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Square for Retail: SKU vs GTIN


With Square for Retail, managing inventory and monitoring your business is made easy – but we understand that a lot of the terminology that comes with running your shop can be confusing at times, especially if you’re just starting out. What is a SKU compared to a UPC? What is a GTIN? What is the most efficient way to track products and ensure you’ll run into minimal errors when it comes time to do inventory?

In order to simplify this process and remove some of the stress that goes along with setting your Item Library up for success, we’ve included definitions of common terms below (with links to some great resources), as well as a section devoted to frequently asked questions from sellers like you.

What Is a Stock Keeping Unit (SKU)?

A Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) is an internal identification number that consists of a unique series of letters and numbers, often referred to as a ‘SKU number’ and/or ‘product code’.  Sellers assign unique SKU numbers to products in order to identify items within their point of sale and inventory management system. If you use Square for Retail Plus, you also have the option to auto-generate SKUs through the Square for Retail app on iOS and Square Register and through the Item Library of your online Square Dashboard.

By doing so, sellers can track the status of an item in their inventory at any time. The SKU number is usually visible to customers, whether it be on the item label, price tag or included in the product description on your online store.

What Is a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN)?

A Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) is the source of truth and used to identify trade items and products throughout the supply chain. GTIN is a term used to describe multiple families of product identification numbers such as:

  • Universal Product Identifiers (UPC-E, UPC-A, GTIN-12): A 12-digit number used primarily in North America.

  • GTIN-8 (EAN/UCC-8): An 8-digit number commonly used outside of North America.

  • European Article Number (EAN-13 or International Article Number, EAN/UCC-13): A 13-digit number commonly used outside of North America.

  • GTIN-14 (EAN/UCC-14 or ITF-14): A 14-digit number used to identify trade items at various packaging levels.

  • International Standard Book Number (ISBN, GTIN-13): A 13-digit number used to identify hardcover, paperback and electronic books, as coordinated by the ISBN Agency. The ISBN system was introduced in 1970 as a 10-digit number and was updated in 2007 to 13 digits. 

  • Japanese Article Number (JAN), compatible with EAN/GTIN-13: Japanese Article Number (JAN) is another name for an EAN (GTIN-13) barcode. The first two digits will act as the country code and must be 49 or 45. Just like a UPC, a JAN can be shortened to 8 digits, also known as a short version.

Data associated with a GTIN typically includes all of the details required to catalogue a physical good including item name, image, description, brand, etc.

Manufacturers and brands register their product information to databases such as Gs1 to ensure that retail businesses have access to complete and accurate information about products for sale. Learn more about GTINs here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I reuse the same GTIN across multiple item variations?

Reusing the same GTIN across multiple item variations is strongly discouraged, as each variation should have it’s own unique GTIN. Unique GTINs will ensure seamless inventory scanning, scanning for checkout and listing a product for sale in online sales channels such as Google Shopping.

Do all of the items I sell require a GTIN?

While not a requirement, most big box retailers will have a GTIN printed on their item packaging. Smaller, boutique-style retailers may not purchase GTINs for their products. In the event that an item variation doesn’t have a GTIN, you can create a SKU for the variation instead.

Can I create an item by scanning a GTIN?

Yes! First, you’ll need to make sure you’re using a compatible barcode scanner and connect it to your desktop computer or laptop. Once you confirm that the barcode scanner is connected:

  1. Go to Items & Orders > Items tab in your online Square Dashboard.
  2. Click on Create an Item to open the Create Item screen.
  3. In the Details section, select Product lookup.
  4. Scan the GTIN associated with the item you want to create.
  5. Tap the radio button next to the item when it appears under ‘Top results’.
  6. To create the item, click Select.
  7. If you want to create related variations, click Add variations. Select any suggested variations you want to apply to the item, or scan the GTINs associated with the variations you want to apply. Then, click Add variation(s).
  8. Select Save.

You can also create a new item by scanning a GTIN directly from the Square for Retail app on iOS devices. To do so:

  1. From the Navigation menu, tap Items.
  2. Under All Items, tap Create Item.
  3. Tap Product lookup and scan the GTIN associated with the item(s) you want to create using a compatible barcode scanner or the built-in camera on your device.
  4. Select the item from the Product lookup screen, and tap Continue.
  5. From here, select suggested variations to apply to the item or scan the GTINs associated with the variations you’d like to apply. Then tap Add variation(s).
  6. Tap Save.

During the item creation process, you’ll also see description hints (highlighted in green) that provide suggestions for Category name, as well as words and/or phrases to add to the Item Description.

What is the difference between UPC-A and UPC-E?

The primary difference between UPC-A and UPC-E is the size of the barcode (e.g. how much space the barcode will take up).

UPC-E is also referred to as a 0-Suppressed UPC because the UPC-E compresses a normal 12 digit UPC-A number into a six digit code. This is done by suppressing the number system digit, with trailing zeros in the manufacturers code and leading zeros in the product number. The seventh digit is a calculated check digit using the first 6 digits of the code.

UPC-E can be uncompressed back into a standard UPC-A 12 digit number. Only UPC-A numbers beginning with “0” have the capability to be compressed into a UPC-E and any manufacturing code starting with a number other than “0” cannot be zero-suppressed.

Does Square for Retail support price embedded barcodes?

Price embedded barcodes are barcodes that have a price built into them. Square for Retail does not support price embedded barcodes at this time.

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