The product SKU is one of the most useful and often overlooked components in setting up your store. It is at the heart of every Order and interaction with your product.
This post will outline what a product SKU is, how it plays a part in your product’s lifecycle and a few tips for setting up a good product SKU structure.
What is a product SKU?
A product SKU (a.k.a – stock keeping unit) is a unique identifier used to track each product as it flows through your store. The product SKU is sometimes referred to as an item code or product code.
Note: This should not be confused with a UPC code. A UPC code should be generally unique across all stores, but your product SKU only has to be unique within your store.
The Product SKU’s role in a product lifecycle
There are many different steps that occur in a product’s life. Each of these require the product to flow through a variety of different processes and systems.
The Product SKU will be used at each step of the process within your store:
- Adding new products to your store
- Customer orders
- Customer returns / exchanges
- Shipping and fulfillment of orders
Why it’s important to come up with a good SKU structure
You could just pick a random unique number or word for each product and call it a day. However, with a little planning up front, a well designed product SKU can provide you with a few great advantages:
- Provides visibility into product features at a glance
- Makes it easy to add new product SKUs in a logical way
- Allows products to be easily grouped just based on their SKU
How to structure your product SKU
Here is an example SKU of HRYPTR0001TUL to demonstrate the components of a good product SKU:
Each portion of the SKU is broken up into distinct sections. It is worth noting, as a guideline:
- Each SKU section should always be the same number of characters across all SKUs. Meaning, if the Product Group is 6 characters, it should be 6 characters for all cases. This allows you to always grab the same number of characters in the same location of the SKU to grab the corresponding section
- Since SKU section will always be the same number of characters, you must plan ahead to determine possible future use-cases.
- The sections and lengths used here are just an example. You should choose sections and lengths appropriate to your store.
Using the example SKU above, here is an explanation of each section:
- Product Group: This example has a 6 character section for grouping products. In this case, the product is for Harry Potter, so the section is HRYPTR. All Harry Potter item SKUs would start with HRYPTR which makes it easy to see at a glance.
- Product Number: The product number is a way to allow future products within this group to be created by just incrementing this number. If you only use numbers, this allows for 10 values per character, for a total of 10,000 different Harry Potter products. If you also include A-Z, this allows for 36 values per character, for a total of 1,679,616 products.
- Product Type: If you sell different types of items, you can add a product type section. In this example, there is only one character allocated, which allows for 36 alphanumeric values. The T in this case stands for t-shirts. There may also be other characters such as D for DVDs, H for hats, etc.
- Product Gender: Another good attribute to add in the SKU might be gender, if you sell gender-specific items. In this case the U stands for unisex. Other valid values may be M for Mens, W for Womens
- Product Size: The product size attribute in this case refers to L for large. Other valid values may be S for small, M for medium, etc.
If you don’t need to see product attributes in the SKU, you may find it easier to just stick with a product group and product number approach.
The product SKU plays an important role in your store. The product SKU is the piece that connects all of your other systems together and allows them to share your product details with each other.
If you give some thought to the best way to structure your SKU now, this should pay off in the long run. As you add additional products to your store, you will already have a nice organization in place so everything should flow smoothly from there.