What is GS1? Are they a part of the government?

Barcodes Explained (Part 5)

For more than 14 years I have been answering these questions so let me sum up the answers as clearly as I can.

GS1 is the name of the company that created the entire barcoding system currently used by all retailers around the world. What is often immediately confusing about GS1 is that for the first 30 years of its existence it was known as the Uniform Code Council (or U.C.C.) The U.C.C. changed its name to GS1 about 10 years ago but is still often referred to as the U.C.C. by many older business owners.

Let me also state this: GS1 is not a governmental organization nor does it have any affiliation with the government whatsoever.

In fact, it might not surprise you to learn that GS1 is actually owned and operated by Wal-Mart and six other retail giants including Target, Kroger's, Costco, Home Depot, Lowes, and the Federated Group. Together these companies make an enormous profit from their literal monopoly on the barcode system.

However, GS1 did create this simple and powerful system of barcoding. The fact that they got every retail business in the world to go along with it deserves a great deal of credit.

Before GS1 Barcodes

Before there was GS1, there was no universally organized system of inventory management. In fact, GS1 barcodes came about as a way to solve the chaotic inventory tracking problems faced by stores. GS1 came up with a simple numbering system where every new company would get their own set of unique barcode numbers for their products exclusively from GS1. As long as every new business in the world with a new product got their barcodes from GS1, the whole system would work beautifully. Amazingly, this is what GS1 was able to pull off.

As GS1's monopoly grew, so did its tendency to raise its prices. Today, they operate one of the craziest, most outlandishly expensive business models out there. Unfortunately, they are so expensive they have become a prohibitive expense for many people trying to start a new business.

While all barcodes must originate from GS1, an alternative does exist that has brought the expense of obtaining barcodes down dramatically. I will tackle this topic in my next blog. Be sure to check out the entire "Barcodes Explained" series.

Hope your day is prosperous and Happy Barcoding!

– Erik Quisling

Erik Quisling is the Founder and CEO of Buyabarcode.com. Started in 1999, Buyabarcode.com has been featured in both The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post and has helped more than 100,000 businesses bring their products to market with barcodes.
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