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SKU vs Part Number: What’s the Difference in 2024?

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In this SKU vs Part Number article, we will explore the unique characteristics of SKUs and part numbers and uncover the key differences between the two.

SKU vs Part Number

What is an SKU (Stock Keeping Unit)?

An SKU, or Stock Keeping Unit, is a unique alphanumeric code used by businesses to identify and track individual products within their inventory. SKUs are commonly found in retail, e-commerce, and supply chain management systems.

Unique Characteristics of an SKU

Uniqueness: Each SKU is distinct, ensuring no two products in the inventory share the same SKU. This distinctiveness is primarily for internal use within a company's inventory management system, allowing for precise identification and tracking of products.

Granularity: SKUs often provide detailed information about a product, including color, size, and other variants.

Ease of Tracking: SKUs simplify inventory management, making it easier to monitor stock levels and reorder products when needed.

Customization: Businesses can create their SKU systems to suit their specific needs, allowing for flexibility in product identification.

part number vs sku

What is a Part Number?

A Part Number is a unique identifier assigned to a specific component or part within a larger product or structure, making it easier to order, replace, or reference these parts. Part numbers are commonly used in manufacturing, automotive, and electronics industries.

Unique Characteristics of a Part Number

Hierarchical Structure: Part numbers often follow a structured format that provides information about the component's type, origin, and other details.

Standardization: In some industries, there are industry-wide standards for part numbering, ensuring consistency and compatibility.

Maintenance and Repairs: Part numbers are crucial for identifying and ordering replacement components, streamlining maintenance and repairs.

Cross-Referencing: Part numbers can be cross-referenced to link specific components with their corresponding assembly or product.

Difference between Part Number and SKU

Part Number vs SKU: Are they the Same?

While part numbers and SKUs both serve as unique identifiers, they cater to distinct industries and operational needs. We will explore these differences below:

Purpose of Use

Part Number: Part numbers primarily serve manufacturing and industrial sectors for identifying and categorizing individual components within complex products or assemblies. They are integral for production, maintenance, and repairs.

SKU: Mainly used in the retail and inventory management sectors to track products, manage stock levels, and ensure efficient order fulfillment for a wide range of consumer goods.

Structural Complexity

Part Number: Typically follow structured, hierarchical formats, providing detailed information about a component's type, origin, and specifications. This structure aids in categorization and compatibility assessment.

SKU: SKUs are more straightforward and less structured, designed for ease of use in inventory management. They often include product variants like size, color, or style but lack the hierarchical complexity of part numbers.


Part Number: Some industries have standardized part numbering systems to ensure uniformity and interchangeability of components, crucial for sectors like aerospace and automotive manufacturing.

SKU: Customizable and often developed in-house by businesses, allowing retailers to adapt them to their specific product lines and inventory management needs. They lack industry-wide standardization.


Part Number: Designed for cross-referencing, enabling the identification of a component's place within a larger assembly or product, simplifying assembly, maintenance, and repairs.

SKU: Typically not designed for cross-referencing to other products or components. Their focus is on individual product identification and tracking within a specific inventory.

Industry Focus

Part Number: Prevalent in manufacturing, automotive, and industrial sectors, where precise component identification and compatibility are crucial for production and maintenance.

SKU: Prominent in retail, e-commerce, and supply chain management, facilitating the tracking and management of diverse consumer goods and their variants.

Information Flexibility

Part Number: Part numbers contain structured information about the component's attributes and specifications, making them useful for technical documentation, quality control, and inventory management.

SKU: SKUs often emphasize simplicity and may not contain as much detailed information about the product. They prioritize efficient inventory management and sales tracking.

We hope our Part Number vs SKU article has now left with you a better understanding of the key differences between part numbers and stock keeping units (SKUs).

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