What's a SKU?

What's a SKU?

A SKU is short for "stock-keeping unit". You can think of it as the model number, part number, or style number that uniquely identifies a physical item that you sell. In various Shipvine systems, you might also see it referred to as a merchant identifier. It's the single most important field. You'll see and use it everywhere, so it's important to come up with a SKU convention that's consistent and easy for you to remember.

Your SKU should be short, obvious to you, and consistent. For example, let's say that you're selling a t-shirt. Your SKU could be "LOGOTEE-RED-S", and you'd know exactly what that refers to and be able to enter it in spreadsheets, order forms, etc.

The SKU/merchant identifier is the "one thing" that has to match between Shipvine and your e-commerce store. If you have an item entered with a SKU as "LOGOTEE-RED-S" in Shopify, then you'd better be sure that the same item has "LOGOTEE-RED-S" in Shipvine Logistics. If they're mismatched, then we'll ship the wrong product!

Why can't I use the product name as the SKU?

If you're only selling a few items, you might be tempted to use the product name as the SKU. This isn't a good idea because it's long, it might be translated into different languages, and you might want to tweak the title in the future. If a customer calls you up over the phone, they should be able to read the SKU out to you so that there's no question about what they're trying to order. If you change the name of your product, then you'd have to update the SKU in all the various systems that depend on it.

Why can't I use a barcode, like a UPC, as the SKU?

You could, but it's not a great idea. A UPC is long, 12-digit number that isn't obvious and isn't easy to remember. If you're looking at a report of inventory levels, you're not likely to remember what "400947882392" is and how it is different from "400947882323". But if you saw "SPR-STL" and "SPR-PLS", you'd be more likely to remember that one is a "Steel Sprocket" and one is a "Plastic Sprocket". The UPC or barcode is designed for computers and scanners, and for compact representation on a label. The SKU is designed for human beings.


Using the barcode as a SKU is tough to remember and tough to type.

Your products may also end up with multiple barcodes over time; for example, a large retailer might insist on using their own barcode on the product. It's easier to have a SKU that is consistent, allowing you to speak the same language across all orders.

What's an example of a good SKU?

A good SKU is something that is based on a convention that you recognize and is short. For example, if you sell t-shirts, you might come up with a convention where the first digit is a collection indicator, the second digit indicates a length, a third value indicates the color, and a fourth value indicates a size. You might end up with "71-100-S", where "7" means "Vintage Collection", "1" means short sleeve, "100" means "white", and "S" means "small". If you need to add a medium to the order, it's not a great leap of faith to deduce that your SKU would be "71-100-M" for that product.

What's an example of a bad SKU?

A bad SKU is one that's too long, contains ambiguous characters, is subject to change, or isn't consistent with any of your other products.


Imagine a customer trying to read this aloud over the phone, or trying to enter it in a website form. Which is an "O" and which is a zero? Try to avoid ambiguous characters like uppercase I and lowercase l.
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