How can I look up a UPC Barcode?

I have a UPC barcode label. Can I look up the number in some public database and find out what the product and manufacturer is?

Basically, all I want to do is the same thing any checkout scanner does, although I don’t care about price in this case.

Nope. At least not for those line things. All they say is “123456789.” No other information. The database changes “123456789” to “Condoms, Extra Small.”

The new computer chip thingee will have enough omph to contain all the information you want.

Assuming you don’t have one of the long-lost Cuecat scanners (or whatever those Radioshack hand-scanners were called), you can try . I think all the products are submitted by users (why, I don’t know) so I’m not too sure about completeness.

The U in UPC stands for “universal”. Of course you can look it up. Go here.

That’s the site I had been trying. The particular item I was looking up is an electronic one, and I have the label in front of me. The encoding is correct (bars match the numbers), but that item is not in the database.

I tried two items at random from my kitchen pantry, both major brands and common items. One was in the database, one was not. Yet the one that was not didn’t cause a problem at the supermarket when I bought it.

So it looks like that database is not all-inclusive. There must be one that manufacturers use – there would be no point in creating a new barcode if no one knew what it was assigned to.

I don’t see what reason there would be for the public to NOT be given free access to it.

Paul in Saudi, your post makes no sense. What “new computer chip thingee”? I don’t need to read the code electronically, since I already have the digits. And the database you mention that translates numbers to descriptions is exactly what I am looking for.

(Gulp, Ignorance fought.)

There’s lots of others, although I don’t know how inclusive they are. Google “upc lookup” or “upc database” for some others.

There is no global, all-inclusive database of all possible UPC codes. Each manufacturer is assigned a 5-digit identifier, who can then assigned whatever number they want to each individual product. Supermarket databases are compiled by adding in products they purchase, and therefor don’t generally include UPC codes for products they’ve never stocked.

Haven’t yet found anything better.

I’m aware of how the manufacturer’s codes are assigned, so those should be publicly available (and I think they are). It seems odd that if a manufacturer assigns a code to a particular product that the complete code isn’t readily available. Do they hand those over only to distributors, who hand them to retailers? Why this limitation? Unless there is some security involved (I can’t think of a reason), why not enter in a universal database for anyone (retailers & wholesalers primarily) to access? Not doing so would be like registering a domain name without telling anyone about it except a select few.

On a similar note, is there any way to find out what type of barcode is being used by someone?

There may be such a database but if there is, I rather suspect the creator would like to make a profit on his effort, as is his right. So, it might be available, but it ain’t free.

My experience echoes that of others here: if there’s a universal, provider-fed database, I’ve not found it. When I worked on the database and processing systems for WIC for a large state, it was a need that we had, and money wasn’t an issue. Still, we never found such a database.

I suspect it’s the same reason the companies didn’t make the CDDB (audio CD track listings) available: All this was done before Internet access was mainstream*, when it was a lot more expensive to make large information dumps publicly available and so such things weren’t done without a very explicit reason (if, indeed, they were done at all).

*(The Internet was invented in 1969 or thereabouts, depending on what you define the Internet to be. It went mainstream in 1991, when the restrictions on commercial use were lifted.)

[Drags out the old inventory hat]

UPC’s are little more than an item number or SKU (stock keeping unit) in a machine readable font. Many of not most retail establishments use their own item number sceme to avoid conflicting with vendor item numbering. UPC’s are designed to be universal however when a new product enters a supply chain it is generally encoded into the system manually by purchasing or upper level supply chain minions. Vendor provides a sample label or picture of one to test for proper lookup and scanning once it hits the stores, the barcode has been assigned in the computer by the retailer, not by any UPC overlords.

SKU’s often also denote bulk packs of identical product. For example UPS 123456789abc may be a can of diet pepsi. That can of pepsi is the same in a 6 pack, 12 pack, 24 pack, 30 can cube, or those long narrow 12 packs they seem to use now. However each one of those packs will have its own SKU and tracking to make sure data is captured on the sale rates of each product packaging configuration.

By doing it themselves it does avoid many problems, one typo in an item in such a master database if not noticed could cause massive problems in hundreds of retail supply chains at once.

Rather than query different databases, try just plugging the number into Google.

If you think it might be something that a supermarket might carry, take it to the self-serve checkout and scan it there.

Short answer:
Any human populated database on the internet will be a small subset of all actual codes that have been created to date.

At the company I work for (an apparel company), we generate about 5,000 new UPC’s every few months. You would need a lot of dedicated users keying into to keep that up to date.

More Info:
Companies get their vendor ID’s, (used to be 5 digits, now it varies but thats a whole other story), and then they generate the rest of the code.

Typically these numbers are either sent directly to customers (EDI), or instead sent to a service like QRS that both the supplier and customer subscribe to for the purposes of easing this exchange. Supplier allows customer xyz to access their catalog of UPC’s and customer downloads into their database.

Even more info:
To accommodate growth and standardize with European identifiers (EIN’s), UPC’s and EIN’s are being switched to GTIN’s which are 14 digits. This really only applies to new stuff, UPC’s will of course continue as they are for some time.

The company portion of the code is indeed assigned by the “overlords”. How could it be otherwise? Imagine trying to register domain names or assigning telephone numbers or Internet IPs without using common databases or agreeing which number blocks to use!

I am unable to find the documention online to support what I am about to say, so I am digging into my memory inventory, too. The doc is somewhere in my basement, as I once was involved with building and programming hardware devices to read and print barcodes of many kinds.

The UPC/EAN code was designed with specific uses in mind according to the first digit. Going from memory here, so don’t hold me to the actual numbers…I think “3” was reserved for drugs, “5” for in-house weighed items like meats (where the price would vary for each package and couldn’t be plucked from a static computer database), but most initial numbers were for universal use, and the following few digits after the initial one were for the company. Obviously, while you can encode an in-house product with a proprietary retail code and not expect it to decode elsewhere, a pack of Wrigley’s gum should have a number that is unique and unambiguous everywhere. So manufacturers can’t assign product numbers without some restraints. And if your product is likely to be sold outside of a rigid, controlled distribution system, it would be to everyone’s advantage to have the code and description public.

Somebody has to key the data in somewhere, or it has to be generated for your use. Why not make it alternately available to all?

I know very little about the garment industry, but it’s possible your situation is solved by the sub-code also used by periodicals, a small, auxiliary code block with the issue number to distinguish from other issues of the same periodical. Publishing only the main number would be what I had in mind.

Or perhaps the distribution of your product never reaches outside a narrow range. The product I was originally concerned with was an electronic item likely to be sold by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dealers world-wide.

This is the UCC in the United States.

For the companies I’ve written software for, and the company I currently work at, UPC’s are generated by the computer not manually keyed because the volume is too high.

One of the reasons the information is not made generally available is because there is a cost associated with it and no gain for the company. Costs asociated with sending this data to a global repository include:

  1. People’s time to determine best global repository destination
  2. People’s time to work out interface issues:
    2a) Which description do we send, we have a couple for different purposes
    2b) How does the user know the class of product? Do we send the harmonized code? (from import/export)
    2c) What do we do when we re-use a UPC (this happens, typically only after 3 years minimum)? Do we delete the old one or allow both to exist?
    2d) When a SKU changes and we need to send an update, how is that flagged in the system?
    2e) What about SKU’s that were assigned UPC’s but have since been cancelled prior to ever going to market? At what point do we send the UPC. Upon first manufacture? After first outbound shipment to a customer?
    2f) What mechanism do we use to guarantee delivery of the data to the global UPC service? With EDI there is an established mechanism of acknowledgements and a standardized format, but it is costly in terms of man hours and transmission costs. AS2 can be used to transmit over the internet but the setup and licensing costs for the software still exist. There is always FTP and a custom format but with FTP we would have to build a delivery guarantee mechanism (not too hard, I’ve done it many times, but it takes time).

None of these are too difficult to overcome, everyone in business does it daily, but it’s effort and expense for no gain to the company.

Our product and all of the software I’ve written in this arena relates to selling through major retailers like Nordstrom, Macy’s, Walmart, Target, etc.

Raftpeople, most of your itemized concerns are certainly valid, but they have been solved for SKU-users already. Generate a number, change a number, cancel a number, assign a description, all of these things are being done right now. The distribution may not be universal, but it is pretty widespread. Surely if it were publicly available, caveat emptor would apply if a user were not in the “official” loop.

What do your companies do if they dump warehouse closeouts outside of the normal distribution channels? What if a remnant buyer shows up at a wholesale clearance auction? Are the barcodes useless to them because they aren’t part of your closed system? If you make the database available to them, why not everyone else?

I can look up any IP or domain name in the world (except intranets) in one search. Why not SKUs or UPCs?

Nothing you have said seems to be a good reason why I can’t look up a product that I have purchased in a store.

I don’t think I understand your point here, but I’ll try to re-state my point. I was describing the real daily issues we encounter with UPC distribution today and my point was that distributing to a secondary source also would require some of the same work because the requirements of the global universal database are guaranteed to be different from the QRS like services we and our customers use today.

So the point was, there is a cost for the company, but no gain that I can determine.

Some closeout customers do care about UPC’s and get them from QRS. Some closeout customers don’t care about our UPC, or even the exact product, we sell them cases of mixed products from the previous season and they figure out what to do with it, how to mark it, etc. (although they do already have hangtags and polylabels with our UPC, maybe they enter them as they receive them, not sure.)

At previous companies we did have the exception situations where we sent them UPC’s for the items they wanted. Sometimes in Excel, sometimes custom export to CSV file, sometimes we would e-mail inventory reports that had the UPC’s, etc. Whatever needed to be done.

To make the UPC’s generally available to anyone, would need to do one of a few things:

  1. Allow anyone to access our QRS catalog and download. This isn’t really feasible, too expensive for us and for the individual.
  2. Create a secondary UPC feed to a universal source, but again this costs money for the company
  3. Create a website for our companies products allowing anyone to access the data, again this costs money for the company to create and maintain

The reason is simple: it costs the company money but doesn’t gain the company anything.

If there were a benefit for the company, then there would be pressure to provide this information to the public in general.

SKU’s in an inventory are far different creatures than domains. If walmart gets an item, it can barcode it any way they want because only Walmart will be scanning that item once its in their inventory. Their own internal DB will simply disallow you from using the same SKU twice so no two items share the same SKU. It doesn’t matter if the “overlord” description for UPC 12345 is widgetA if walmart assigns 12345 to widget B it only matters to walmart…target will never notice because these are internal issues to the supply chain of each company.