search

Warehousing & Fulfillment

SKUs vs. UPCs: What You Need to Know

How do SKUs vs. UPCs compare? Check this blog out to learn more.
SKUs vs. UPCs: What You Need to Know
Alexandra Ortolani

By Alexandra Ortolani

 

February 28, 2022

Key Points:

  • SKU, an acronym for Stock Keeping Unit, is a unique alphanumeric code assigned to a product by a company and used to track the number of units sold and in the inventory
  • UPCs, an acronym for Universal Product Code, is a 12 digit code licensed by the product manufacturer from GS1 US - a nonprofit organization that upholds global business and supply chain standards
  • SKUs are for internal use, while UPCs are for external uses (the biggest difference between SKU and UPC)

Many people use SKU vs. UPC  interchangeably; however, they refer to two different things. Understanding the differences between SKU vs. UPC is essential for eCommerce merchants to have an optimized inventory management system.

Although both are number-based codes assigned to goods, SKUs are for internal use while UPCs are for external use. More specifically, SKUs are unique to a particular company and are used to track its inventory internally. In contrast, UPCs are universal tracking codes that enable accurate product tracking and sales throughout the supply chain.

This blog post will cover everything you need to know about SKU vs. UPC so that you can understand their features, differences, and their uses in eCommerce.

Table of Contents

What's the Difference Between SKU vs. UPC?

What's the difference between SKU and UPC? SKU, an acronym for Stock Keeping Unit, is a unique alphanumeric code assigned to a product by a company and used to track the number of units sold and in the inventory.

SKU codes are unique identifiers, meaning eCommerce businesses have different SKUs for a particular product but the same UPC. SKUs are also used for effective product tracking and optimized inventory management. Plus, they help you find a product quickly and ensure that you don't run out of stock of goods that are in demand.

SKU vs. UPC

On the other hand, UPCs, an acronym for Universal Product Code, is a 12-digit code licensed by the product manufacturer from GS1 US - a nonprofit organization that upholds global business and supply chain standards. Unlike the SKU code, this code is not generated by the retailer.

UPC numbers are also in the form of barcodes that can be understood only by computerized equipment. These codes are a type of Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), and they enable more accessible, faster, and effective tracking and sales of products along the supply chains.

UPC vs. SKU Number

Below is a table that highlights the difference between SKU vs. UPC.

SKU UPC
Alphanumeric Numeric only
Any length, usually 8-12 characters Always 12 digits
Unique for each merchant or retailer Consistent across all retailers
For internal use For broad use amongst retailers
Printed as is or with a barcode Printed as a barcode

Understanding the differences between SKU vs. UPC can help you better your understanding of an optimized inventory management system and how sales are tracked throughout the supply chain.

Benefits and Uses of SKU vs. UPC

There are many benefits and uses of UPC vs. SKU numbers. We'll take a look at the specific services and benefits of each in this section so that you can have a better understanding of the terms fr your eCommerce business.

Uses and Benefits of SKUs

As a business owner, SKUs help to improve your overall business performance. For example, when you have a well-defined system to distinguish your products, it becomes easier to track each item, effectively manage your inventory and fulfill your customers' orders.

SKUs are beneficial because they are:

  • Free to create: There are plenty of SKU generators available online to help you create custom SKUs for your products, which makes it easier to have an optimized inventory system
  • Useful for managing inventory: eCommerce merchants can use SKUs to track sales and calculate inventory data. This factor means that merchants can track their inventory to understand what exactly is in stock
  • Customizable: Merchants can customize SKUs to represent whatever distinction for their products and services

Uses and benefits of UPCs

While you can stick to SKU codes for internal reference and business-specific inventory management, UPCs are for external uses like tracking a product along the supply chain.

UPC barcodes are also helpful because they are:

  • Required by online marketplaces: UPCs are mostly required for major brands in most product categories. For example, office products and video games require UPCs
  • Included in the items you purchase: UPCs are applied by the manufacturers who created the item, which means the item will automatically come with a UPC barcode. Thus, you don't need to generate your own UPC, unlike SKU numbers
  • Used throughout the US: UPCs are primarily used in North America across all eCommerce platforms and retailers. Businesses outside of North America and the United States require a 13-digit serial number (International Article Number or a European Article Number)
  • The item manufacturer licenses UPCs: UPCs are randomly generated by the universal system used in the US. UPCs also stay the same throughout the supply chain for easy tracking

Both SKU vs. UPC offers the benefits of more accessible, faster, and more accurate product sales and tracking.

Related post: SKUs: What Are They, and Why Are They Important to eCommerce?

SKU vs. UPC with Easyship

By now, you should understand what SKUs and UPCs are and the difference between SKU and UPC. However, as a reminder, SKU is an alphanumeric code generated and assigned to a product by a retailer and used internally. In contrast, UPC is a 12-digit code purchased and licensed from the GS1 US.

Along with having an optimized inventory management system, you'll also want to consider your shipping strategy. Easyship is a shipping platform that provides tons of amazing features and discounts to its users.

Some of the premium features designed to help eCommerce merchants scale their business are:

  • Easyship Shipping Dashboard: Manage all your orders and shipping activity from our shipping dashboard. Import orders, upload CSVs, or sync directly from your eCommerce store
  • Easyship Branding Suite: Easyship provides a delivery experience consistent with your brand. Add your logo and advertising materials to your packing slips, landing pages, and tracking emails
  • Global Fulfillment Network: Easyship ships over 220+ countries so merchants can reach their customers worldwide. Plus, with warehouse partners on four continents, merchants can be closer to their customers

Now, you're all set to ace inventory management and tracking for your eCommerce business and how Easyship can power your shipping! (Plus, you now know the difference between SKU and UPC!)

Ready to ship? Sign up for a FREE Easyship account and get instant access to high-volume domestic and international shipping discounts for your small business.

SKU vs. UPC FAQ

Do I need an SKU vs. UPC, and what's the difference between SKU and UPC?

SKUs are for internal purposes only, such as inventory management. UPCs are for external purposes that help track products sales throughout the supply chain. Both are necessary for your business.

Can I use my UPC as an SKU?

No, UPCs are entirely different than SKUs. UPCs are for external purposes, while SKUs are for internal purposes - which is the biggest difference between SKU and UPC.

Is SKU the same as GTIN?

No, an SKU number isn't the same as a GTIN. GTINs (Global Trade Item Numbers) are unique product identifiers used internationally and do not vary from one business to another. In contrast, SKUs differ from one company to another.


If you found this article informative, you may enjoy the following: