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Why Does FBA Require Labels On Products?

Sellers who use Amazon’s Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) service know that Amazon requires you to put stickers with bar codes on some products before sending them to an Amazon warehouse, but not others.

A brief background here for people not familiar with it.  Most products have a unique bar code on them somewhere (Universal Product Code, or UPC) so they can be scanned automatically by a computer.  When you check out at a grocery store you’ll often see the cashier swipe each of your products over such a scanner, which adds the price of the product to your bill.

Third party sellers on Amazon are asked to provide the UPC of each product they sell on Amazon.  This is because Amazon wants a single listing page for each product, shared by all sellers of that product.  This is in contrast to, for example, eBay, where each seller has to make their own listing page for each product they sell.  When you give Amazon the UPC during listing creation, it looks to see if the product is already offered on Amazon and prompts you to use that listing if it exists.

So if every product has a unique UPC on it, there should be no need to add an extra label to identify the product for FBA.  But it turns out not to be that simple.

For one thing, Amazon does not require sellers to use the existing listing for a product if the UPC matches.  There are legitimate reasons for this.  Manufacturers sometimes stop using a UPC for an old product and start using the same UPC for a new product, so the existing listing is for a different product.

Sellers sometimes make mistakes on the UPC when creating the initial listing page, so the product identified with your product’s UPC is simply incorrect.

Another problem with UPCs is that manufacturers aren’t required to put them on their products.  While most do, there are exceptions.

Even though sellers are supposed to use existing listings on Amazon when available, some sellers still create their own unique listings for existing products so that they’re not displayed directly next to other retailers, allowing them to charge higher prices.  I’m not sure how successful this is, buyers generally look for the best price and if they see multiple listings of the same product check out all of them to find the lowest overall price (I do), but since it continues to happen maybe it provides some sellers with an advantage.  Amazon has recently started using a program that automatically compares listings, looking for duplicates, and merging them when found, so this may become less of an advantage.

The UPC is for the product, but Amazon allows you to sell used as well as new products (at least in some categories), so a product’s status (new or used) is not reflected in the UPC.

Since Amazon can’t rely entirely on the UPCs provided on products, it maintains its own product code for every product sold on their site, which they call the ASIN.  Even if there are no problems with the UPC of the product being sold, Amazon still assigns it an ASIN.

When Amazon receives inventory at its warehouses, it needs to know what the inventory is.  It can often use the UPC bar code for this, and if so they do not require you to put a label on each product.  But if there is any problem with using the UPC they will require you to label each such product.

The most common reason I’ve run into for Amazon requiring a label on products sent to their warehouses is multiple listings of the same product.  But I’ve seen products that didn’t have any of the problems I mentioned above, and Amazon still requires labels on them.  It’s always unfortunate when Amazon requires labels to be put on each product because labeling can be quite time consuming.

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