What is a SKU? And 10 Plugins to Help You Generate Them
March 16, 2020
When starting an online store, you might come across acronyms and terms you don’t understand. Take SKU, for instance.
SKU numbers are assigned to all of your items and allow you to organize your products easier. They're great for your own product management, but they also have advantages for your customers.
Keep reading to learn more about SKUs.
What is a SKU?
SKU is an acronym for Stock Keeping Unit. Retail and online stores use SKU numbers to track inventory in a more organized fashion.
In short, a SKU is a unique number assigned to each of your products. SKU numbers are also meant to be unique to your own business, meaning they aren't universal or of use to other businesses.
Sometimes SKU numbers are random combinations of letters and numbers. But more often than not, the characters identify information about that product, such as:
Ideally, the information inside each SKU is ordered from most important to least important. So, if your company sees product type as more important than color, then the characters representing the product type would go before the color.
A SKU number is generated on the backend of your online store for your own organization, but they can also be printed on physical product barcodes along with UPC numbers. Therefore, your customer may or may not see this number.
You can potentially have it printed on the product packaging. In that case, it would only be looked at by customers if they have a problem with the product or would like to make a return.
So what makes part of a SKU number important?
You typically want the most important parts of a SKU number at the beginning for reference purposes. If your customers typically refer to the product by brand or product type (like when asking questions or making a return) then these would be considered the most important.
Why Do Businesses Use SKU Numbers?
The point of a SKU number is to provide data about your inventory and sales that can be beneficial for nurturing your relationships between customers and vendors.
Therefore, it's important to figure out what your most essential needs are as a business. This way, you can develop completely unique SKU numbers for your particular items.
As mentioned before, you might include characters in a certain order, such as numbers and letters that represent things like colors, brands or product types.
Once you have developed a SKU architecture that suits your business, there are several ways to use them:
For quickly referencing the right items when customers ask questions through customer support mediums.
When you need to reorder items from your suppliers without going through too much explanation.
To avoid confusion when talking about products with customers and vendors. This ensures orders are exactly the way they should be.
For referencing the right items when your customers try to make returns or exchanges.
To keep track of exactly how many units you still carry of each variant in your store.
For forecasting sales and seeing which items are selling the best.
To identify your best-selling items and highlight them in your store.
For suggesting related products to customers who either come back to your store or are currently checking out.
What is a SKU Generator?
Making your SKU sequence of characters is up to you, but it would take quite a bit of time to type up all of the SKU numbers every time you have a new product. This is particularly true for large stores.
Therefore, a SKU generator makes meaningful SKU numbers without you having to think about them.
Why Would You Want to Use a SKU Generator?
Manually created SKUs may work fine, but even smaller stores should avoid them.
Here are some of the main reasons/benefits you would utilize a SKU generator:
To avoid any errors that may cause confusion in your inventory management system.
To avoid any duplicates in your SKU system.
To quickly generate SKUs, saving you time.
To instantly assign SKU numbers to new products in your store.
To always stick to your previously created SKU architecture. Human error is bound to occur if you were to do this manually.
To ensure that searching for a product is only a few clicks away.
To better organize stores with large inventory collections.
The Best SKU Generator Options (Based on Your Platform)
What’s great about most modern ecommerce platforms is that many of them have SKU generators already built-in. Therefore, you can get right down to business by organizing your inventory. However, some platforms require you to install a SKU generator from an app store.
Regardless of which ecommerce platform you use, we’ll cover the best options for each one.
WordPress SKU Generators
WooCommerce does have the ability to randomly generate SKUs for your store, but the functionality isn’t that versatile. Therefore, we recommend opting for a plugin. Here’s your best bet:
WooCommerce Product SKU Generator
The WooCommerce Product SKU generator works by generating SKUs based on your own settings. So, you may decide to make SKU numbers that include data like the product variants and product vendors.
You also don’t have to abbreviate if you don’t want to, making the SKUs potentially long but useful for quick reference.
What’s also great is that all SKU numbers are automatically generated for simple and parent products, along with all of the variants. There’s a bulk product update if you need to force SKU generation for a large collection of products.
Support? The developer SkyVerge answers questions through the WordPress plugin forum. You can also send an email to the developers through its website.
There is no feature in Shopify to automatically make your SKU numbers. Therefore, we have to turn to the Shopify App Store.
The SKUGen app is currently the only app on the Shopify App Store that makes SKUs for you in a speedy and consistent manner.
It completes the process by generating unique SKUs for all products and variants. In addition, you get to set the rules for your SKU numbers, such as having prefixes, product abbreviations, automatic numbers for uniqueness and more. You can also generate a SKU right from the list of your products in Shopify.
Free version: SKUGen has a free version for generating SKUs for all products in your store. The limitation is that you can only do this with a prefix, suffix, and automatic number.
$9.95 one time fee: You receive all features and rulemaking tools for manual SKU generation.
$0.99 per month: This unlocks the automated generation with more advanced rules for your SKUs.
Customer support is provided directly through the Shopify dashboard when you’re in the SKUGen section. There’s also a phone number and email address if you’d prefer those.
BigCommerce provides a SKU generator tool right in the dashboard. There aren’t any other apps or plugins that complete the same task, so we’ll cover what the built-in app does for you.
The Auto-SKU Generator from BigCommerce
This lets you rapidly make SKU numbers for all of your products and variants. The SKUs are made separate from your products, but you can then import all of the SKUs for all inventory items.
Some of the SKU elements that you can use include color, size, product pick list and swatch.
Cost? Free with a subscription to BigCommerce.
Any support? Yes, BigCommerce customer support is provided through forums, social media, a chat box, email, help center and phone line.
Selling on Amazon requires you to work through Amazon’s system, but it’s still possible to make completely unique SKU numbers for your inventory management. After all, the whole point of a SKU is to suit your own needs, such as which of your red shirts a customer is looking for.
Amazon doesn’t really care what your SKU numbers end up being. However, a SKU number is randomly generated if you don’t make your own. That’is fine, but we’d rather have SKU numbers that are unique and useful for your own company’s needs.
Having said that, there are a few ways to generate and import your SKU numbers in Amazon:
Create or import products into Amazon, then manually type in SKUs for all products. Ideally, you would have made these SKUs from an online SKU generator.
Bulk import products from an Excel sheet with all of the unique SKUs already in the spreadsheet.
Bulk edit your already existing products in Amazon and edit the SKU numbers.
Seeing as how Amazon doesn’t have a SKU generator, we’d like to recommend an online generator that you can use to make the SKUs then import them yourself.
Zoho Free SKU Generator Tool
When making SKUs for Amazon, completing a search on Google for a free SKU generator is your best bet. This way you can import a large Excel file of inventory items to make your SKUs or type them in automatically.
As for how the Zoho SKU Generator works, it uses a pattern-based system where you decide the sequence of characters involved. Then, the SKUs are automatically created for that item, listing all of the SKUs in one area for you to download. Not only that, but the patterns and rules you set remain consistent for your group, ensuring that all of your items are logically marked. =
Overall, the SKU naming with this tool is both consistent and fast. You can also save old lists to build upon your current inventories. After you generate all SKU numbers, go to Amazon and either type them in individually or bulk upload them. What’s great about some ecommerce platforms (such as BigCommerce) is that SKU and product information syncing is often done for you.
Again, if the Zoho Free SKU Generator doesn’t do exactly what you need, consider Googling some other free SKU generators, as there are several out there to choose from.
Any support? Zoho offers a full suite of products like business email, CRM software, and invoicing. So, if you use any of those you get direct customer support through email. However, those only using the free inventory tool will most likely not get any support. But, you could try to contact Zoho if anything goes wrong with the tool. Just don’t expect the type of support you would receive when paying for a product.
As is similar to most other ecommerce platforms, Magento lacks a native SKU generator. That’s not a problem though, since you can either opt for a free online SKU generator or consider one that integrates with Magento.
The Zoho recommendation we have above for Amazon is definitely a quality option, but there are a few other tools that are made just for Magento and others that you can find directly in the Magento store.
Please note you can manually type in SKU numbers for all items in Magento. There’s also a bulk editing tool that could come in handy if you plan on making an Excel spreadsheet with all of your SKUs.
MageCloud SKU Auto Generator
Although this isn’t found in the Magento marketplace, the MageCloud SKU Auto Generator is designed to integrate seamlessly with Magento. It also has excellent reviews and a clean interface, making it our top choice outside of handling your own Excel spreadsheet or utilizing a free online generator.
MageCloud SKU Auto Generator lets you generate SKU tags for your own products using codes with numbers and letters and a wide variety of different rules you specify.
It’s not quite as customizable as other tools, but it tends to do the trick to at least make SKUs unique and easily organized.
Any support? This Magento extension is made by a developer named Neev. Customer support is provided through email. A chat box is also available, along with social media channels.
Now you see how essential it is for your inventory management to work with SKU numbers. They’re excellent for finding items quickly, forecasting for the future and offering better customer service!
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Joe Warnimont is a writer who covers web design and ecommerce tools. He’s written for Shogun since 2019 and has been featured on sites like Kinsta, Ecommerce-Platforms.com and CodeinWP. When not working he's on his bike or camping.