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What Is an EAN Code, and Why Do You Need One?

An EAN number is a staple of eCommerce sales and warehouse inventory software. The system emerged in Europe but is now used across the world, except in the US and Canada. In this article, we’ll answer the questions:

  • What is an EAN code?
  • Why do you need an EAN code?
  • How do EAN codes work?
  • What information is contained in EAN codes?
  • Where can you obtain EAN codes for your products?
  • And many more

What is an EAN code?

EAN stands for European Article Number. Thanks to its wide global adoption, it is also known as the International Article Number.   

An EAN is a code used to identify products in eCommerce inventory management. However, they can also be used at a cash register point of sale system or be added to online listings. These identifiers use a combination of barcodes and numbers to give each product a unique identifying number. Users can only access this information by scanning the barcode or reading the individual number.  

EAN codes save sales and warehouse management teams a lot of time because they allow products to be scanned and identified quickly and easily. The numbers are typically scanned or entered by computer. In situations where systems cannot scan the barcode, the 13-digit code can be entered to retrieve the product information.

Benefits of the EAN code

Using an EAN code to identify your products has several advantages, such as:

  • Optimizing inventory management
  • Increases eCommerce transparency and dependability
  • Sellers and merchants can easily search for products all across the world
  • Because the codes are scanned, human error from entering codes is reduced
  • It reduces the reliance on paperwork, which helps businesses with digital transformation efforts
  • Because price details are contained in the code, it reduces the need to put price tags on items
  • The EAN code allows manufacturers to squeeze a lot of information into a small space
  • The barcode is easy to read, even at acute angles, making it hassle-free to decode information
  • It’s widely used across Europe and beyond, which reduces the need for advanced scanning systems
  • It’s perfect for fast-moving automated scanning machines 
  • EAN codes can help manufacturers track their products and identify and understand buyer behaviors and trends 

Where is the EAN code located?

EAN barcodes can be placed almost anywhere on a product. Depending on the design and shape of a product, EAN placement varies. Typically, you will find it on the top or bottom of an item.

Where are EAN codes used?

As the name European Article Number suggests, EAN codes are widely used in Europe. However, their adoption has expanded beyond the EU and is now used across the globe, except for in the US and Canada. The 12-digit Universal Product Code (UPC) is used in North America instead and works in a similar manner.

What businesses use EAN codes?

EAN codes are used across the retail and eCommerce sectors. These codes and numbers help with product recognition, which benefits businesses across the world. In retail environments, EAN codes are used to look up items with a point of sales (POS) systems for accounting, wholesale ordering, and for accurate inventory management.

EAN numbers help everyone in the sale cycle of a product. Both manufacturers, merchants, and buyers from anywhere across the world can easily search for and manage products because the system is standardized. Additionally, it reduces human error significantly because codes don’t need to be inputted manually, and less time is spent looking up product codes and models. 

Standard eCommerce practices like price monitoring and product matching would be far less efficient without EAN codes. If you’re interested in obtaining a quote for outsourcing fulfillment, you can use the form provided here. We have partnerships with multiple fulfillment providers (all of which are GS1 certified) so you can get quotes from various partners and choose the one that best fits your business needs.

How are EAN codes structured?

EAN codes are typically 13 digits. However, smaller products can have an eight-digit code if the EAN code would otherwise take up more than 25% of the overall packaging. The eight-digit code is commonly found on products like tobacco or sweets.  

The 13 digits contain a combination of the following:

  • country code
  • company/manufacturer code
  • article number
  • check digit. 

Let’s explore the constituent parts of the EAN code.

What information is contained in an EAN code?

You can split the EAN code into four blocks, with each block of numbers standing for particular elements that you can use to identify each product.

Let’s break down each section. 

Country code: The country code consists of two or three digits. These numbers indicate the vendor’s country of origin.

Manufacturer code: The manufacturer code is four or five digits. It is used to represent the brand of the company that makes the product.

Product code: The product code contains details about distinguishing features of the product, such as style, size, color, model, and more. 

Check digit: The check digit is a simple verification key that is used to confirm that each product is correct. 

Does each product version need a unique EAN code?

Yes. Let’s say that you are selling an office chair:

  1. In three colors
  2. In versions with and without armrests.

Each version will need its own EAN number. That means a total of six EAN codes (3 x 2) for the product.

Who decides on EAN numbers?

EAN codes are designed to be accessible to merchants and shoppers. As such, you can’t just generate your own EAN code and hope that it will be compatible with any warehouse or retail system. EAN codes need to be assigned by a centralized authority.

One of the main organizations that assign EAN codes is called GS1. They are a not-for-profit organization whose aim is to design and maintain business process standards. 

If you are a merchant and you need an EAN number, you can purchase one from GS1. If you have several products, you can bulk order from GS1 directly. However, there are third-party suppliers from that you can also purchase EAN codes, often at discounted prices.  

However, any third-party supplier must comply with GS1 standards. So always double-check.

How to get an EAN code?

If you are selling a product on your eCommerce site that you haven’t manufactured yourself, it should already have an EAN code provided by the manufacturer. However, if you are the manufacturer — and you don’t work with third-party EAN suppliers — you’ll need to request EAN codes yourself. Obviously, this is crucial if you want to sell your products on Amazon or other marketplaces that demand EAN codes.

Getting a GS1 code requires you to submit an application to GS1 or other companies that comply with the GS1 standards.  

Once your application has been submitted, approved, and processed, barcodes are emailed in JPEG, TIFF, or EPS formats. From there, you can alter them so you can insert them onto your product packaging.    

Do you always need an EAN code?

There are some scenarios where you don’t need an EAN code. However, if you are selling products either online or offline in Europe, an EAN number helps you increase your product’s value, your market position, and even your business’s overall credibility.

Huge global marketplaces, such as Amazon, require vendors to have and use EAN numbers. Not using an EAN number constitutes a huge missed opportunity for retailers.   

Situations where you don’t need an EAN code

As mentioned above, there are some scenarios where you don’t need an EAN code. 

Selling outside Europe

EAN codes aren’t always necessary if you aren’t planning on selling products within Europe. However, you will still need to comply with regulations and expectations in non-European markets. 

Arts and crafts products

Some products in the arts and crafts category don’t need an EAN code because they are considered one-off or unique. You need to apply for a brand registry if you want to sell art and craft items on Amazon. This process involves submitting trademark certifications for your products and business.

One alternative is applying for an EAN exemption through Amazon. The process takes about a month. However, the downside is that the exemption is only valid for one month. Once it has expired, you need to apply all over again.

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EAN code tips

While you can use different colors, a black code on a white surface provides the best contrast and visibility for your product. The code must be clearly visible no matter what size barcode you use. 

Avoid effect coatings, like metal, as they can reduce the readability of your barcode.

What is The Difference Between EAN and UPC codes?

EAN and UPC codes are the most popular barcode formats in modern retail. UPC is 12 digits and used in North America, while EAN is 13 digits. Otherwise, you can find one notable difference in how the numbers below the barcode are spread out.


Ensuring an efficient, transparent, and accessible eCommerce system requires standardization. Allowing each vendor to select their own numbers would cause confusion and duplicate numbers, with far more errors. EAN codes exist to facilitate a smooth and seamless process for vendors, manufacturers, and buyers. If you want to sell on Amazon, or other major marketplaces, an EAN number for your product is crucial.

In our opinion, businesses need to consider scalability and efficiency when formulating their marketing strategies. With the right technology and tools, even scaled up marketing can use data to deliver more personalized and meaningful customer experiences. Our company (e-tailize) offers integration, marketing and data analysis software for marketplaces such as and Amazon. Be sure to take a further look at the website if this interests you.

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