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Are SKU Numbers Universal? [2024 Update]

1.5 Minutes

In this article, we will explore whether SKU Numbers are Universal as well as the similarities and differences of their usage in various businesses.

are sku numbers universal

Are SKU Numbers Universal?

SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) numbers are not universal as each retailer or organization typically assigns its own SKU numbers to products for the purpose of inventory management and tracking. SKU numbers are unique identifiers used internally by a business to keep track of its products. 

Example: Two companies are selling the same laptop model, the HP Spectre x360. They use different SKU numbers (e.g., LA-LT-001 and OR-HP-15S) for inventory tracking and pricing. 

sku numbers universal

Similar Functions of SKU Numbers Across Business

While SKU numbers are not universal, they serve similar functions across businesses, including:

Inventory Management: 

SKU numbers help businesses keep track of the quantity and location of products in their inventory. For instance, grocery stores use SKU numbers to track cereal quantities on shelves to ensure timely restocking of popular brands.

Ordering and Replenishment: 

They simplify the process of ordering and restocking products by providing a unique reference for each item. For example, electronics retailers streamline restocking by referencing SKU numbers when ordering more of a popular laptop model.

Sales Tracking: 

SKU numbers enable businesses to monitor sales performance for each product helping with restocking decisions and marketing strategies. For instance, clothing stores analyze SKU numbers to determine which colors of a T-shirt style sell best. 

Product Differentiation: 

They distinguish between similar products, especially those with variations in size, color, or style. For example, hardware stores employ SKU numbers to distinguish nail types by size and material, helping customers find the right products.

Efficient Operations: 

SKU numbers streamline various operational aspects, from pricing to labeling and warehousing making business processes more efficient. For instance, an auto parts supplier optimizes logistics by using SKU numbers to label and organize items in its warehouse. 

sku numbers

How SKU Numbers Vary Across Businesses:

Although SKUs share common functions across businesses they can vary in several ways:


The format of SKU numbers can differ from one business to another. Some businesses may use simple alphanumeric codes, while others may use more complex codes that incorporate information about the product, such as its category, size, color, or other attributes.

Naming Conventions: 

Businesses may use different naming conventions for SKU numbers. For example, one company might use abbreviations for product categories, while another might use descriptive words.

Product Information: 

SKU numbers may include varying levels of detail about the product. Some businesses may use SKU numbers that only identify the product itself, while others may include information about variants, such as size, color, or model.


The way SKU numbers are organized or categorized within a business can vary. For instance, one retailer might group SKUs by product type, while another might organize them by supplier or manufacturer.


SKU numbers are unique within each business but may not be unique across all businesses. This means that two different businesses can use the same SKU number for different products without issue.

Integration with Systems: 

SKU numbers are often integrated with a company's inventory management and point-of-sale systems, and the specific integration methods and technologies can vary.

We hope that you now have a better understanding that while SKU numbers are not universal and vary across different businesses, they serve similar functions. 

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