SKU vs. UPC: 6 Similarities and Differences for Liquor Inventory Labeling

Managing liquor inventory can be a sobering challenge. Stock too much, and you're carrying useless bottles. Too little, and you're losing money. What if tracking all your liquor store essentials was easier?

Liquor store owners must balance inventory and anticipate customer demand, and shelves must stay stocked without pouring budget into stagnant bottles that go bad. Inventory tracking tools are essential for this purpose.

This article explores the critical differences between SKUs and UPCs, and how pairing these product identifiers can level up your liquor inventory management. You'll learn simple best practices to avoid stockouts, maximize sales, and keep your store and customers happy.

SKU vs. UPC: What Are They?

Let’s start with the basics: What are these different product codes, and why do they matter?

SKU stands for Stock Keeping Unit. Each SKU is a unique code assigned by you, the store owner, to a product in your liquor store. These codes help you keep track of inventory, manage reordering, increase inventory turnover, and streamline store operations. Want to see how many bottles of that specialty bourbon you have left in stock? You’ll look that data up by SKU.

UPC, or Universal Product Code, is your product’s public face. A UPC is a 12-digit code that is used across the retail industry to identify products. Your UPC codes connect your products to their price and description in the system, helping you manage transactions with ease. 

Related Read: 5 Essential Inventory Metrics Every Liquor Store Should Track

The main distinction between SKU and UPC is that SKU is your store's internal tracking system, while UPC is the external identifier used across the retail universe. SKU is like the secret handshake within your store, while UPC is the official ID for the world. Though they have separate purposes, they work together to keep your liquor store running smoothly.

So, how do these two codes work together?

Both SKU and UPC are all about keeping order in your store. They're printed on product packaging, scanned at the point of sale, and help you with inventory management. Managing these codes when stocking and reordering for your store is essential. 

With this in mind, let’s dive into what each code means, and how you can use it most effectively in your liquor store. 

What Is a SKU?

Let's start by cracking the code on SKU. As we established in the previous section, your SKUs create a secret language for your store.  

A store’s SKUs are alpha-numeric codes, unique to each product at that specific retailer. These codes help manage your inventory and keep your liquor store running like a well-oiled machine. 

Related Read: Managing Your Liquor Store Inventory: 4 Tips and Tricks

Manufacturers can create SKUs, tailoring them to the product, its size, and the location where the product is sold. For example, in your liquor store, you might have a code like "JWB750MLNYC," which translates to Jack Daniel's Whiskey, 750ml bottle, at your New York City location. But another store in your neighborhood may have an entirely different code for the exact same product.

What Is a UPC?

Next, let’s consider UPCs. These codes are 12-digit-long strings of numbers that identify various products between stores and retailers. These codes are standardized and maintained by GS1US, which means they’re the same for each product variation — whether it’s size, flavor, or bottle type.

Unlike SKUs, UPCs don't change between retailers. For instance, you might see something like "080686001019" on a bottle of Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey, 750ml. These 12 digits are your link to efficient checkout, reordering, and supply chain management, and will be consistent across stores. 

When To Use Each

With this understanding of the critical differences and similarities between SKUs and UPCs, let’s dive into use cases. When should you use an SKU vs. a UPC in your liquor store?

When To Use SKUs:

Use them when receiving shipments at the back door — scan the SKU on the box, and voila, it's added to your inventory. 

When you're stocking your shelves, reach for the SKU to print a price tag for that product. 

Finally, during your daily inventory count, scan the SKU of each bottle to keep your on-hand quantity updated. 

Related Read: 5 Steps for Creating an Effective Daily Sales Report

When To Use UPCs:

When your customers are at the register and ask for product details, use the UPC to pull up all the necessary details. 

Use UPC on shelf labels to easily fetch the correct product description and pricing. 

Lastly, when it's time to reconcile your inventory vs. point of sale data, comparing UPC sales to SKU stock counts will help you keep everything in check.

Using Your Point of Sale (POS) System To Manage Liquor Inventory

This comprehensive overview should give you all the details you need to understand SKUs vs. UPCs, including what these codes mean and when to use each. However, understanding the difference between these codes and using them effectively in your store are two different challenges.

If you want to use these codes to maximum impact, you must manage them using a modern, easy-to-operate point of sale system. Start by programming your POS system with the unique SKU and associated UPC for each product. 

When you input all your codes correctly, your point of sale data is a goldmine. With a quick search, employees can retrieve product details, prices, and more, getting your customers the data they need quickly and efficiently. Your POS system can also track your on-hand quantities of each SKU, ensuring your store stays well-stocked with fan favorites. 

When you scan the UPC during checkout, a robust point of sale system will automatically decrease the SKU count for that product, ensuring you have real-time insights into your stock. This feature helps you avoid overstocking or running out of your bestsellers. 

Your POS system also delivers valuable data based on your SKUs and UPCs. Sales reports break down your sales by UPCs, giving you insights into what's flying off the shelves. Inventory reports, on the other hand, show your current stock by SKU, making it easier to identify what needs restocking.

When you invest in the right point of sale solution for liquor stores, you can easily manage SKUs, UPCs, operations, and more for your store.

SKU vs. UPC: Best Practices

This post should have delivered some critical context on the question of SKU vs. UPC, and when to use each code. However, assigning and tracking these codes on your products is only the beginning of your efficient inventory management journey. 

Regular inventory audits and updates, tracking sales velocity, and setting minimum stock levels are pivotal for keeping your store well-stocked and your customers satisfied. And when it comes to putting these best practices into action, a robust POS system is your trusty sidekick.

Bottle POS is a point of sale powerhouse designed specifically for liquor stores. Our solution offers robust inventory management features to help you effortlessly manage your SKUs and UPCs while also giving you incredible features like built-in customer loyalty programs, case break inventory management, automated age verification, and more.  

If you’re ready to take operational optimization seriously for your liquor store, you can check out our free resource, the Guide to Liquor Inventory Management. This guide offers insights and tips to help you take your liquor store to the next level. Download your copy today and start reaping the benefits tomorrow!