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SKU vs EAN: What’s the Difference in 2024?

1.9 Minutes

In this article, we will explore the key differences between SKU vs EAN codes. Read on to learn which one is the best fit for you. 


What is an SKU?

An SKU, or Stock Keeping Unit, is a unique alphanumeric code assigned to a specific product or item within a retailer's inventory management system. SKUs are commonly found in retail and e-commerce settings, where they serve as a crucial identifier for products.

Unique Characteristics of SKUs:

Internal Use: SKUs are primarily used for internal purposes by retailers to track inventory levels, manage stock, and facilitate efficient order fulfillment.

Customization: Retailers can create their own SKU systems, allowing for flexibility in structuring and naming conventions to suit their unique needs.

Varied Formats: SKUs can consist of letters, numbers, or a combination of both, making them adaptable to various inventory management systems.

Limited Universality: SKUs are specific to individual retailers or businesses and do not have a standardized global format.

difference between ean and sku

What is an EAN?

An EAN, or European Article Number, is a globally recognized barcode system used to identify products in retail and commerce. EANs are commonly found on product packaging and facilitate efficient inventory management and point-of-sale operations.

Unique Characteristics of EANs:

Global Standard: EANs adhere to an internationally recognized format, making them universally accepted and understood across different countries and industries.

Barcode Representation: EANs are typically represented as barcodes on product labels, allowing for quick and accurate scanning at checkout and during inventory tracking.

Fixed Structure: EANs have a standardized 13-digit or 8-digit format, with specific components denoting the manufacturer and product details.

Product Identification: EANs uniquely identify products, making them suitable for international trade and ensuring consistency in product recognition.


EAN vs SKU: What’s the Difference?

Although both stock keeping units (SKUs) and EAN barcodes are similar, they have distinct differences. We will explore these below:

1. Purpose:

SKU: Primarily used for internal inventory management within a specific retailer or business.

EAN: Designed for universal product identification and is used for both internal and external purposes, such as retail checkout and international trade.

2. Customization:

SKU: Can be customized by individual retailers, allowing for flexibility in naming and structuring.

EAN: Follows a standardized format, ensuring consistency and interoperability across different industries and regions.

3. Universality:

SKU: Limited to a specific retailer or business and lacks a global standard.

EAN: Globally recognized and used, making it suitable for cross-border trade and international supply chains.

4. Format:

SKU: May consist of letters, numbers, or a combination, with no fixed structure.

EAN: Follows a fixed 13-digit or 8-digit structure, with specific segments for manufacturer and product identification.

5. Barcode Usage:

SKU: Generally not represented as barcodes and used primarily for internal reference.

EAN: Commonly represented as barcodes on product labels for easy scanning and point-of-sale operations.

6. Industry Application:

SKU: Predominantly used in retail and e-commerce settings.

EAN: Widely employed across various industries, including retail, logistics, and healthcare, for product identification and tracking.

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

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