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All businesses rely on a range of products to fulfill their mission, but it isn’t always easy managing a swath of products across an enterprise. This is why businesses in industries ranging from manufacturing to healthcare rely on product identifiers.

Product identifiers identify assets and make it possible to track their entire lifecycle. These unique identifiers support proper maintenance, efficient use of resources, and streamlined workflows.

Learn how product identifiers work, their uses, their benefits, and methods for using product identifiers in your business.

In this article:

What Are Product Identifiers?

Product identifiers are unique codes or sequences used to identify and distinguish individual products or assets. These identifiers help manufacturers, retailers, and other types of businesses track, manage, and locate products at various stages of the supply chain.

Product identifier on a component of an electrical product

Photo by Jonas Svidras via Pexels

Types of Product Identifiers

There are several types of product identifiers, but these are the most common:

  • Barcodes: Barcodes are easily scannable, machine-readable representations of data. They’re often used to share a product’s Universal Product Code (UPC) or European Article Number (EAN) in retail settings.
  • Serial numbers: These are unique alphanumeric codes assigned to individual products. Businesses often track machinery, regulated products, or expensive products via serial numbers to speed up maintenance logs or comply with regulatory requirements.
  • RFID tags: Radio-frequency identification tags use electromagnetic fields to identify and track products. Unlike traditional barcodes, RFID tags can hold more data and transmit it automatically. They’re more expensive, but RFID labels are ideal for identifying and tracking products in real-time.
  • QR codes: These are scannable, two-dimensional codes that can hold a large amount of information. Scanning a QR code will often take the user to a specific webpage with product or warranty information.
  • SKU: A Stock Keeping Unit is an identifier most commonly used in retail for monitoring inventory, sales, and returns.
  • MPN: A Manufacturer Part Number is an identifier a manufacturer assigns to individual product models and components. This identifier makes it easier to ensure you’re working with the correct product in factory settings.
  • ISBN: An International Standard Book Number is an identifier just for books. The benefit is that this is an international standard, so it’s more established than many other types of product identifiers.

There are a variety of product identifiers available, each best suited to a business’s unique needs. Ultimately, product identifiers simplify product tracking and make it easier to produce, sell, and service products consistently at scale.

Uses for Product Identifiers

Barcode label on the side of a beverage can

Image by PDPhotos from Pixabay

While consumers are familiar with product identifiers in retail, product identification actually has a diverse range of uses.

Inventory management

Retailers, manufacturers, and distributors use product identifiers to monitor their stock levels. This prevents overstocks and stock-outs, which helps you find the perfect inventory levels.

Paired with an asset management solution, product identifiers can also help warehouse employees locate items more quickly. Construction companies and factories use these identifiers to organize tools or equipment on shelves for easy product identification.

Sales Tracking

If you sell products directly to consumers, you can use product identifiers to track which products are selling well and which aren’t. Over time, this tracking provides helpful data you can use to adjust your marketing and sales strategies.

Supply Chain Management and Traceability

Supply chain port with freight cargo and shipping containers

Photo by Tom Fisk via Pexels

From manufacturing to handing a product off to the end user, unique identifiers make it possible to trace products at every stage of the supply chain. This is vital for quality control and recalls. Opting for durable product labels can make traceability even easier.

Compliance and Recalls

Healthcare, automotive, and pharmaceutical companies need to comply with strict regulations, and product identifiers help to ensure that only compliant products reach consumers. Plus, they provide a much-needed paper trail in the event of an audit.

If a product is defective or unsafe, its identifier allows businesses to track down the affected batches quickly, which ensures timely recalls.

Anti-Counterfeiting Measures

High-end retailers generate unique product identifiers to distinguish genuine products from counterfeits. This helps customers and business partners easily authenticate genuine products.

eCommerce Management

Person ordering from an e-commerce retailer via a laptop using a credit card

Photo by Karolina Grabowska via Pexels

Do you sell products online? eCommerce platforms like Amazon and eBay will often require unique product identifiers for each product listing.

You’ll need to provide or create identifiers to sell on these platforms, but you can use product identifiers for your own eCommerce store, too. Price-comparison websites track price information based on product identifiers, so this could make your products more searchable to online bargain hunters.

Benefits of Product Identifiers

Whether your business operates a factory or sells goods in a retail capacity, product identifiers lay the foundation for efficient operations. Product identifiers offer several advantages.

Operational Efficiency

Manual product identification takes a lot of time and is prone to user error. It just isn’t agile enough to work with modern business processes. By embracing product identifiers in your business, you’ll be able to quickly track each product’s location and quantity across all locations.

Your asset tracking system can help identify trends that will save you time and money. In fact, many asset management software solutions automate tasks for you using product identifiers, cutting down on manual work and errors.

Better Customer Experience

Smiling customer at a retail store

Image by Amina Filkins from Pexels

If you sell products to consumers, product identifiers can help you foster trust with your buyers. Identifiers ensure shoppers receive consistent product information across all platforms, regardless of where they buy your products.

Identifiers also give shoppers the reassurance that they’re buying genuine products, which boosts trust in sectors where counterfeit products are a problem.

Improved Traceability

Supply chain transparency has never been more critical. Product identifiers map a product’s journey through your supply chain and offer valuable insights into sourcing, manufacturing, and distribution.

Whether upstream or downstream, identifiers make it much easier to identify bottlenecks in your supply chain.

Product identifiers also improve traceability for recalls. You can quickly identify which batches or products are defective and issue recall notices to the right customers.

Instead of recalling all products or manually sifting through purchase records, product identifiers make it a cinch to communicate with your shoppers quickly.

Data-Driven Decision-Making

Data-driven decisions are the key to building future-ready businesses. By embracing product identifiers, your business will start collecting much-needed data on all its products and processes.

With the right software solution, you’ll gain a more accurate understanding of your business with this product data. For example, you might learn about emerging trends based on purchase history data.

Risk Mitigation

Product identifiers won’t stop all counterfeits or product recalls, but they can mitigate these risks in your business. Unique identifiers offer traceability and transparency, which make it harder to counterfeit products and equipment.

If you need evidence to satisfy an audit, unique product identifiers can also provide a paper trail you can use to stay safe and compliant.

Business Resilience

Business woman writing strategy plans on a whiteboard

Image by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Today’s economy is challenging, and businesses need to be more resilient. Embracing product identifiers helps your business adapt to technological advancements that integrate with new systems more efficiently.

Embrace product identifiers to enjoy greater business agility and gain a competitive advantage in the market.

6 Types of Labels for Product Identification

Product identification offers a much-needed dose of traceability to your business. But generating the identifiers is just the tip of the iceberg: the key is to choose the proper labels for your product identifiers.

Identifiers aren’t usable without suitable labels, so it’s critical to choose the correct label for your application. These are some of the most common types of labels for product identification.

1. Metalphoto® Labels and Tags

Various Metalphoto labels and tags

Metalphoto® is MPC’s proprietary metal substrate. It’s one of the most durable product identifier labels on the market, thanks to its impenetrable, sapphire-hard surface.

Metalphoto® identifiers last twenty years or more with the right care. Since they’re so durable, they’re ideal for extreme environments and the outdoors.

2. Plastic Identifiers

Several plastic product identifiers and labels

Plastic product identifiers are more common in indoor applications, like retail or healthcare. While they aren’t as durable as metal product identifiers, plastic labels are a cost-effective alternative that makes product identification possible for small businesses.

3. Industrial Identifiers

Durable barcode tag on industrial equipment

Industrial identifiers are made for manufacturing, construction, and other industrial applications that require heavy-duty labels. These identifiers retain their original appearance even after years of exposure to extreme environments.

They include high-performance adhesives and are specified to many military and aerospace standards.

4. Compliance Tags

Compliance tag with a scannable QR code

Faded product identifiers put your safety and compliance efforts at risk. MPC’s compliance tags use photosensitive anodized aluminum to label product information permanently.

Made with a Metalphoto® anodized aluminum substrate, the product identifier is sealed inside the aluminum, which gives the label greater resistance to corrosion and UV exposure.

5. Variable Information Tags

Metalphoto® barcode label/equipment tag

Variable information tags come in either plastic or metal. The advantage of these tags is that you can print:

  • Consecutive serial numbers
  • Barcodes
  • Complex variable images

Variable tags are also compatible with real-time production labels as long as you have your own laser, stamp, or engraver.

6. Security Labels

Security label on a piece of property

Security labels will show visible signs of tampering and can’t be removed without being damaged. These tamper-resistant tags are great for identifying and tracking products in your supply chain.

They guard against counterfeiting and theft, which makes them perfect for verifying the legitimacy of high-value goods.

4 Product Identifier Best Practices

Glean more value from your investment in product identifiers by following these expert product identification best practices.

1. Ensure the Uniqueness of All Identifiers

If you reuse identifiers in your business, it’s impossible to tell products apart—especially if there’s ever a recall or an audit. This is why it’s so important to ensure every identifier is completely unique.

If your products aren’t consumer-facing, you can likely create your own identification system internally. But if you sell products to consumers, it’s best to work with an organization like GS1.

GS1 is a non-profit that creates unique identifiers for all its members, so this is the best way to ensure globally unique identifiers.

2. Track Product Identifiers in an Asset Management System

Person using a laptop to track product identifiers and data

Image by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

It’s impossible to track product identifiers effectively without a product identification system. Asset management software ensures the traceability of all products in your supply chain.

Scan a barcode or QR code—or automatically generate data with RFID tags—to log all product data in the asset management system. The software will gather data at scale and notify you of important trends that will make your business more efficient.

3. Use Quality Identification Labels

Your organization created product identifiers to become more efficient, but if the identifiers aren’t usable, you lose out on the benefits of using identifiers in the first place. Opt for MPC’s quality product identifier labels and adhesives for long-lasting labels that won’t scratch or fade.

4. Stay Compliant

Product identification and labeling requirements are always changing. Work with your legal team to ensure your labels and processes still fulfill regulatory requirements.

It isn’t unusual for companies to adjust their practices over time, so don’t be afraid to embrace more efficient ways of managing product identifiers. Opting for digital-first technologies will make it much easier for your business to embrace changes in the future—whether voluntary or legally mandated.

Support Product Identification With Durable Labels

Product identifiers might appear to be simple codes or tags, but they’re the essential foundation for proper asset tracking. Processes and technology are a must for embracing product identification in your business, but durable tags and labels ensure clarity and consistency.

MPC fabricates custom identification products that last. With over 50 years of experience manufacturing labels and tags for product identification, we know what it takes to create identifiers that last the test of time.

Start your custom project now: Get in touch with MPC for a custom quote.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I generate unique product identifiers?

Organizations like GS1 will create globally unique product identifiers for you. By registering with organizations like GS1, you’ll obtain unique identifiers, like UPCs and EANs, for your products.

Are product identifiers mandatory?

This depends on the product and industry. For example, most retail products need barcodes for inventory purposes. Regulated industries, like pharmaceuticals and healthcare, require product identifiers for traceability and safety.

What’s the difference between a barcode and a QR code?

Both are optical representations of data, but they differ in several ways:

  • Barcodes: These codes are one-dimensional. They contain less data, so they’re better for simple applications.
  • QR Codes: QR codes are two-dimensional, which means they hold information both vertically and horizontally. They’re ideal for complex uses or for linking out to rich files and web pages.

To learn more about how QR codes evolved from barcodes, check out the video below:

Questions about the article? Let us help!

Our sales engineers are experts in automatic asset tracking, tagging and identification,a nd can answer all your questions. Get in touch now.

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