UPC codes and SKUs: mastering inventory management (2023)

SKU best practices

Characters in SKU numbers can represent information such as manufacturer, color, size, cost or warehouse location, etc. However, if you try to pack too much information into a SKU number, it can become long, confusing, and create a greater risk of data entry errors or packing and shipping errors.

Keep SKUs under 12 characters. Instead of using long SKU numbers packed with product details, it’s often better to save the majority of details for the product name and description.

On the other hand, a SKU number that’s too short can make it easy to confuse with a product quantity code. As a happy medium, Chief Operating Officer of Rakuten Super LogisticsMichael Manzionerecommends using eight alphanumeric characters for SKU numbers and keeping them short and simple enough that a fifth grader could read them.

Start SKU numbers with letters, which makes them easier to read. Don’t start with a zero or any other characters that could be misinterpreted by human readers or by computers. Use both letters and numbers rather than using only letters or only numbers. For readability, you can print SKU labels with one form readable by the human eye as well as a code that can be scanned for computers

Create SKU numbers unique to your company. Avoid using manufacturer model, serial, or SKU numbers as your own SKU numbers. Otherwise, your numbers could become out of sync in the event that you resell products from a manufacturer who changes codes or you switch to a different manufacturing source.

As a recap, let’s look at the best practices for developing your own SKU codes:

  • Keep codes around 8-12 characters
  • Use a combination of letters and numbers
  • Start codes with a letter for better readability
  • Avoid using manufacturer SKUs
  • Don’t use a SKU if you run a small business with few inventory options
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