In the process of setting up your inventory for Magento, you will be asked to provide a stock keeping unit (SKU) for each new product. Before beginning product on boarding, it is a good idea to take a second to decide on a procedure or schema you will use a across your store to generate Magento SKUs. Having a clear schema will help anyone involved in inventory management tasks make quick decisions or actions. Magento uses these SKUs for bulk import identifiers and a few other actions, so having a well defined SKU can help when making large bulk changes.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of “do’s and don’ts”, I believe this list covers the most common pitfalls and best practices.
Magento SKUs “Do’s”
Use easily identifiable patterns and abbreviations
Establish abbreviations for your products that are easily understood at a glance. For instance, if you are welling widgets and sprockets use abbreviations like “WDGT” and “SPRKT”. Often I find abbreviations are easiest to understand if they are phonetic. Colors and finishes can also be easily understood when abbreviated. For example; black, blue and orange could be abbreviated to “BLK”, “BLU”, “ORNG”. While dropping a few characters here and there may seem trivial, when you have to fully describe a variant product that has a color, finish and size the savings are apparent.
Position words by importance
When structuring your Magento SKUs, lead first with what the product is and then add more descriptors in the order of their importance. Sometimes thinking about how a potential customer would search for your product can help establish an order of importance. Using the widget example again, if your customers typically decide on a widget based on material used then that abbreviation would appear first. “WDGT-STL”, “WDGT-CHRM”, and “WDGT-WOOD” as examples. For apparel the color or size should often follow after the main descriptor. For instance, if you sold apparel by season and year you may want to adopt a schema like “SUM15-TSHRT-BLU-XL” for summer 2015 tee-shirt blue extra large.
Use delimiters to make them readable
Instead of a seemingly random string of letters, add dashes “-” or underscores “_” in between key features so the SKU is easily understood at a glance.
Indicate relationships between variants and parent products
At some point when managing your inventory you will have to work with spreadsheets or find a bin quickly. If your Magento SKUs describe the relationship between product groups then sorting or reorganizing a spreadsheet will be much easier. In Magento products are commonly setup with a “parent” configurable product and “simple” variant products. Using our apparel store example, the configurable product should be assigned a SKU such as “SUM15-TSHRT” and the variants assigned SKUs such as “SUM15-TSHRT-BLU-S”, “SUM15-TSHRT-BLU-M”, and “SUM15-TSHRT-RED-S”. At a glance, the variant SKUs fully describe what configurable product they belong to as well as their particular color and size.
Note: Using a pattern like this becomes even more important when using Magento. Some of the default API functionality does not provide relationship information, but having a SKU that does would let you rebuild the relationship outside of the sites system. This may be very important when integrating the site with a third party service.
Add store identifiers
If you are using multiple stores for Magento, retail and wholesale as an example, adding a store identifier is often a good idea. This is especially true if you handle inventory management differently between stores.
Make them unique
Sometimes it may be tempting to use a manufacturer MPN or other identifier as a SKU. However, different manufactures may use the same MPN to describe their products. Making Magento SKUs that are unique to your store will ensure that there is no confusion between manufactures or even your own custom products. It is also very important to maintain unique SKUs in the Magento system because the default bulk change import requires the SKU to correctly identify a product.
Magento SKUs “Don’ts”
Avoid using spaces and special characters
Spaces and special characters (“>”, “&”, and “*” as examples) can lead to confusion when working with Magento SKUs. Using spaces as a delimiter between abbreviations can be harder to read as well as can lead to confusion if an extra space is accidentally added:
“SUM15 TSHRT RED S” vs “SUM15 TSHRT RED S”
Don’t use only numbers
Number only SKUs do not lend to quickly understanding what the product is at a glance. If you must use numbers for SKUs, avoid using leading zeros “01245” as many spreadsheet programs remove them and this can lead to confusion.
Avoid being overly descriptive
Not every feature of a product has to be include in the SKU. Think of the SKU as “highlights only” content. If a group of product can be distinguished based on model, color and size, leave the SKU at that.