Utilizing SKU Numbers in Shipping Companies

SKU Numbers in Shipping Companies, For shipping and logistics companies, managing inventory and orders for customers requires tracking a huge range of products. That’s where SKU numbers become absolutely essential. These unique identifiers help shipping providers process fulfillment smoothly, avoid errors, and deliver the right items on time.

This in-depth guide will cover everything shipping companies need to know about utilizing SKU numbers across their operations, including best practices for managing SKUs effectively.

What are SKU Numbers?

SKU stands for “stock keeping unit” and is an alphanumeric code assigned to each unique product variation by the manufacturer or retailer.

For example, a blue t-shirt in size XL has a different associated SKU than the same shirt in red or medium size. Even the slightest variation in product attributes warrants a distinct SKU.

For shipping companies, SKUs allow you to accurately identify, track, move, and ultimately deliver the specific products needed to fulfill customer orders across your warehouse(s) and logistics network.

Robust use of SKUs is what enables shipping providers to handle large volumes of orders containing many different items without errors.

Learn: Speed Up Shipping with Full Container Load

How Do Shipping Companies Use SKUs?

SKUs play an indispensable role across several core areas of shipping operations:

Picking and Packing

In the warehouse, pickers and packers reference SKUs to ensure the precisely right product variation gets pulled from inventory and packed for each customer order.

Even when two items appear identical, the SKU verifies details like size, color, or model to prevent sending the wrong version.

Inventory Management

SKUs enable detailed tracking of which products and quantities are currently in stock across every warehouse location and storage zone.

This allows shippers to fulfill orders efficiently by directing picks to where inventory is available and route transfer orders between sites as needed.

Order Processing

As orders come in from retailer clients, each line item links to an SKU so fulfillment teams know exactly which product variation to pick, pack, and ship out to the end customer.

Order processors coordinate the outbound shipments based on what’s in stock using the SKU data.

Shipping Logistics

Routing departments use SKUs to coordinate the optimal movement of inventory between warehouses based on real-time order demand trends.

As some product variations gain popularity, logistics adapts by moving more units of those specific SKUs across the network.


Drivers verify shipments before delivery by checking SKUs to confirm they are delivering the correct product versions to the correct addresses.

This prevents costly missed deliveries that erode customer satisfaction for the retailer.


SKUs provide a consistent, standardized way for all teams to discuss products across warehouses, drivers, and clients.

With hundreds of products, variations, and order volumes, SKUs keep everyone on the same page.

As you can see, having robust SKU practices woven throughout operations is vital for shipping companies to function smoothly while handling large, complex order volumes every day.

Where to Find SKU Numbers

As a shipping provider partnering with various retailers and brands, there are several go-to places to obtain SKU information needed for your warehouse and delivery workflows:

  • Retailer Product Pages – Product listings on brand websites will include the SKU to help identify each version. Online catalogs are a great reference.
  • Order Documents – Packing slips, advance shipping notices, invoices, and other paperwork containing SKUs for each item within an order.
  • Product Packaging – Physical products often have the SKU printed directly on tags or outer packaging for easy access.
  • Warehouse Locations – If an inventory is already stocked in your warehouses, the SKU can typically be found on shelf labels or the products themselves.
  • Product Master Lists – Retail and brand partners maintain comprehensive product catalogs you can request containing every SKU.

The key is maintaining an accurate, up-to-date master list of SKUs easily accessible across your organization. Don’t rely on piecing together SKUs from various sources.

Best Practices for Managing SKUs

To leverage SKUs most effectively as a shipping provider, follow these best practices:

  • Verify SKUs in advance whenever new products are added or when inventory location changes occur. Never assume – always confirm.
  • Cross-reference SKUs listed on order paperwork, shipping labels, product packaging, and warehouse inventory system scans. Watch for discrepancies.
  • Confirm SKUs during the picking and packing process to avoid accidentally shipping incorrect product variations. Double-check when uncertain.
  • Report Issues proactively back to retailers if you encounter missing or incorrect SKUs anywhere to resolve the gap in data.
  • Communicate Updates related to SKU changes, product recalls, discontinuations, etc. so all departments stay in sync across warehouses.
  • Train Staff thoroughly on the importance of SKU discipline throughout daily workflows to avoid costly errors.

With robust policies and practices for managing SKUs across your logistics operation, shipping providers can maximize productivity, minimize errors, delight customers, and deliver outstanding service as a distribution partner.

Read: Custom Packaging Design to Make Product Distinctive

Examples of SKU Number Conventions

While there is some variation in how retailers assign SKUs, they generally follow certain consistent numbering formats. Typical elements include:

  • Company or brand prefix
  • Product line code
  • Color, size, or other variation attributes
  • Packaging distinctions like box quantity

Some examples of apparel products:

  • ABC-MSRED-XL (ABC brand – Men’s Shirt Red color – XL size)
  • QRS-JB-32-30 (QRS brand – Jeans Blue color – 32 waist 30 length)

For consumer goods:

  • WXYZ45-16-24PK (Model #XYZ45 – 16oz size – 24 pack)
  • JKL-PAPER-12 (JKL brand – Paper towels – 12 roll pack)

Leveraging a standardized, organized SKU numbering convention is key for smooth order processing and inventory management across the shipping industry.

The exact syntax does not matter as much as consistency within a retailer’s system. The goal is to readily identify products in a consistent way.

Bottom Line

SKU discipline is mandatory for shipping companies to achieve high fulfillment accuracy and on-time delivery across massive order volumes with myriad products.

Implementing robust policies and practices for obtaining, verifying, communicating, and leveraging SKU numbers at each stage in logistics workflows is crucial.

With reliable SKU capabilities woven into the infrastructure, shipping providers can drive productivity gains, delight retailers and customers, and continue scaling delivery operations smoothly.

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