Using item numbers or stock keeping units — better known as SKUs — might seem unnecessary for your store. Stop us if any of this sounds familiar:
“My store’s really small, so I don’t need SKUs — I know everything by sight.”
“I don’t sell to anyone other than my customers, so why would I need item numbers?”
“My products don’t have any variations, so SKUs aren’t required.”
These are valid objections… sort of. But they’re also excuses that could hinder your relationship with partners, cause logistical issues for for your store, or — worst of all — keep you from reaching your full sales potential.
No matter the size of your store, what you sell, or who it is you sell it to, you should absolutely be using SKUs. After all, WooCommerce makes it so quick to add them that you don’t really have an excuse… but we understand that you might need a little more convincing. 😉
Here are five reasons why SKUs are useful for eCommerce.
Customers who are ready to buy a specific item will get to your store via search
Whether you sell products you’ve handcrafted yourself or those you’ve meticulously sourced from other manufacturers, getting these items to pop up in search engine results is critical. Potential customers use tools like Google to find out where they can buy what they need, plus get the best price or fastest shipping.
When shoppers have narrowed down their choices to a specific item, it’s not uncommon to see them copy some identifying information into Google to do a final price check or find a store they like. And therein lies the need for you to have (or use) SKUs: if you don’t, your store won’t show up among the results.
This is especially important if you’re selling products supplied by a manufacturer. If customers get wind of a product’s SKU, they might realize they can search for it elsewhere to find a better deal. And if your store pops up among the results — with a better deal — you’ve just made yourself some money.
If you’re selling your own products, or if the items you’re stocking don’t have SKUs, this doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t create some to use. Other stores might eventually pick up on the SKUs you’re using (more on that later), which means you might not be the first store they find your product on. So it’s still best to get in the habit of using product SKUs now — that way you’ll be prepared for what happens in the future.
Repeat customers can use SKUs to find and purchase products faster
Pretend for a second that you’re already using SKUs on your store (even if you aren’t). Imagine a customer buys a few products from you and absolutely loves one of them. They want to come back and find it again — quickly. What’s the fastest way for them to search for it?
They could type the product name or a description of it into your store’s search box. But a faster way to go directly to the item they want would be to copy and paste the SKU from their email into search.
Repeat customers who have access to SKUs can utilize them to get to your product pages much faster than those who don’t. All they have to do is search for that little string, which they can usually copy and paste from their order or shipping confirmation emails, and they’ll end up right on the product page they want.
This is especially convenient for mobile shoppers, who have the challenge of re-buying products from you on smaller screens and typing in queries on little keyboards. Copying and pasting a SKU is far easier than jumping between apps to get the right name to manually type into a search box.
Want to start displaying SKUs in WooCommerce’s order and shipping emails? Here’s a tutorial that’ll come in handy.
If you ever sell to another store, you’ll be expected to have SKUs
Just a bit ago, we mentioned that if your products ever show up on another store, you might not be the first place shoppers see them (or their SKUs).
Many small stores expand their reach by selling their products to others via wholesale. And if you go this route in the future, you’ll more than likely be expected to have SKUs tied to your products.
Multi-vendor stores rely on item numbers to tell their products apart. This goes double for stores that might have multiple green T-shirts, red oven mitts, or orange pillow covers — they need those unique letter and number combinations to figure out which one the customer actually wants, and where they can get more from.
Putting SKUs in place now helps you prepare for a future where you might be supplying your products to someone else who definitely needs them to operate their store properly. You won’t get much of anywhere if you respond to a vendor’s request for SKUs by saying “um, well, I don’t have any…”
Retailers use your SKUs to search for product information, answer questions, and more
Speaking of working with vendors and other stores, SKUs are often used by these companies as shortcuts to find product information, wholesale pricing, images, and other tidbits online.
Much like your returning customers, it’s faster for a busy retailer to search by SKU to look something up. If you act as a wholesaler to another store and one of their customers is asking “how big” or “what color,” they can use your SKU to quickly get that information from your store (or any other source of information linked to it).
If you didn’t provide those SKUs — or, at the very least, make them public on your site — you’d be bombarded with questions from retailers who couldn’t find the information they needed. Sure, you could give them an FAQ or guide of some kind, but Google is always faster.
Again, SKUs are handy shortcuts that lead to answers and other resources. Without them, you’ll essentially be stranding your (current or future) retail partners… and potentially damaging your relationship with them.
How to add SKUs in WooCommerce (plus a free plugin to help)
SKUs can be added in the Product Data area of any WooCommerce product page:
Just think something up and throw it in this field. You can use any combination of letters and numbers that you like, but it has to be unique and can’t match any of your post IDs.
SKUs aren’t required for simple products in WooCommerce because product page database entries (and their URLs) are generated based on the backbone of WordPress. This means your product page URLs will have their names in them, which are easier to read, plus way more search engine friendly; this is different than some other eCommerce platforms, which require SKUs to create a simple product.
You will need to add a SKU if you’re creating a product with variations, because the SKUs help differentiate the variable products from one another. An example would be a shirt that comes in five different colors — the “master” product (a shirt without a color selected) won’t need a SKU, but you’ll need to define individual item numbers for each of those five colors. This is the one case in which WooCommerce will require SKUs to be created.
Even though SKUs aren’t always required, we still recommend adding them for the reasons listed above. Even if you don’t absolutely need them now, you might find them necessary in the future, and don’t want to spend hours backtracking to add them.
If you’ve already created a ton of products and are dreading going back and editing everything, we found this free plugin from SkyVerge that automatically creates SKUs for your products in WooCommerce. Give that a shot and see how it goes!
There are multiple benefits to using SKUs in your WooCommerce store
Though it might seem annoying to think up and add SKUs to your products, as we’ve just shown you, there are good reasons for you to use these item numbers. SKUs don’t only make your life easier — they increase your earning potential, and help customers of all kinds find and purchase your products faster.
We hope this post has given you a little insight into why you should be using SKUs (if you aren’t already). Have any questions for us? We’re all ears — just leave a comment and we’ll gladly answer it ASAP.