SKU vs Model Number: Decoding Product Identifiers

SKU vs model number

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Understanding the difference between a stock keeping unit (SKU) and a model number is crucial for anyone involved in retail, manufacturing, or inventory management. Despite their frequent use in product identification and tracking, these terms are not interchangeable and serve distinct purposes. 

This article aims to demystify the confusion, shedding light on the unique roles and strategic importance of SKUs and model numbers in the commerce ecosystem. By clarifying their differences, we provide a foundation for more effective inventory management and operational efficiency.

What are Stock Keeping Units?

What do you mean by SKU number

A Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) is a unique alphanumeric identifier used by retailers to track and manage inventory internally. Consider it as distinct markers for each identical item in a shop or storage facility like a warehouse.

For example, a high-end blender model in a kitchen appliance store. This blender, available in stainless steel, could be assigned an SKU of “BLEND1000-SS,” where “BLEND1000” identifies the product model, and “SS” indicates the stainless steel variant. This precise labelling system aids inventory tracking, facilitating efficient stock management, ordering, and sales analysis. 

For further details on SKUs, including their creation and utility, our comprehensive article on What is an SKU? will be an invaluable resource.

What are Model Numbers?

Definition of model numbers

Model numbers are standardised identifiers assigned by manufacturers, encapsulating product series, design, and technical specifications, facilitating global recognition. They are a crucial reference point for warranty claims, support services, and compatibility checks. They ensure that customers and service providers can identify maintenance or accessory pairing products accurately.

For instance, consider a smartphone model number “SM-G950U.” Here, “SM” designates the device category (smartphone), “G950” specifies the model series and generation, and “U” may denote the region or network compatibility.

Model Numbers vs SKU - The Similarities

Two similarities between SKU and model numbers

SKUs and model numbers share key roles in inventory and product management, facilitating the organisation, tracking, and identifying items. Let’s explore these commonalities, highlighting their integral contributions to efficient business operations.

Purpose of Identification:

Both SKUs and model numbers are essential for product identification, albeit in different scopes. 

SKUs facilitate detailed internal tracking within a company. At the same time, model numbers offer a universal reference for consumers and retailers, aiding in product recognition and comparison. This shared goal underscores their importance in maintaining inventory accuracy and supporting sales processes.

Contribution to Inventory Management:

SKUs and model numbers play vital roles in efficient inventory management. 

While SKUs allow businesses to track stock levels, movement, and performance precisely, model numbers facilitate product ordering and restocking from manufacturers. This synergy ensures that inventory systems operate smoothly, minimising overstock and stockouts and enhancing the overall supply chain efficiency.

What are the Differences Between SKU and Model Number?

Table of differences between SKU and model number

Understanding the distinctions between SKUs and model numbers is crucial for effective inventory management and product identification. Let’s delve into their key differences.

Model Number
Definition & Purpose
Internally generated for inventory tracking.
Assigned by manufacturers for product ID.
Can be customised in terms of size, colour, etc.
Can’t be customised.
Used for internal inventory management.
Used by customers for product identification.
High flexibility in creation.
Standardised across the industry.
Visibility to Customers
Often not visible or relevant to consumers.
Typically visible and relevant to consumers.
Specificity & Uniqueness
Can be very specific to variations of a product.
Generally broad, covering product lines.

Core Purpose

SKUs are uniquely crafted within organisations to streamline inventory tracking and management. They are tailored to suit the internal systems and procedures, focusing on the logistical aspect of stock control. 

Conversely, model numbers are designated by manufacturers so that customers can identify products distinctly. A model number is a global reference for a specific item across all retailers and platforms. 


The creation and assignment of SKUs and model numbers follow distinct processes reflecting their different applications. 

The process of creating SKUs allows for a high degree of customisation. This enables businesses to incorporate various product attributes into their SKUs for detailed tracking and analysis.  

In contrast, manufacturers directly assign model numbers during the design phase. These identifiers are standardised, offering minimal to no customisation to ensure product consistency across all sales channels.


SKUs facilitate detailed internal tracking and operational decision-making. 

Model numbers streamline external interactions, like customer inquiries and product comparisons.


SKUs allow businesses to tailor their inventory identifiers according to specific needs, such as product variations, locations, and sales channels. This customisation enhances internal analytics and stock management. 

Conversely, model numbers are more rigid, crafted to maintain consistency across all consumer touchpoints globally. This standardisation aids product recognition but limits adaptability to unique business requirements or categorisations.

Visibility to Customers

Model numbers are readily accessible to customers for product identification. 

On the other hand, SKUs remain behind the scenes, optimising internal inventory processes without impacting consumer interactions.

Specificity and Uniqueness

SKUs are designed to differentiate even the most subtle product variations, such as colour, size, or bundle offers. This specificity allows businesses to manage their inventory with granular detail. 

Model numbers, while unique to each product line, typically do not reflect these finer product distinctions, focusing instead on identifying the product at a more general level. 


In conclusion, while both SKU and model numbers are pivotal in inventory management and product identification, their purposes and applications distinctly differ. 

SKUs serve as an internal tracking tool, enabling businesses to manage and locate their inventory efficiently. These are unique to each company and can vary widely in format and information, reflecting specific organisational needs and strategies. 

On the other hand, model numbers identify specific products from a manufacturer’s perspective, providing a standardised reference that aids in recognising the product across various retailers and platforms. Model numbers are crucial for ensuring product consistency and facilitating easier comparison and compatibility checks by consumers and professionals alike. 

Understanding the differences between SKUs and model numbers is vital for anyone involved in manufacturing, retail, or purchasing, offering clarity in product identification and inventory management. By leveraging the strengths of each, businesses can achieve more streamlined operations and provide better service to their customers.

We hope this article was helpful. 

Thanks for reading! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Both SKUs and Model Numbers Be Used for Online Sales?

Yes, both SKUs and model numbers can be used for online sales. 

SKUs facilitate internal inventory management and can help businesses track online sales performance. Model numbers, visible to customers, aid in product identification and comparison across e-commerce platforms.

How Do SKUs and Model Numbers Affect Customer Experience?

SKUs don’t typically affect the customer experience directly since they are internal. However, model numbers are essential for customers, helping them identify specific products and compare options across different sellers online or in-store.

Are Model Numbers Necessary for All Products?

Yes, most products, especially those manufactured on a large scale, have model numbers. These numbers help standardise identification across different platforms and retailers, making it easier for consumers to find and compare products.

Can a Product Have Multiple SKUs?

Yes, a single product can have multiple SKUs, mainly if different retailers sell it or come in various variations (e.g., size, colour) within the same company, each requiring unique inventory tracking. 

How Do Companies Decide on the Length of SKUs?

Companies determine SKU length by balancing the need for detail with simplicity. Longer SKUs can encode more information, like product attributes and location. 

Is There an Industry Standard for Model Numbers?

No, there’s no industry-wide standard for model numbers. Manufacturers develop their systems to ensure their model numbers are unique and informative, reflecting product characteristics or series within their brand. 

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