A stock-keeping unit (SKU) is a unique number that is used to identify a billable item in a company’s inventory. By using these number and letter combinations, companies can keep track of the quantities they have in inventory, and they can manage inventory effectively with the use of computerized systems, rather than having to keep track of everything manually.
SKUs are usually unique to the companies where they are used. This means that an identical product can have different numbers if it is handled and sold by different companies.
A company can assign a SKU number to a physical item, such as a set of plates. These numbers can also be used to identify services and more intangible entities, like warranties, creating a system that can be used for tracking and billing.
When a stock-keeping unit is assigned, the number reflects the smallest possible unit that a store will stock. In a warehouse, this is typically a box that contains multiples of the same item, while individual stores would assign a number to each individual item. This can be confusing for consumers, because boxes and single items will often have the name number assigned. While the difference between a box of something and a single item is usually obvious in the store, it can be trickier when ordering products online or over the phone.