Stock Keeping Units, or SKUs, are a vital part of retail for any company that:
- Sells more than one product (including colour or size variations), OR
- Sells on a marketplace alongside other vendors (including Amazon, eBay, etc.)
Each individual product variation has a SKU assigned. These are used to identify the product – so Amazon uses an SKU to link a product page to a product, your warehouse team use SKUs in stock taking, and so on.
Internal and External SKUs
For internal organisation, many companies assign simple SKUs according to their own internal system. A single product may have an internal SKU at its manufacturer and four or five different internal SKUs at vendors, as they assign an SKU to fit their own system.
Once it’s on a marketplace, that product will have another product identifier assigned. We call these Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs). But this is a catch-all term for several widely-recognised identifier numbers, including:
- ISBN (International Standard Book Number – usually the first one people hear about)
- ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number – used within the Amazon organisation)
- UPC (Universal Product Code – used for retail barcodes in much of the world)
- EAN (International Article Number – a different barcode system)
As you can see, this means that SKUs aren’t as unique or as clear an identifier as all that. If you buy a product from an Amazon Seller, that product may have had different codes at the manufacturer, the vendor, and on Amazon. And if you bought the same product from a different seller on amazon, there would be a fourth code in the mix!
What’s the Problem?
But is this actually a problem? Each company has their own code, so they know what they mean, after all.
The problem usually comes for retailers selling across multiple channels.
Let’s take a typical SME online retailer. They sell around 20,000 products (including variations) sourced from four suppliers. They have their own dedicated eCommerce site but also sell on Amazon and eBay.
The four suppliers they use have SKU systems that don’t work well together, so the retailer uses its own SKU for internal records. They use the same SKU for their eCommerce site.
Their eBay account predates the rest of the business, and they were just using one supplier then. So, their eBay SKUs are all based around that supplier’s codes.
On Amazon, they’re using the ASINs the system assigned their products. They have a couple of products they added themselves, but others are sold under an ASIN and product description someone else added.
The retailer’s a small team, and everybody has to do a little bit of everything. For a single product in a single order, the same team member might:
- Process an Amazon order, checking ASIN against internal SKU.
- Update quantities on their eCommerce site using the internal SKU and on eBay using a SKU created for eBay.
- Stock on that product is low, so they re-order from the supplier, checking their internal SKU against the supplier’s SKU.
They cross-reference: ASIN to internal SKU, internal SKU to eBay SKU, internal SKU to supplier SKU. Any mistake in that is a problem, but if they make a mistake on the first step, the same mistake is multiplied.
There is no one-size-fits-all ‘omniSKU’, but retailers need one. So how do you fix that?
Stock Control Software and SKU Solutions
Stock control software designed for multi-channel retailers assumes the creation of a ‘SKU map’. This is a record which treats one product SKU as primary (usually the internal SKU) and correctly notes all secondary SKUs that match the same product. With that in place, the software can be used to its full potential.
Usually, the software provides tools to add new items to the map. So, as you expand your catalogue, it’s a simple question of entering related SKUs once and once only.
What’s less common is offering support in getting your product catalogue into the map in the first place. And as most businesses only implement stock control software after they’ve reached a certain size, that can be a headache.
That’s why helping you clean and map your product database is an essential part of Cloud Commerce Pro’s on-boarding service. We believe it’s better to take the time to get your new system set up properly. With errors lurking in your map, you could have all kinds of trouble coming – maybe several times over, as one issue after another crops up.