Some people have a tendency to try to overthink the creation of product item numbers (SKU #, Stock Keeping Unit) working to create elaborate systems that only make the usefulness of the number more difficult. The item number is the shorthand code for the unique identity of the product and should therefore be in the shortest and easiest way to uniquely identify any product you make.

Everyone from your customers, to your vendors, to your website, to your sales people, to the reports you create will be driven by item numbers and the item number sort. It is critical to think SIMPLIFY so that it becomes useful to you and to all the others that will be handling (and making money from) your product.

These are our recommendations.

Don’t use hyphens, dashes or other non-alphanumeric elements. It can confuse uploads and transfers and wastes character spacing.

Make all your item numbers the same length, generally 5-8 digits/characters.

Numbers are far better than characters. Unless you need a digit position with 26 variables instead of 10, stick exclusively with numbers. (BTW, if you must use letters, don’t use the ones that might look like a number, like O, Q or lower case L).

If you must use letters, don’t try to use letters that mean something. BLU and BLK or XS and XL is cumbersome. A=Black and B=Blue, 2=extra small and 7= extra large, and then fit the other sizes or colors in range. Assign the letters and numbers and don’t try to make them descriptive. Simpler is better.

If you want category, product, size, color, work from left to right to get your final SKU #.

Always keep in mind the item number is the organizing tool that all the warehouses or data bases your product ever finds itself in may be used to keep it organized for location. (Remember the Dewey decimal system and the library?) If you put letters in the middle, they will be sorted as such. If you want all your groupings of similar products of every size and color in the same place in a report, then keep the variables of size and color on the far right.

Don’t waste digits that can be reused after a couple of years off. Two digits for color suggests that the product may have 99 colors. If you only have 2 or 3 at a time, you can always recycle unused numbers in a couple of years (depending on your business). There are simple ways to make numbers work as category identifiers.

Your SKU#s are NOT the UPC numbers. Those are not important to codify in any way. Learn your item numbers well. Everyone who buys, sells and handles your products will be looking at reports of the sales of these items. This is all that matters to everyone; the quantity sold, on order or on hand and the item number. Everything else only matters to the consumer.