Using SKUs to streamline packing and shipping

If you use any type of inventory software, it probably asks you for a SKU or stock-keeping unit for each item.  SKUs are different than the UPC or the ISBN as they are assigned not simply to a specific title but to a specific ITEM.  You can easily have two books with the same IBN… but two different SKUs because one is new and one is used.

Many programs will just generate a general code for it.  However, it may be worth doing custom codes to streamline order pulling and packing.   You can pack a lot of info into those short little codes so as soon as an order comes in from the internet, you know exactly what to do before even touching the book.

First off you need an individual number string to assign to a book. Consider how many books you list per month. If its less than 100, you can use two digits. Less than a thousand, 3 digits, less than 10,000 4 digits and so on.
If you don’t have a separate “date in” field or have an open shop, you may want to incorporate the date listed into the SKU. Ours all include that so start with year and then the month, with November and December being N and D respectively.  So something listed December 2011 is 11D. Including the date lets you rapidly lets you decide what items can be marked down or removed if there’s not a separate  “date in” field in your inventory. or if they’re in an open shop, when you trip over ones incorporating an old date, you may decide to mark it down, remove it, or move it to a new location since you now immediately recognize it as having been here a looooong time.

If you have an internet only shop, you can actually include the location in the SKU as they won’t be moved around by anyone but you.  So you could letter your shelves.  First letter thus gives a location, A, B, C, etc.  If you have an open shop, this probably won’t be as useful because books will move around a bit more due to being displayed so it may quickly end up inaccurate.

If you have more than one location, a store and a storage unit, for example, you DEFINITELY want to include a location so you aren’t looking for the book in the wrong building!

For either an open or internet only shop, including the size and or weight in the SKU can streamline the packing process.  While you’re describing a lot of books to be listed, its easy to weigh and size them all at once.  Get a template for sizing to set the book on, based on the sizes of the shipping containers you standardly use.

For example, you use envelopes sized #0 through #5.  The SKU might then include the envelope size as part of the data so you know EXACTLY what size envelope to grab to pack that book, as soon as you see the order come in.  No guessing!

To put those all together, you have an order come in with a SKU of A11D0473. It immediately tells you its on shelf A. It was listed in December 2011. It’s book 47. It takes envelope size #3.

If you list on multiple websites but don’t list ALL your inventory on each site, you may want to include trailing letters telling you which site its listed on so you can remove it from the other sites.  ABE, Alibris, and Amazon all annoyingly start with A, so I suggest going with the LAST letter.  (you could do second letter, but if you’re using Biblio as well, you may keep mistaking ABE for Biblio!)

So your hypothetical SKU now might read A11D0473EN.  The trailing letters than tell you it was listed on ABE and Amazon, but you didn’t list it on Alibris so don’t need to remove it from there.

You can keep just adding additional codes, but often more is less. Decide what is really useful to yo otherwise it just becomes total garble!  If you use software that will automatically remove sold items from other sites, you might not need the trailing letters.  If you ship everything in B-flute, you might not need envelope sizes. If you have an open shop and shelve everything alphabetically or by subject, a location may be useless.

Skip the additions that don’t actually provide you useful information that will speed up inventory management.  Sometimes adding just the one bit of data can help save you a lot of time!

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