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SKU vs Item Number: What's the Difference in 2024?

1.5 minutes

In this SKU vs Item Number article, we explore the unique characteristics of Stock Keeping Unit codes (SKUs) and Item Numbers and compare their differences. Read on to learn more.

sku vs item number

What is an SKU?

An SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) is a unique alphanumeric code assigned to individual products within a company's inventory. SKUs are utilized to track and manage inventory items, making them indispensable for inventory management systems. 

Unique Characteristics of an SKU

Here are five key characteristics that define SKUs:

Uniqueness: Each SKU is distinct, ensuring that no two products share the same identifier.

Granularity: SKUs often provide detailed information about a product, allowing for precise tracking.

Hierarchical: SKUs can be organized hierarchically to group similar products together, simplifying management.

Customization: Companies can create SKUs according to their specific needs, tailoring them to their inventory structure.

Dynamic: SKUs can change over time to accommodate product variations or updates.

item number vs sku

What is an Item Number?

An Item Number, sometimes referred to as a Part Number or Product Number, is a unique identifier assigned to a product by the manufacturer. While similar to SKUs in that they help distinguish products, Item Numbers are often used for broader purposes such as manufacturing and distribution and may not include as much detail as SKUs.

Unique Characteristics of an Item Number

Here are five key characteristics that define Item Numbers:

Manufacturer's Identification: Item Numbers typically originate from the manufacturer and may include information about the product's origin.

Broader Scope: Item Numbers are often used for various purposes, including manufacturing, distribution, and sales.

Less Granularity: Unlike SKUs, Item Numbers may provide less detailed information about a product's attributes.

Standardization: In many cases, Item Numbers follow industry-standard formats, simplifying cross-company compatibility.

Stability: Item Numbers are generally more stable and less subject to frequent changes compared to SKUs.

stock keeping unit vs item number

SKU vs Item Number: How Do They Differ?

Let's compare SKUs and Item Numbers to highlight their differences:

Identification Codes:

SKU: Alphanumeric, often with a combination of letters and numbers, tailored to the company's preferences.

Item Number: Typically numeric, although it can also include letters, often standardized by the manufacturer.

Data Capacity:

SKU: Offers ample capacity to include detailed information about the product, such as size, color, and variant.

Item Number: Provides limited data capacity, primarily identifying the product without extensive details.

Data Type:

SKU: Contains specific data tailored to the company's inventory management needs.

Item Number: May include basic product information but is often more general in nature.


SKU: Uniqueness is maintained within the company's inventory, ensuring no duplication of codes for different products.

Item Number: Designed to be unique within the manufacturer's catalog, allowing for differentiation among their various products.


SKU: Primarily used for internal inventory tracking, retail management, and order fulfillment.

Item Number: Employed in various phases of product lifecycle management, including manufacturing, distribution, and sales.

Origin and History:

SKU: Originated within the retail industry as a means to efficiently track and manage inventory items within a specific company's operations.

Item Number: Originated in manufacturing and production environments, often assigned by manufacturers to uniquely identify their products for various purposes, including distribution and sales.

We hope that our SKU vs Item Number comparison article has provided you with a better understanding of the key differences between the two.

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