Difference Between Universal Product Code (UPC) and Stock Keeping Unit (SKU)

The world of retail business is extremely wide. The whole process is cumbersome and quite complicated as there have been techniques that have been developed over a period of time to make sure that the operations run in a smooth manner.

Everything from procurement to warehousing and sales are now done as per a proper system which ensures the operations are performed without any hindrance.

Two of the tools that are used to track inventory are UPC or the Universal Product Code and the SKU or the Stock Keeping Unit. Both have a similar nature but have their differences which make them somewhat unique.

UPC is a universal 12 digit number that is placed on all products. It is purely based on digits and does not have any other characters. Each product has a unique UPC that will only be used for that product from that particular brand all over the world. It comes from the manufacturer and can be scanned to get all the price details for a particular product.

The SKU is also a unique number but has only right characters and often is alphanumeric in nature. It is unique in its nature but is not universal. Each store has its own SKUs for products which are only used in the given store. An SKU for the same brand and product will most likely vary in two different stores. It is possible that a chain of stores maintains the same SKUs across all of its stores.


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    It is also known as the bar code. It can be scanned by a scanner that is attached to the point of sale or simply the cash register.

    Whenever the UPC is scanned, the cash register automatically adds the product to the list of purchase and deducts the product from the inventory that is held by the store at the given time. This is an extremely important inventory management tool that stores benefit from.

    - Image Courtesy: codeupc.net

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    It is generally used by the stores for products for which there are no UPC. Sometimes these could be products that are made in the store. It is an eight digit alphanumeric code. Generally it is not scan-able and is typed into the cash register.

    Once it is typed, the bill for the consumer is updated and the item is automatically removed from the existing inventory of the store. Stores have their own rules of making SKU in most cases.

    - Image Courtesy: bostitch.co.uk

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