The Future is Here: GS1 Standards and the Digital Supply Chain 

Commerce has become increasingly global over the last several decades, and this trend has only increased with the advent of ecommerce. This has been enabled by a variety of factors, including improved transportation, greater consumer demand, and technological advancements including supply chain automation and the rise of digital freight forwarders.  

But one unobtrusive piece of technology has been powering globalization since 1974, and it’s only gotten better with age – the UPC barcode! Most consumers encounter UPC barcodes when they shop for items at a retail store. But few know that the barcode is part of a worldwide, managed system of standards that powers commerce up and down the supply chain. These standards are managed by a global organization, represented in the United States by GS1 US. Here’s a comprehensive overview of many of the GS1 Standards you will encounter in the transportation of goods in the supply chain.  

Why the GTIN?

Many Amazon sellers will be already familiar with GS1, as Amazon marketplaces internationally require that sellers identify their products with Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) sourced from a GS1 member organization for most products (CITE Canada, CITE USA). And there’s a great reason! GS1 GTINs (often referred to in the Amazon community as UPCs) are globally unique to the product they are assigned to, allowing Amazon and other marketplaces to properly catalog the billions of items currently available for purchase there. These GTINs are stored in the GS1 Global Registry, allowing marketplaces to verify business owners and help prevent fraud and hijacking. And if that wasn’t enough, GTINs have SEO benefits and can help your business scale for growth. While the product GTIN incentivizes GS1 membership for most businesses, members licensing a GS1 Company Prefix have the ability to create other GS1 identifiers that will help advance and digitize their logistics as they ship more inventory to more trading partners worldwide! 

Trace your shipments with the SSCC

One of these identifiers is the Serialized Shipping Container Code, or SSCC. The SSCC is a serialized, unique identifier that can be assigned to a logistics unit, be it a single carton, a pallet, or a full container. The SSCC acts like a license plate for your shipment, allowing it to be identified as it travels through the supply chain. Paired with a digital Advance Ship Notice, the SSCC can help recipients understand exactly what is coming, and quickly identify received or missing shipments. And as a shipper, it can provide clear data about where your product is as it moves through the supply chain. Even better, SSCCs can be created using your GS1 Company Prefix for no additional cost. Even the smallest, 10-capacity prefix can generate over 1 million unique SSCCs. Larger prefixes can generate billions!  

Know the “who” & the “where” with GLN 

Another identifier you may not be aware of that is included when you license a GS1 Company Prefix is the Global Location Number, or GLN. In the same way a GTIN identifies a product, the GLN is used to identify a location or a legal entity (like a company, or a department). Just like a GTIN, a GLN is globally unique, allowing you to share party and location information with all trading partners across the supply chain. They are often used in electronic communications to ensure companies clearly identify themselves and all of their physical and digital locations. GS1 Company Prefix holders can generate the same quantity of GLNs as GTINs, meaning if you license a 100-capacity prefix you can generate 100 GTINs and 100 GLNs. Feel free to assign your GLNs at whatever level of specificity is required for your business needs.  

Barcoding beyond product packaging

For most businesses, understanding the identifiers is only half the battle; you still need to capture those identifiers for digital transmission through the supply chain. While most people are familiar with the UPC and EAN product barcodes they see in stores every day, there are two additional barcode types that can help you get a product to the correct location. The first of these is the ITF-14 barcode. This barcode only carries the GTIN and can be printed directly on corrugated cardboard case packs, making it an efficient option for companies that only need to share GTIN information on the unit. These visually distinct barcodes are easily recognized by the thick black bars surrounding the barcode.


Should you need a logistics barcode that carries a bit more information than the GTIN, you can rely on the GS1-128 barcode! Previously called the UCC-128, the GS1-128 barcode can carry up to 48 characters of information and can include a wide variety of data such as the expiration date or country of origin. It can also carry the SSCC discussed above and can even be used to indicate a case is mixed with different products. The GS1-128 barcode contains a set of codes called Application Identifiers (AIs). Not to be confused with ChatGPT, GS1 AIs indicate what comes next within a barcode. For example, the AI (01) indicates “the GTIN is coming next” whereas the AI (37) means “the number of items contained is coming next.” 


A business utilizing the above standards is able to uniquely identify products, logistic units, locations and parties that represent its business in globally interoperable, standard formats. They can scan ITF-14 barcodes on their case packs and GS1-128 barcodes on their shipments to speed inventory checks and intake, and to ensure important data is digitally captured. The last step for a business is to maximize its efficiency through GS1 Standards designed to share that data with trading partners, including large retailers that will help them maximize their growth and reach in-person shoppers, who still account for more than 85% of retail purchases according to the US Census Bureau.(Cite)  

Digitize with EDI and RFID

Many major retailers in the US depend on Electronic Data Interchange, or EDI, to digitally send and receive documents. These documents include purchase orders, advance ship notices, inventory updates, and invoices. EDI allows retailers and vendors to transmit information through automated systems that speed communication and reduce manual errors. For a vendor, an EDI process combined with their order management process, can help them grow significantly by reducing manual intervention.

Humidifier brand Crane, for example, was able to handle 60,000-70,000 orders per year with a team of three people by integrating EDI as it expanded channels. (case study, website) Some additional GS1 standards are paving the way toward the future of business processes.  

Walmart made headlines in 2022 when it announced the expansion of its RFID requirements (Cite) for new product categories in stores. RFID tags support serialized identification of products, meaning instead of using a GTIN to identify a product variant, you can embed a serialized GTIN (or SGTIN) in an RFID tag to identify that individual item. Better yet, the tag can be read from a distance with a handheld reader, meaning product inventory counts are faster and significantly more accurate at every step in the supply chain. RFID has been used by retailers to address labor shortages and enhance buy online, pick up in store offerings.  

The future of the barcode 

RFID is not the only developing technology to keep an eye on in retail! 2D barcodes, including the QR Code, are making their way into U.S. retail stores as part of the industry-led Sunrise 2027. This barcode will provide the same benefits of the UPC (machine-readable, accepted across retailer systems), all while carrying more information in a smaller footprint. In addition, use of another GS1 standard called GS1 Digital Link allows the barcode to be used for point-of-sale and be web and phone-friendly. This means that same barcode will allow brands to speak directly to their customers or potential customers via their smartphone, whether an item is sitting on a shelf in a store, or at home after an ecommerce purchase. This innovative barcode will work harder, allowing brands a huge opportunity to connect with hard-won customers globally.  

Whether you are just getting started, or actively expanding to new channels and markets, your GS1 US membership can help you meet new trading partner requirements, gain logistics efficiencies, and establish credibility with retailers and consumers alike. Draw on the full potential of a GS1 Company prefix in order to work toward a fully digitized supply chain! 

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