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What barcode has 13 digits?

Barcodes are optical machine-readable labels that contain encoded information about the item to which they are attached. Barcodes are commonly used to facilitate fast and accurate item identification at points of sale in stores and in inventory management. There are many different types of barcodes in use worldwide, but the most commonly used barcode in retail environments is the 13-digit Universal Product Code or UPC barcode.

What is a UPC barcode?

The UPC barcode was introduced in the early 1970s and was adopted by the grocery industry as their standard barcode. UPC barcodes are administered by the Uniform Code Council (UCC) and consist of 12 numerical digits which identify the manufacturer and product, plus a 13th digit which is a mathematical check digit calculated from the other digits.

Here is an overview of the components of a 13-digit UPC barcode:

  • Digits 1-6: Known as the manufacturer or company prefix. Assigned by the UCC to identify the manufacturer.
  • Digits 7-11: The product code. Chosen by the manufacturer to identify a specific product.
  • Digit 12: The check digit. Calculated from the other digits to verify the integrity of the barcode.

So in summary, a 13-digit UPC barcode contains 12 digits of data plus a check digit that encodes information about the product’s manufacturer and identity. This standardized format allows UPC barcodes to be scanned and interpreted universally across the retail industry.

What products use UPC barcodes?

UPC barcodes are used worldwide on retail consumer products ranging from food items, apparel, home goods, electronics, personal care products, toys, books, and more. Basically any item that is scanned at a point of sale in a retail store will carry a UPC barcode. UPC has become the dominant standard barcode in the retail industry globally.

Some examples of products that carry 13-digit UPC barcodes include:

  • Foods – canned goods, produce, meat, dairy, frozen foods, snacks, etc.
  • Beverages – soda, water, juice, beer, wine, etc.
  • Household goods – cleaners, paper products, batteries, light bulbs, etc.
  • Health and beauty – cosmetics, medications, personal care items, etc.
  • Clothing and apparel – shirts, pants, dresses, shoes, accessories, etc.
  • Furniture and home furnishings – bedding, kitchenware, decor, etc.
  • Consumer electronics – televisions, phones, computers, video games, etc.
  • Media – books, magazines, music, movies, video games, etc.
  • Toys and hobby items – board games, sporting goods, craft supplies, etc.
  • Hardware and auto parts – tools, lawn care, spare parts, etc.

Virtually every packaged retail good that needs to be scanned at checkout will have a 13-digit UPC barcode applied to its packaging. It is the standard barcode symbology for the retail industry worldwide.

Are there exceptions to 13-digit UPC barcodes?

While the vast majority of UPC barcodes are 13 digits, there are a few exceptions:

  • Books and magazines – Use 10-digit ISBN barcodes instead of 13-digit UPC.
  • Some retailers – May use their own 12-digit codes instead of UPC.
  • Coupons – Can use 12-digit UPC-A barcodes.
  • Store items without packaging – May use 8-digit UPC barcodes.

However, most packaged goods sold at retail still use the standard 13-digit UPC barcode. Any exceptions are typically for products that either have their own specialized barcode system (like books/ISBN) or don’t need to encode manufacturer information (like store coupons). But the 13-digit UPC remains the dominant standard.

Why are UPC barcodes 13 digits?

UPC barcodes are 13 digits because:

  • 10 digits are needed to accommodate the global number of potential manufacturers and products.
  • 1 extra digit adds a check digit to verify accuracy.
  • 2 digits designate the barcode numbering system (00 for UPC-A).

When the UPC system was created in the 1970s, 10 numerical digits provided enough unique numerical combinations to supply every conceivable manufacturer and product with a distinct identification number globally. Adding the check digit provides a way for scanners to validate the integrity of the code. And the two prefix digits indicate which type of UPC barcode it is.

So in summary, 13 digits was the minimum length needed to encode all necessary barcode information while keeping the barcode small and scannable – hence why the UPC standard settled on 13 digits.

How are UPC barcodes used and scanned?

UPC barcodes allow products to be scanned quickly and accurately at point of sale checkouts in retail stores. The barcode scanner converts the black and white lines of the barcode into numerical digits. For a UPC code, the scanner will read 12 numerical digits of data plus the check digit.

The barcode scanner typically connects to a retailer’s point of sale or inventory management system. It will look up the product by its UPC number in the retailer’s database and retrieve the item’s description and pricing information. This allows the product information and price to appear instantly on the cash register screen after scanning.

Beyond retail checkout, UPC barcodes are also key for inventory management. Scanning UPC codes allows retailers to track product stock levels in real-time. Retailers can also scan UPC codes when receiving incoming inventory shipments to update their inventory systems. The UPC provides a unique reference number for each product which stores can use to track sales and inventory movement.

What are the advantages of a 13-digit code?

The advantages of using a 13-digit UPC barcode standard include:

  • Globally unique – 13 digits provide enough number combinations to identify every product worldwide.
  • Error detection – The check digit verifies the integrity of the scanned data.
  • System identification – Prefix digits identify it as UPC-A.
  • Scannability – Keeping it at 13 digits makes the barcode small and scannable.
  • Universally adopted – All retailers recognize 13-digit UPC as the standard.
  • Inventory tracking – Gives each product a unique ID number for tracking.
  • Accuracy – Ensures correct product identification and price lookup.

Standardizing on 13-digit UPC barcodes has allowed retailers worldwide to accurately scan billions of products at checkout everyday. The 13-digit format struck the optimal balance between encoding necessary data and keeping barcodes compact.


In summary, the 13-digit UPC or Universal Product Code barcode has become the standard barcode symbology used worldwide by retailers on consumer goods. It consists of 12 numerical digits encompassing a manufacturer and product ID code, plus a check digit to verify accuracy. The 13-digit length was chosen to provide enough capacity to uniquely identify every product globally while keeping barcode size compact. For retailers, the 13-digit UPC allows fast, accurate, and standardized product scans at checkout and inventory tracking throughout the supply chain. So next time you pick up an item at the store, take note of the 13-digit barcode that allows that product to be universally identified.