Viral e-mail creates consumer confusion

Consumers are confused enough, but now a viral e-mail sent across the U.S. is creating consumer confusion about the content of barcodes and potentially harming American companies, according to GS1 US, the standards organization, based in Lawrenceville, N.J., reports Supermarket News

The first three digits” of a product’s barcode always indicate the product’s country of origin, according to the e-mail, which encourages consumers to make their buying decisions based on these numbers. GS1 US, as the administrator and sole source of Universal Product Code barcode prefixes in the U.S., warns that consumers heeding this faulty advice are being misled and could unintentionally “boycott” products they would otherwise choose to support. “Although the first few digits of a barcode — what we call a company prefix — can indicate the country in which a barcode was issued, it tells you nothing about where the product was made,” said Bob Noe, chief customer officer for GS1 US, in a statement. “The claim is somewhat grounded in reality, but just enough to be dangerous, even if you’re reading it correctly, which is not a safe assumption.”

The email claims that barcode prefixes on American-made products will start with a 0 or 1, but in fact they might begin with any digit for a number of reasons. A consumer following the advice of the e-mail to read barcodes and “buy American” could inadvertently avoid buying a product “as American as apple pie,” said GS1 US.