Navigating through the sea of global commerce requires a keen understanding of product identification codes, notably EAN and GTIN. These codes, while seemingly simple, play a crucial role in ensuring products are easily traceable and distinguishable in the vast market.
EAN, or European Article Number, and GTIN, Global Trade Item Number, each bring their own set of rules and applications to the table. This article will shed light on these two pivotal barcodes, exploring the subtle yet significant differences that set them apart.
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What is a European Article Number?
The European Article Number, often abbreviated as EAN, is a 13-digit barcode system predominantly utilised in Europe and various other nations globally. Similar to the Universal Product Code (UPC), it functions as a distinct product identifier code for merchandise, facilitating the processes of price scanning at the point of sale and stock control.
Explore our guide on what is an EAN code to gain a comprehensive understanding of EAN barcoding technology.
Types of EAN
This is the conventional 13-digit European Article Number, which is widely used and compatible with most international scanning mechanisms. The additional digit enhances its adaptability by accommodating a broader range of country codes, making it well-suited for international commerce.
This is a truncated form of the EAN-13 barcode, featuring only 8 digits. It is employed for compact products and packaging where the standard EAN-13 barcode would be impractical. Like UPC-E, this version can be extended to match its EAN-13 counterpart.
Refer to our guide on UPC vs. EAN to learn the differences between the EAN and UPC barcodes – the two product identifiers used in the retail industry today.
What is a Global Trade Item Number?
The Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) serves as a universal identifier for products, services, and shipments across the globe. Governed by GS1 standards, GTIN can come in formats of 8, 12, 13, or 14 digits, allowing it to encompass various product codes like Universal Product Code and European Article Number. This standardisation ensures uniformity in product labelling and helps identify trade items.
An 8-digit code, previously referred to as EAN-8, suitable for items with limited label space.
Comparable to UPC-A, this 12-digit format is predominantly adopted in Western regions.
Previously known as EAN-13, this 13-digit standard is predominantly used outside of North America.
Designated for bulk items or product cases, this 14-digit code often integrates a packaging tier signifier.
GTIN vs EAN - What's the Difference?
Number of Digits
Fixed 13-digit structure
Variable: Can be 8, 12, 13, or 14 digits
Scope of Identification
Broad: Can identify products, services, shipments, etc.
A subset of GTIN
Encompasses various identifiers, including EAN and UPC
Introduced in 1976, mainly for European markets
Introduced in 1999, designed for global standardisation
Number of Digits
EAN uses a fixed 13-digit data structure for product identification.
GTIN, on the other hand, offers flexibility with variable digit data structures ranging from 8 to 14.
EAN is predominantly used in European markets.
GTIN has a global footprint, making it a more versatile choice for businesses operating internationally or planning to expand.
Scope of Identification
EAN is strictly product-specific and designed for retail items.
GTIN has a broader scope, capable of identifying products, services, and shipments, offering a more comprehensive identification system.
EAN is essentially a subset of GTIN. This means that while every EAN is a GTIN, not every GTIN is an EAN.
GTIN accommodates various product identifiers, including but not limited to EAN and UPC codes.
EAN was introduced in 1976, targeting mainly European markets.
GTIN came later, in 1999, with the aim of global standardisation, making it a more modern and inclusive system.
Similarities Between EAN and GTIN
Unique Identification Number
Both EAN and GTIN serve the primary purpose of uniquely identifying products in a retail setting. They are essential tools for inventory management, price scanning at checkout, and tracking items throughout the supply chain.
EAN and GTIN are both designed to be globally applicable, meaning they can be used in international trade. They are compatible with most international scanning and tracking systems, making them versatile tools for businesses operating in multiple countries.
The structure of both EAN and GTIN is numeric.
EAN typically comes in 8 or 13-digit formats (EAN-8 and EAN-13), while GTIN can have 8, 12, 13, or 14 digits (GTIN-8, GTIN-12, GTIN-13, GTIN-14). This numeric composition allows for easy encoding and decoding by barcode scanning systems.
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Both EAN and GTIN have a hierarchical structure that includes identifiers for the country, manufacturer, product, and sometimes even the variant. This hierarchical system allows for detailed tracking and categorisation, aiding in efficient inventory management.
Adaptability to Various Media
EAN and GTIN codes can be represented in various barcode forms, such as QR codes. This adaptability makes it easier for retailers and suppliers to integrate these identification systems into their existing operations, regardless of the technology they use.
A QR code and a barcode are two different technologies often confused with one another. Explore our informative article on QR codes vs. barcodes for a clearer understanding.
Both EAN and GTIN are standardised by governing bodies.
EAN is managed by GS1, which also oversees the GTIN standard. This ensures that both systems adhere to international quality and compatibility standards, making them reliable and consistent across different platforms and countries.
Significance in E-commerce and Inventory Management
EAN and GTIN numbering systems streamline the tracking of products from the warehouse to the consumer. They facilitate accurate price scanning at checkout, eliminating manual errors.
In e-commerce, they help organise vast product catalogues, making it easier for sellers and buyers to locate items. Their global standardisation ensures seamless international trade, allowing businesses to expand their reach without logistical headaches.
Overall, EAN and GTIN are indispensable tools for efficient and effective inventory management and e-commerce operations.
How to Choose Between EAN and GTIN?
Choosing between EAN and GTIN depends on several factors, each catering to specific business needs and operational scopes. Here are some points to consider:
If your business primarily focuses on the European market or countries that predominantly use EAN, opting for EAN might be more straightforward. On the other hand, if you aim for a broader international reach, GTIN’s universal applicability makes it a better choice.
The size and variety of your products are key factors in choosing between EAN and GTIN.
EAN-8 is ideal for smaller items with limited packaging space, as its 8-digit barcode requires less room.
GTIN, with its 8, 12, 13, or 14-digit options, offers more flexibility, accommodating products of varying sizes and complexities.
The size of your product dictates not only the available space for the barcode but also the level of detail it can encode. Therefore, understanding your product dimensions and informational needs is crucial for selecting the most suitable identification system.
Both EAN and GTIN offer versatility in representation, as they can be encoded into different formats. This adaptability is beneficial when integrating with various retail or supply chain management systems.
However, it’s crucial to assess the compatibility of these identifiers with the specific platforms you intend to use.
Some systems may have built-in support for one over the other, or industry norms may dictate a preferred choice. Therefore, before making a decision, consult with your technology providers or industry peers to determine which identifier is more commonly used and compatible with your chosen systems.
Standardisation and Compliance
Both EAN and GTIN are standardised by GS1, ensuring their global applicability and reliability. However, local or industry-specific regulations may give preference to one system over the other.
For example, in the European retail sector, EAN-13 is often the preferred format, while in the U.S., GTIN-12 (commonly known as UPC code) is more widely used.
Similarly, the healthcare industry may have different requirements for product identification, potentially favouring GTIN-14 for its ability to provide more detailed information. Therefore, you must be aware of any sector-specific or regional guidelines that may influence your choice between EAN and GTIN.
Future Expansion Plans
If you have plans to expand your business internationally, GTIN might offer a smoother transition due to its global standardisation. EAN is also globally compatible but is more commonly associated with European markets.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Possible to Convert an EAN to a GTIN or Vice Versa?
Yes, EANs and GTINs can often be converted to each other, but it’s crucial to understand the specific requirements of the platforms or systems you’re using to ensure compatibility.
Do EAN and GTIN Have Expiration Dates?
No, these identifiers do not expire. Once assigned to a product, these identifiers remain unique for the product’s entire lifecycle.
Can I Use Both EAN and GTIN for the Same Product?
Technically, you can, but it may lead to complications in inventory management. It’s generally best to stick to one system for consistency.
Are There Any Industries Where One System is More Prevalent Than the Other?
Yes, certain industries may favour one system. For example, EAN-13 is commonly used in European retail, while GTIN-12 is prevalent in the U.S.
How do I Update Product Information Linked to an EAN or GTIN?
Updating product information involves interfacing with the database where the identifiers are stored. Procedures can differ depending on your system, so consult guidelines.
Thus, EAN and GTIN are indispensable pillars for product identification, inventory optimisation, and seamless global commerce. Your choice between these two robust systems should be strategically aligned with your business’s unique imperatives—be it geographical focus, the diversity of your product portfolio, or long-term growth objectives.
By delving into their distinct attributes and commonalities, you empower yourself to make a well-informed decision, one that is finely tuned to meet your specific operational demands.
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