trade Item Number or GTIN-14 is part of a group of item codes that correspond with GS1. They are globally identifiable item codes that generally consist of 14 numbers, and suppliers can use them for worldwide trade. Most of the time, a barcode accompanies the GTIN-14, but it can also exist by itself.

There’s also some overlap between GTIN-14 and UPCs, and the two can co-exist and be interchangeable. 

12-digit Global Trade Item Number (GTIN-12)

Like GTIN-14, GTIN-12 is usually part of a barcode and is a globally identifiable item code, but instead of 14 digits, it only has 12. Although companies worldwide use them, primarily North American suppliers – most specifically those in the United States – use GTIN-12 codes. 

Universal product code (UPC) item numbers

Aside from barcodes, companies are probably most familiar with UPC item numbers. UPC stands for universal product code, and the packing industry uses them often. UPCs are the 12-digit numbers that accompany barcodes. The UPC is underneath the barcode itself. It’s also something that anyone with a scanner can read, which makes it different from other codes because it’s not explicitly linked to an individual vendor.

Primarily companies that sell products from a major manufacturer use UPC numbers. The product will have the same UPC number no matter where the supplier sells it. This classification helps the supplier identify how many of their products sell and from what location, and it also helps the store manage its inventory. 

Many times, stores will use UPC numbers in conjunction with other numbers, like SKUs. This way, the store can classify their merchandise two ways: 

  • Via the UPC number that reports back to the manufacturer and is standard across all locations
  • Via the SKU, which is unique to each store. 

Having a double system lets the store accurately record all of its data.

UPC case code

UPC case code is very close to UPC, or Universal Product Code. Essentially it is a way for the warehouse to mark vendor packs or case packs to let retailers and warehouses know what they contain. 

The UPC case code is essential because it tells vendors precisely what’s inside of the package. In addition to the UPC, the UPC case code has other vital information about what quality the product is, and sometimes how many products are in the package. 

The UPC case code is an excellent way to get a birds-eye view of what each package contains without having to open it. It helps to streamline store and warehouse inventory.

Serial numbers

Serial numbers are a prevalent type of item code and are unique identifications used to classify electronic items. Stores use serial numbers to sell products, and suppliers also need to provide the serial number if they have an issue with any of their electronic devices. 

Serial numbers can track who owns items and can also verify whether or not a warranty is valid. For example, if a customer purchases a laptop, the unique serial number will be on the machine’s bottom. The customer must not peel off the sticker after buying it because he or she will need that identifying code if there are any mechanical problems with the laptop or questions about the warranty. 

Store Keeping Units (SKUs)

Store Keeping Units or SKUs are unique to each store and allow retailers to check their inventory in real-time. Unlike UPCs, they are not universal, so they’re an excellent way for each store to keep track of its merchandise within a bubble. Generally, retailers and suppliers assign products both an SKU and a UPC. 

Related Reading: SKU Rationalization

In summary

There are a variety of item codes that suppliers use to identify their products. These are:

  • European Article Numbers (EAN)
  • Item codes
  • Barcodes
  • GTIN-14s
  • GTIN-12s
  • UPC item numbers
  • UPC case codes
  • Serial numbers
  • Store Keeping Units (SKUs)

Some item codes are universally identifiable, while others are not. Additionally, some codes are scannable by computer systems. Suppliers of all shapes and sizes will need to use item codes so that warehouses and retailers can recognize their products quickly and track their inventory.

Keep track of your inventory

WIth SupplyPike’s Retail Intelligence app, you can track your inventory with the click of a button. Get in-depth reports on your store levels and notifications when stock drops below a threshold.


SupplyPike Retail Intelligence – Traited vs. Valid Map


SupplyPike Activity Feed – Account Settings

Get started today for free!


Related Resources

Written by The SupplyPike Team

About The SupplyPike Team

SupplyPike builds software to help retail suppliers fight deductions, meet compliance standards, and dig down to root cause issues in their supply chain.

Read More
The SupplyPike Team



SupplyPike helps you fight deductions, increase in-stocks, and meet OTIF goals in the built-for-you platform, powered by machine learning.

View SupplyPike's Website