Updated on January 21, 2016
A stock keeping unit, more commonly known as an SKU, is a unique identifier associated with a product. They are usually formed of a mix of letters and numbers but can consist of just one or the other.
SKUs are commonly used in businesses that deal with selling products of any sort, whether this be physical stores or eCommerce stores on the internet. Unlike serial numbers that a product may have, SKUs are created and allocated to a product by the seller and not the producer.
What is an SKU used for?
As previously mentioned, an SKU is used as a unique identifier for products that a business carries. They are usually shorter than a product’s full name allowing for quicker inventory management and data entry on a store’s system. Since they are unique it is easy to pinpoint an exact product using an SKU, whereas product names can be very similar and can lead to products being confused for each other.
An example might be a customer phoning a store to place an order for a product. If the product did not have an SKU then the customer would have to specify which product it is they wish to order by its name. If the store carries multiple products with similar names or descriptions then there may be some confusion and the customer may end up receiving a product different to the one they thought they ordered. If the products had all been allocated SKUs, however, then the customer could simply read out the SKU. Since SKUs are unique, there is a smaller chance of the customer’s order being misunderstood and a better chance that they will end up with the product they ordered.
Picking good SKUs
- Make sure that none of your SKUs begin with a zero. If an SKU begins with a zero then it is not uncommon for some software to either ignore or completely remove this zero. As a result, beginning an SKU with a zero can be very problematic and so you should avoid doing this if at all possible.
- Keep your SKUs fairly short. SKUs are meant to be easy to type identifiers.
- Don’t purely use numbers. Using letters in SKUs can help give some context as to which product it is associated with. For example 0118-999 does not provide any clues as to what the product actually is. An SKU such as HAT1-BLU, however, implies that the product is going to be a hat in the colour blue.
- Avoid using special characters. Certain special characters can cause problems depending on the software being used to manage the store. A forward slash (/) for example, can often cause the SKU to be reformatted as a date by some software. Chevrons (> and <) can be interpreted as HTML code, also causing problems. Hyphens (-) are an exception, and can be used to break up the different parts of an SKU. However you should…
- Be consistent. You need to settle on a structure that all of your products SKUs will abide by. For example you my decide that an SKU should consist of three letters followed by two numbers, then a hyphen, and then a further two numbers. Making sure that all your products follow the same structure will not only make the SKUs easier to type but will also make it more prominent if there is a mistake with one.
Let’s take a quick look at an example of what an SKU structure could look like for a shoe shop. The shop could have agreed that the SKU is going to consist of three letters, indicating the style of the shoes. They could have also decided that each one must contain two numbers indicating the size of the shoes. And finally, three letters relating to the colour of the shoes could be added to the end separated from the rest of the SKU by a hyphen.
SAN08-PNK, for example, might refer to a pair of pink sandals that are size 8.
TRA11-BRN could refer to a pair of brown trainers that are size 11.
And DRE10-BLK may be a pair of size 10 dress shoes that are black.
Using SKUs in WooCommerce
Allocating an SKU to a product in WooCommerce couldn’t be simpler. When you are creating a new product there is a “General” tab below the main editor. At the top of this tab is a textbox labelled “SKU”. Enter the product’s SKU in this text box and click the “Publish” button in the top right hand corner of the page.
Once you’ve created some products with SKUs you will be able to see a list of them on the products page. Using the search bar in the top right hand corner of this page you can search through your products via their SKUs. For example…
If I were to search for the term “TST0” with this set of products I would get the following results.
Being able to search via SKUs like this makes tracking product activity and stock for particular items quick and easy in WooCommerce.