SKU vs Barcode: What's the Difference in 2023?

1.5 Minutes

In this article we will explore the unique characteristics of SKUs and barcodes and explore the key differences between an SKU and a barcode. Read on to learn more.

difference between sku and barcode

What is an SKU (Stock Keeping Unit)?

An SKU, or Stock Keeping Unit, is a unique alphanumeric code assigned to each product in a retailer's inventory. SKUs are commonly found on price tags, receipts, and inventory management systems.

Unique Characteristics of SKUs:

Internal Use: SKUs are primarily for internal use within a business to track and manage inventory.

Customizable: Retailers can create SKUs based on their own organizational needs, often incorporating product details like size, color, and style.

Not Universal: SKUs are specific to a particular business and may vary widely across different retailers.

Hierarchical: SKUs can be structured hierarchically, allowing for categorization and easy organization.

Sku vs barcode
Source: barcode.tec

What is a Barcode?

A barcode is a graphical representation of data in the form of parallel lines, dots, or shapes that can be scanned and decoded to provide information about a product. Barcodes are commonly found on product packaging, labels, and in retail environments.

Unique Characteristics of Barcodes:

Universal Application: Barcodes are standardized and used worldwide, making them universally recognizable.

Machine-Readable: Barcodes are designed for easy scanning by barcode scanners or mobile devices.

Limited Information: Barcodes typically contain limited information, such as product identification numbers.

Exterior Use: Barcodes are meant to be visible on the exterior of products for quick identification at checkout.

Barcode vs sku

What is the Difference Between an SKU and a Barcode?


SKU: SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) is a textual and alphanumeric identifier.

Barcode: Barcode is a graphical representation of data in the form of lines, dots, or shapes that can be scanned.


SKU: SKUs are usually not visible to customers.

Barcode: Barcodes are prominently displayed on products and are meant to be visible for scanning.


SKU: SKUs can be customized and often vary between businesses.

Barcode: Barcodes follow universal standards and are not customizable in the same way SKUs are.

Information Depth

SKU: SKUs can include extensive product details, such as size, color, and style.

Barcode:Barcodes typically contain limited information, often just a product identification number.

Primary Use

SKU: SKUs are primarily used for internal inventory tracking and management.

Barcode: Barcodes are designed for rapid product identification at the point of sale.

Universal vs. Proprietary

SKU: SKUs can vary significantly between different retailers and businesses.

Barcode: Barcodes are standardized and universal, consistent across industries and businesses.

We hope that our SKU vs Barcode article has now left you with a better understanding of the main differences between SKUs and Barcodes.

Turn your spreadsheet into software