SKU vs. PLU vs. UPC – What are the Differences?

The first barcode was scanned in the year 1974. It was scanned on the packet of Juicy Fruit gum. Since then, the technology utilized in the scanning of products in the retail marketplace has become quite common. In the modern e-commerce space, a labeling system becomes critical. Therefore, merchants should plan to implementing the technology as soon as possible.

While the terms SKU, UPC, and PLU might appear similar, these are still distinct from each other. Knowing how to differentiate between multiple product codes can help your business deliver excellent customer services and streamline the inventory. Product codes are not regarded as equal. Different product codes are used for differentiating different product characteristics. Moreover, they are assigned by different companies depending on the code’s function. 

What are the Basics of SKUs?

Firstly, an SKU or Stock Keeping Unit is primarily meant for internal use. As the SKU remains unique to an organization, a product will have different SKUs when sold by different companies.

Companies utilize SKUs for product accounting in the inventory, along with units of billable entities that are sold. SKUs help businesses track the number of individual products or services sold. They should not be confused with the product’s model number. Still, attributes and model numbers are primarily included in the SKU.

The SKU system for each item should be unique to your business. Business owners can print a label for displaying the SKU in some human-readable form. It can also be stored in a barcode that can be scanned.

It is not recommended that businesses use the SKU from the manufacturers as their own. While reselling the products sourced from the manufacturer, the barcode might change without warning. Businesses can also source the same product from different manufacturers. The SKU will become out of sync in such a scenario. 

SKUs are usually utilized by warehouses, fulfillment centers, marketplaces, catalogs, and e-commerce platforms. There are several ways to identify SKUs. Attributes like style, color, size, location purchased, manufacturer, warehouse location, condition, and cost can also be included in the SKUs. 

What are the Basics of UPCs?

The UPC is not required unless the product enters the retail space. The UPC gets affixed to a particular product wherever it will be sold. Therefore, it remains constant throughout the shelf life of the product. As SKU remains unique, the same product will feature different SKUs when sold by different companies. However, they will all have the same UPC. UPCs are available as 12-digit numeric codes only. 

UPCs are expected to be purchased to ensure that the same two sets of numbers are not issued to more than a single company. Most UPC providers sell these online. The authority responsible for maintaining the standards is the GS1. The organization serves to be the ultimate source for meeting specific compliance requirements. The EAN or European Article Number serves the same purpose as the UPC. It features 13 digits. 

What are the Basics of PLU?

PLU stands for Price Look-up. It references a number of 4-5 digits that is most commonly used on fresh produce items, compared to the UPC that is typically reserved for packaged items. 

PLUs are helpful to retailers in managing inventory and processing customer purchases quickly. The codes are also helpful to the IFPS (International Federation for Produce Standards) in managing and improving the supply chain for the fresh produce industry. The IFPS assigns the codes. The IFPS enables retailers to use the PLU Code that is retailer assigned. If there is no proper PLU code for a specific item in the database, the retailer can apply for the new PLU code. 

SKU Vs. UPC Code

SKUs are internal forms of product inventory codes for a specific company. Upon going to a store and looking at some individual product and then comparing the same product at another chain, it is observed that the SKU on the price tag tends to be different. 

On the other hand, UPCs or Universal Product Codes are external product tracking codes that remain standardized for utilization by any business or company. This makes the Universal Product Code an accurate tool for universal product identification – just as the name implies. They are the same everywhere. The UPC number gets attached to a unique product. Still, it remains the same for all chains and stores. 

The UPC symbol is the barcoding or barcode label, usually located on the back of the product. On the other hand, the SKU is mainly printed on the shelf pricing of the particular store. Therefore, UPC and SKU codes have some similarities but they are clearly different. 

Which One to Use for the Products?

UPCs might sound immensely appealing. This is because they tend to be universal and are available on the product. However, there can be instances wherein the SKUs can be more beneficial for any business even after this.

A SKU is capable of being customized for a specific business. This implies that the SKU is available on Google search results. This is the case when the products are linked online. Therefore, SKUs also serve to be effective marketing tools. On the other hand, SKUs also allows customizable tracking of the products in the store. If there are several versions of a particular product in the market, it becomes essential. An easy-to-identify and unique SKU for every product will make it easier to scan the inventory. 

SKUs also make it easier and quicker to satisfy customers during checkout. The SKU is mostly shorter as well as easier for employees to remember. This means that SKUs can be more effectively keyed during checkout. This allows businesses to take care of their customers efficiently. 

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