Wondering what the difference is between a UPC barcode and SKU code? Let’s start with a short answer.
An SKU is an alphanumeric code for internal use and is unique to individual retailers or manufacturers. On the other hand, UPC codes are universal and can be used to identify a product no matter who is selling it later on, making it useful for external use. Some people have issues differentiating between SKU and UPC and erroneously use these terms interchangeably.
While both are codes used for product description and identification, the difference is more evident when you take a closer look. This article will help clear things up by answering the following questions:
- What are the differences between SKU and UPC?
- Can I use SKU as UPC?
- Do I need SKU if I have UPC?
- Is a barcode and an SKU the same?
What is a stock-keeping unit (SKU)?
An SKU, or stock keeping unit, is a unique code consisting of numbers and letters assigned internally to aid swift and accurate inventory or stock management. A typical SKU code identifies the characteristics of the product like:
For example, a fashion-based e-commerce business may carry a Purple Zara halter neck dress in size 12, and the SKU assigned to it would be this: ZA-HN-PUR-12. Most companies create SKU codes for their products and services. For example, two companies selling products with the same general description would have very different SKU codes. This is because SKUs are used internally and each business decides which SKU works best for them.
Some places that use SKUs for stock-keeping and other internal operations include the following.
In addition to UPC barcodes, a retail store may also benefit from SKUS. For example, a retail seller may sell a particular pair of shoes in two different colors (gold and brown) in sizes 39 and 40. Thus, the seller will have 4 SKUs for each item. They can align them as:
- Gold, size 39: G39
- Gold, size 40: G40
- Brown, size 39: B39
- Brown, size 40: B40
If your product list includes a jacket that comes in various colors and sizes, a good SKU could help your warehouse team easily locate items for shipping. For example, an SKU code for these products could be Jacket (size 10, blue) — JAC-10-BL. And here’s one more — if you have a handbag that changes with seasons, your SKU could be: Handbag (Winter 2019 season, Orange) — S19-HBA-OR.
Product fulfillment centers
Preparing both SKUs and barcodes for your products makes it easier for product fulfillment centers to fulfill your orders by scanning and automating picking, packing, and shipment of your orders as soon as they arrive.