When Should I Allocate A New EAN Barcode?

Sample BarcodeAll products exported with ExportX need EAN barcodes or UPC barcodes scannable on each individual item. Occasions arise when new barcodes are required. This might be when products are updated, packaged differently or sold together in bundles or packs. When can the existing barcodes suffice, and when are new EANs required?

At a risk of telling product experts what they already know better than me, here’s a brief guide from the point of view of exporting with ExportX.

Keep using the same EAN barcode when:

  • Your product remains essentially the same and doesn’t need to be differentiated from older stock other than by date.
  • You wish to retain continuity of your product’s data and history.

In the e-commerce world ‘history’ means a great deal more than the product name and price. History that becomes related to a specific EAN includes its bestseller ranking on shopping sites, reviews by customers, and its inbound links from publicity, news coverage, bloggers and product reviewers. Switching to a new EAN means starting the product’s hard-earned on-line profile afresh.

If your product has been updated in version, packaging or style but remains essentially the same product, keep using the same EAN.

Use a new EAN barcode when:

  • It’s a new or different product;
  • Items of that product needs to be tracked, managed, priced or shipped separately from other similar items; or
  • Several items are packaged together and that package is to be sold as a package and tracked through the warehouse as a package. This includes multipacks of a single product, bundles of several products sold as a single pack, and bulk cartons of a product to be sold wholesale as full cartons not broken down.

The general rule is that if the product needs to be identified separately through the export supply chain then it needs its own EAN. Need more EANs? .

Case study: Real Nappies Bioliners

Real Nappies Bioliners are flushable diaper liners typically used with modern cloth nappies. Sold as a single roll of 100 sheets, Bioliners were introduced to the U.S. market in November 2009. Over the past 18 months the Real Nappies Bioliners product has expanded to become a small range; a single roll, a twin-pack containing two rolls, and a 6-pack containing six rolls:

    • Original Bioliner product. A single roll with its EAN barcode pre-printed on the product label.
    • Multibuys. To sales-test the feasibility of multi-roll packages a series of multibuy specials were trialled, offering discounts for purchases of two, three or more rolls of Bioliners. No new barcode needed; customers were shipped the appropriate number of single roll Bioliner packages.
    • Bioliner Twin Pack introduced. The quickest way to market with a Bioliner Twin Pack package was to take two single-roll products, package them together in plastic taking care to obscure the barcodes on the original single-roll packaging, and to place a new barcode label on the outside of the twin-pack. A new EAN barcode was allocated for this new Bioliner Twin Pack because it is shipped, stored and delivered to customers as a single product.


  • Bioliner Six-Pack introduced. The frequency of quantity purchases of twin packs revealed the opportunity to introduce a larger multipack. Real Nappies added a six-pack to the range, allocating a new EAN barcode. Each six-pack package is labelled with the new barcode.


This product packaging experimentation has been tremendously successful. Twin packs and six-packs now account for ¾ of Bioliner rolls sold in the USA, and the larger packs mean extra savings to customers through lower distribution costs.

No Room For Error

Barcodes and barcode labels must be exactly right, all the time for products being exported. There is no room for labelling errors, mis-allocation of barcodes, or errors in printing of the packaging.

Automated warehouses and order fulfilment systems manage each physical unit of stock based on its barcode. Machines don’t read product packaging or look at pictures, they scan barcodes and act accordingly. Everything with the same barcode is the same. It’s this barcode-based automated stock handling that delivers efficiency and speed in customer order fulfilment, and enables priority delivery and guaranteed delivery timeframes, important components of A-grade on-line customer service.

In the case of Bioliners, if Real Nappies had sent the Bioliner twin packs with the original Bioliner single roll barcode, or the single roll barcodes had been visible through the twin-pack packaging, those twin packs would risk being scanned into the warehouse as single rolls. After all, as far as the barcode-based warehouse system was concerned they would all be labelled with the single roll barcode. The warehouse quite understandably identifies products as whatever we’ve barcode-labelled them as. The consequence is that it’d be left to chance when a customer received their Bioliner order whether they would receive a single roll or a twin pack. The answer is that the Bioliner Twin Packs must be clearly labelled with their unique EAN barcode to distinguish them from the single rolls.

This applies similarly to products stocked in several styles, sizes or colours; each style, size and colour must have its own unique EAN. To distinguish products from each other in the warehouse, they must have distinct EAN barcodes. It’s not difficult, it just needs to be done right.

, , ,

No comments yet.

Please add your comments.