Whether you’re trying to find a product you want or just trying to track down where to return a gift, it can be pretty helpful to know a product name, major retailers for it and who manufactures it. But one commonly overlooked portion of the label can provide all this information and more. Looking up the item by its Universal Product Code (UPC) is no harder than doing a simple Internet search.
Locate the UPC or bar code. The UPC bar code of an item is usually found printed on the label or package of an item. Because the bar code allows fast product entry at the cash register, this information is always found in an easily accessible spot on the outside of a product. In some cases, such as clothing items, it is printed onto a removable tag. In other instances, it is printed onto the product itself. If the bar code isn't immediately visible, check the back and underside of the product.
Write down the UPC number. In addition to the black-and-white bar code, there should also be a number. This number is the same number that the bar code represents, but the bar code presents this number in a machine-readable format. The UPC number will usually be either eight or 12 digits in length, but 13 digit codes are not uncommon. If the number is not the correct length or if it contains characters other than regular numbers, it's not a UPC bar code number.
Check the UPC in an online database. While retailers will access paid UPC databases for their bar code scanning and recognition systems, there are several free options available to individuals. These free databases allow you to enter the eight-, 12-, or 13-digit UPC number and access information such as the product name, the manufacturer and even the weight of an item. See the links in References and Resources below for examples of UPC databases.
Check other databases as necessary. The databases mentioned earlier each have their limitations. Generally, the databases they draw information from are collected by users rather than from commercially available sources, making each individual database less than reliable. If one database doesn’t have the information you are after, check the number against the other databases as well. Among them, most UPC codes can be found.
Search for the product. Once you have found the name of the product in question as well as manufacturer information and other details, finding the product for purchase is simply a matter of searching for that product. Specialised search engines such as Google Product Search or PriceGrabber.com will not only help you to find a retailer for the product, but will usually offer price comparisons and immediate ordering as well.