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50 years of the GTIN

The number that launched the digital age

On 31 March 1971, leaders from the biggest names in commerce came together to transform the global economy forever. They signed up to developing a numerical code to uniquely identify every product sold in a commercial setting around the world.

That code is the Global Trade Item Number, or GTIN for short. You’ll know it best as the number that sits underneath every barcode. In fact, the barcode is just the machine-readable equivalent of the GTIN itself.

They believed that a simple string of numbers could make transactions and stocktaking practices more efficient, transforming everything from supply chains to consumer experiences.

And it did.

Today, GTINs and barcodes are scanned more 70,000 times every second

From shopping for groceries, to paying for products online, the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) has had an extraordinary effect on our lives and how we process data in the digital age:

The world over

The world over


Currently, two million organisations across the planet use GS1 GTINs.

Speedier shopping in store

Speedier shopping in store


Instead of having to key in the price of all the items in your basket, GTINs and barcodes have enabled new technology to speed up the check out process and introduce self-scanning.  

Authentication of online listings

Authentication of online listings


Each product is assigned a unique GTIN linked to the brand owner, meaning online stores can guarantee the products they are selling are authentic. GTINs are the preferred unique identifier for marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Google Shopping and Fruugo.

RFID

Automatic stock check


GTINs are used in RFID tags provide live updates on the number of items available at any one time, so you can automatically check whether your size is in stock and at which store.

Instant access to dietary information

Instant access to dietary information


Fitness apps such as MyFitnessPal rely on GTINs and barcodes to access dietary information on the products you consume, helping you stay on top of your health goals.

Preventing counterfeit products

Preventing counterfeit products


GTINs provide a stamp of brand authenticity, reducing the prevalence of counterfeit products in market. Through unique identification, fraudulent products are quickly identified and removed before reaching the consumer. 

Creating a safer healthcare environment

Creating a safer healthcare environment


GTINs and barcodes are used in healthcare to identify and track different aspects of a patient’s care journey – making it safer, and more efficient. 

Traceability

Traceability


GTINs can keep products visible throughout the supply chain, whether it is tracking an individual ingredient from farm to fork, or medication from manufacturer to patient.

What the future has in store

Across the world, barcodes with GTINs underneath them are scanned more than 6bn times a day. This string of numbers helped the world transition from the analogue to the digital era, but where to next?

Serialisation

Serialisation


Will drive towards ever greater levels of recycling and the ultimate goal of a zero-waste society.

Verified by GS1

Verified by GS1


Will ensure that the information representing products online is optimised for sellers and buyers alike.

Digital Link

Digital Link


Will enable a single barcode to fulfil multiple use cases and connect with an unlimited number of online resources.

DataMatrix

The next generation


In the 1970s, the GTIN helped to simplify the supply chain and make business processes more efficient.

However, with different consumer needs and changing attitudes to the way our linear economy functions, the GTIN is taking on a new significance.

As consumers demand more and better product information, the next generation of barcoding technology will be at the core of informing and protecting people when they make purchases.

The GTIN is like a product’s DNA. Scanning a next generation barcode – like a QR code or a DataMatrix – can tell a shopper if a product contains allergens, if it is organic, provides information on its carbon footprint, and gives him or her the ability to track the product throughout the supply chain from creation to recycling.

Ultimately, this provides consumers with a greater level of trust about the products they buy, and can be the foundation for a more sustainable, circular and responsible economy in the 21st century.