Google Merchant Center

How To Find GTIN Online and Solve Feed Issue With Identifiers

4 · by Dennis Moons · Updated on 5 May 2023

Most online shopping platforms use product identifiers to make sure the item and its seller are both legitimate. So, if Google Shopping, Ebay, or Amazon offer the option to add GTINs for items in your product catalog, you are probably wondering whether to comply or not. 

In this piece, we discuss the ways to find a GTIN online, the options available and the costs associated with obtaining a GTIN, and the benefits from getting one. 

Sometimes this is done to solve the “missing identifier” issue for product feeds; however, GTINs serve other functions, too.

First, let’s briefly cover the basics.

What Is a GTIN?

Global Trade Item Number, or GTIN, is an international standard for identifying products. Developed in the 1970s by a not-for-profit organization called GS1, the GTIN identifier is now internationally adopted and widely used, making the GTIN the most prominent unique product identifier out there. Many shopping platforms, like Amazon and Google, require GTINs because they help customers get a better match for product queries.  

The 12-digit GTIN format is used in North America (the same as Universal Product Code, or UPC), while the 13-digit GTIN format is used in the rest of the world. A shortened, 8-digit GTIN can also be used if the product packaging is small, and a 14-digit GTIN serves to identify whether the product comes individually in or in a batch.

GTINs data structure (indicator digit, company prefix, item reference, and checksum) carries product info. This info can be encoded in the ubiquitous barcode form and used to identify a product’s specification at the point of sale, i.e., determine product type, size, color, and the price at the checkout counter of a brick-and-mortar store. 

In online commerce, GTINs serve multiple purposes, and we will cover this in the next section.

We dedicated an article on GTIN basics, so if you want to get up to speed about unique product identifiers, you can check it out here.

Why Do You Need a GTIN?

In ecommerce, GTINs are used to identify products, but not only during checkout. Since shopping platforms are practically search engines (or price comparison engines), having a unique product identifier helps in matching relevant products with queries.

For example, GTINs can be added as a product attribute in Google Shopping – this improves many Google services, including: 

  • Providing more relevant matches for product queries;
  • Quickly identifying counterfeit products or otherwise illegitimate offers, etc. 

From a pure marketing standpoint, GTINs are very important for serving the best dynamic product ad.

Advertisers sometimes receive notifications from Google Merchant Center that says: “Missing identifier: need a GTIN” and the product is disapproved until they provide a GTIN to solve the issue.

Do you need to buy a GTIN to solve the “missing identifier” issue with your product feed? The answer is: it depends.

If you are reselling products made by another brand, often the original brand has bought GTINs for its own use. In this case, you only need to find those valid GTINs.

How to Find Existing GTINs

First, check if there is an existing GTIN for the product. You can check the product’s packaging and find the GTIN along with the barcode. Actually, the barcode itself is a representation of the GTIN in a way that can be read by lasers in stores.

You can use the GS1 service known as GEPIR to find out who is the original GTIN holder. Then simply ask them for authorization to use the same GTIN, and that’s it.

If you are selling your own products but you don’t already have a GTIN, you have the option to get one.

Let’s see how this is done.

How Do You Get a GTIN?

The process of getting a GTIN is easy and intuitive. It goes through the GS1 website, and it involves filling out a form and providing your brand info, contact details, payment details, and similar data.

There are two options:

1) One is recommended when you need GTINs for a handful of products. In this case, you buy them individually at about 30 USD per GTIN.

2) If you are a brand with a large inventory and you need many GTINs, you need to get a license for Company Prefix.

Licenses for individual products were rolled out recently (2021), and they are meant for small brand owners – i.e., those that would need only a handful of GTINs because their inventory is small. The perk is: there is no annual renewal fee for these GTINs

On the other hand, obtaining a license tied to a manufacturer code is for companies with inventories of at least 10 variations of a product (or more) and it adds several steps to the process. Let’s check them out.

Buying GTINs in Bulk

The reason for getting a Company Prefix is to have fixed values for manufacturer code within the structure of GTIN (usually positions 2 through 5). This way, the manufacturer code stays the same, and you’ll only need to change the reference item to generate a new GTIN (for a new product or product variations that already have a GTIN).

Company Prefix is for those who are in business in the long run, so that when you introduce new products (or variations of existing products) and expand sales channels, you already have the same manufacturer code for the whole batch of products.

The tricky part is – the company prefix expires after one year. So, if you buy branded GTINs in bulk, you’ll need to factor in the annual renewal fee as a cost.

At the same time, since you are buying multiple GTINs at once, you can get a price per GTIN that’s adjusted based on the total number of GTINs under the same Company Prefix.

This offer on bulk GTIN orders goes along the following lines:

  • For 1 – 10 GTINs, the price is USD 400 (a fee of USD 250 is included)
  • For 1 – 100 GTINs, the price is USD 1000 (a fee of USD 750 is included)
  • For 1 – 1,000 GTINs, the price is USD 3,500 (a fee of USD 2500 is included)

How Many GTINs Do You Actually Need?

While it may seem like common wisdom to buy one GTIN per each product, the estimate follows a different logic. It’s actually recommended to get one GTIN per each product variation. These variations include a different color, size, or slightly different technical specifications of what is, in essence, the same product.

Having a unique product identifier that conveys detailed product data helps shopping platforms to offer an exact product as a search result. So, even though having the same product in more than one color doesn’t seem like that big of a difference, when search engines compare products, it matters.

That being said, apparel is one category of products that’s excluded from this “rule” because it’s expected to have the same model in more than one color or size.

Take this into consideration when calculating the number of GTINs you need. If you are close to the payment threshold into the next group offer for bulk buys, (i.e. 9 vs 11 trade items, or 90 vs 110 trade items), the total number of product variations and their corresponding GTINs may put you in need of a bigger batch of individual GTINs.

How Long Is the Waiting Time for Getting GTINs?

Once you submit the application, including the total number of GTINs, your company info, and a completed transaction, your GTINs will be listed within a few working days. A time frame of 72 hours is enough in most cases.

Then you will receive a notification (via email) and you can upload the GTINs to a shopping platform and fix the “missing identifier” issue with your product feed.

Apart from that, you’ll enjoy a number of other perks offered to you by GS1, like access to their Data Hub tool, where you can create barcodes. You can either print these newly acquired barcodes (one for each GTIN) by yourself, or hire a provider that can make the barcode labels for you.

Let’s touch on practices concerning buying GTINs that are not recommended.

What Not To Do When Solving a Product Feed Issue: Missing GTIN

As you can imagine, the costs of buying GTINs quickly add up, especially if your ecommerce store has a big inventory. This motivates some merchants to try and find an alternative solution for their missing product identifier.

Let’s say it straight: nothing solves the issue like an original GTIN does – any alternative solution can cause you trouble.

Some of these scenarios include:

  • Buying a GTIN from a 3rd party reseller and not from GS1 – 3rd party resellers will give you a cheaper option than GS1, however, this doesn’t mean that you’ll solve the issue. Those who resell product identifiers are known to provide GTINs that are used by other legitimate businesses. This may get you through some forms (to populate a required field), but it will serve only as a one-time fix. Platforms like Amazon and eBay have long started a crackdown on this malpractice. Bottom line – it doesn’t pay off.
  • Entering a random placeholder value instead of GTIN – some merchants have tried to make up a GTIN number on the spot. This doesn’t fare well, as it will not pass the validity check.
  • Using someone else’s GTIN for your product – copying a valid GTIN and presenting it as yours amounts to stealing. Again, it will not pass the validity check.
  • Entering an alternative product identifier instead of GTIN – this one is quite common as well. Usually, merchants provide an MPN, SKU, or other identifiers as if they are a GTIN. SKUs are used for internal purposes and they mean nothing to engines like Google. It’s similar to MPNs. Although the MPN may be publicly available in an online product catalog or such, it’s still neither an international, nor a standardized identifier. MPNs are an optional identifier in Google Merchant Center, but product-related tracking is based on GTINs.
  • Buying only one GTIN for a whole class of products – it’s another tactic to save on GTINs, but it works against you. Let’s say you sell office supplies; if you have one GTIN for all of the pens in your product catalog instead of a different GTIN for each (ballpoint, fountain, rollerball, calligraphy, etc.), you will confuse Google, and sales will be misattributed. Did rollerball pens outsell ballpoint pens? You’ll never know.

Avoid all workarounds for missing GTINs that don’t include getting a valid GTIN. They will save you money, but in the long run, you lose on two counts: by suspending your account and by feeding incorrect information into search engine algorithms.

Online Tools for GTIN Numbers

There are multiple ways to find GTINs online. We will feature a short selection of tools that can be used in the process.

1. Algopix is an online GTIN lookup tool. It has a conversion feature for unique product identifiers from one into another format, like their UPC to GTIN calculator. Advanced options include search by GTIN to get an insight into market demand and potential profits for a specific product.

Its free features include the ASIN to UPC converter (used for Amazon) and EAN to UPC converter.

2. By using EAN search, you can use product names, UPC, EAN, or ISBN (all of which are GTIN formats) to look up products. You can even search by scanning barcodes.

3. Barcodelookup, as the name suggests, is another tool for checking different products using barcodes. The output is product data, prices, and photos. They even offer a bulk lookup service where you can send them a spreadsheet and they’ll provide a .csv file with product identifiers (including MPN).

4. SG1 tools are native tools available on the SG1 site. They include:

and others.

Adding  GTINs to an Ecommerce Platform

Once you have the GTINs, the process to upload them to online shopping platforms is straightforward. The specifics will depend on the platform. 

For example, in Google Shopping, you can add these product identifiers as a product attribute. If you encounter any problems when it comes to updating product identifiers, you can use a supplemental feed to upload GTINs in bulk. 

This is very useful, particularly for those with a big product catalog.

Getting GTINs Pays off in the Long Run

Complying with shopping platforms’ requirements is always the best policy. If what they want is a unique product identifier in a specific format, like GTIN, then make sure to get it.

Use a search tool to check if a GTIN is valid. Get one GTIN per each product variation, so that the products in your feed are matched with relevant search results.

The bottom line is to take as many of the opportunities offered by the shopping platforms. Staying on top of the missing GTIN identifier issue enables you, as an online merchant, to access more features and make the most of your campaigns.

Dennis Moons

Dennis Moons is the founder and lead instructor at Store Growers.

He's a Google Ads expert with over 12 years of experience in running Google Ads campaigns.

During this time he has managed more than $5 million in ad spend and worked with clients ranging from small businesses to global brands. His goal is to provide advice that allows you to compete effectively in Google Ads.

Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.


4 responses on "How To Find GTIN Online and Solve Feed Issue With Identifiers"

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Great article! So I never entered GTIN information for my products because I thought Google would use it to display my product along with all the other stores selling the exact product and then it would just be a race to the bottom with price.

    Is that true that’s how Google would use the GTIN for products?

    1. Dennis Moons says:

      Hi Jeffery,
      That’s a common reason for people not entering the GTIN info.

      Unfortunately, that also excludes you from showing up for the most valuable searches. If you’re not showing up for the product name or model number (which Google prefers to give to advertisers that use the GTIN), all that’s left are mostly category and generic searches. Those generate a lot worse results.

      I would consider testing it with a subset of products like a specific category, and then compare the results after a month or so.

  2. Jane says:

    Hi Dennis Great article & website!

    GTINs have been a problem for me, one that I haven’t fully solved. I bought some products from China and they don’t have a barcode. I also bought some natural products from California, again no barcodes!

    I asked the sellers but they couldn’t help me. Thought about adding the items as branded in the MPN section but after reading this I am not sure if that would do more harm than good. I think buying GTINs won’t work for me right now as I’m just getting started. Could you offer any advice? Leaving the GTIN part blank is the only way forward I can see. Thanks!

    1. Dennis Moons says:

      Hi Jane,
      If you’re reselling existing products but the manufacturer has no product identifiers for you( gtin/mpn), you’re better off leaving them blank.

      If you’re “rebranding” those products as your own brand, you have the option to ask for a gtin down the line. But starting out, this definitely is not necessary!

      Most of the value from GTINs is that they enable comparison and linking with the same products sold by other sellers.


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