What are Product Identifiers?
Product Identifiers are codes assigned to products that uniquely define them. Unlike other product data such as a product's description or image, Product Identifiers are permanent. Once they are assigned, they should stay consistent over time so they can be used to identify products no matter where or when the product is listed.
Product Identifiers are stored in a merchant's Product Catalog, and are used by merchants, manufacturers, sales channels, etc., to identify exact products.
Levels of Product Identifiers
There are different types of Product Identifiers. Each serve their own purpose and can be grouped into three levels according to how they're assigned and controlled.
Identifiers at this level are assigned and controlled by the merchant (ex. SKU, Display Name). They are unique to you (the merchant) and are used for internal identification to keep track of sales and inventory of the products you sell.
Identifiers at this level are assigned and controlled by the manufacturer of the product (ex. MPN, Brand). They are universal across all distributors, wholesalers, and re-sellers, and link a product back to its source. Identifiers at this level cannot be created by individual merchants, they can only be issued by the manufacturer of a product.
Identifiers at this level are assigned and controlled by an external organization called GS1. This is a governing body that creates, indexes, and manages all of the global identifiers (ex. GTIN, UPC, Barcodes). Global identifiers uniquely define products in the global market place across different channels and regions and can only be issued by GS1.
Below is a list of the different Product Identifiers that Junip uses and what level they can be categorized at:
Identifiers at this level are created and controlled by the merchant of the product.
Stock Keeping Unit (SKU)
A SKU is a unique alphanumeric code that merchants assign to each of their products. They are usually an abbreviation of meaningful product attributes so it's easy to identify a product across a catalog without having to look at the product name. SKUs are not standardized and are only used for internal identification of sales and inventory.
A Product ID is a sequence of numbers that's generated for every product a merchant sells on their Shopify store. It's mainly used by Shopify and other connected apps for managing and syncing Shopify product data, as well as tracking inventory and fulfillment data.
Product Variant ID
This is exactly the same as a Product ID, however it defines a product on the variant level. For example, when a product has multiple variants, such as a T-shirt that comes in different colours, each colour T-shirt will share the same product ID but have a unique Product Variant ID.
This is the name a company assigns their product and is what customers see on product listings. In Shopify it's referred to as the 'Product Title'. A product's display name is one of the most important parts on the product listing as it communicates what a product is.
Identifiers at this level are created and controlled by the manufacturer of the product.
Manufacturer Part Number (MPN)
An MPN is an alpha numeric code issued by the manufacturer of a product. It's used to specify what a product is and who it's made by. Manufacturers set their own standards of formatting MPNs and use it across all products they produce. MPNs are universal across the supply chain (i.e distributors, wholesalers, retailers, etc.) and are used to link a product back to its source.
This identifier represents the Brand name a company has given their products. Unlike other Product Identifiers, all of the products a merchant sells typically share the same Brand name. A Brand only specifies who sells the product, not what the product is. Therefore it's mainly used by consumers to help identify products from others on the market.
Identifiers at this level are assigned and controlled by an external organization that manages all global identifiers.
Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN)
A GTIN is a series of numbers assigned by an external organization called GS1 and can be found under the barcode on a product's packaging. GTINs are an internationally standardized system for uniquely defining products across every channel, region and marketplace. They are highly regulated and merchants must purchase GTINs for their products from GS1. No individual merchant or third party can create their own GTINs.
Compared to every other Product Identifier, GTINs are the best at identifying individual products. They eliminate the possibility of mistaking one product for another because they are managed by a governing body that ensures every GTIN is unique to a product.
Unique Product Identifiers
Every type of Product Identifier is assigned and controlled differently. Some are highly standardized (i.e GTINs) while others are entirely un-standardized (i.e SKUs). When a Product Identifier is not standardized, it creates the possibility that two unrelated products could share the same identifiers.
Product Identifiers that can uniquely define products in the global market place are called Unique Product Identifiers, or UPIs. Any type of GTIN is considered a UPI. When a product doesn't have a GTIN, a Brand + MPN pairing can be used as an alternative.
GTINs are highly standardized global Product Identifiers that are regulated by one governing body. They work best at uniquely defining products in the global marketplace, which is why sales channels and shopping platforms require a product's GTIN in order for it to be listed.
GTINs are the most reliable way to differentiate and identify an exact product, which is extremely important when listing products on different sales channels and shopping platforms.
MPN + Brand pairing
If a product doesn't have a GTIN, a Brand + MPN pairing can be used as an alternative. A Brand + MPN pairing is the second type of UPI that uses the Brand Product Identifier and the MPN Product Identifier. The MPN specifies what the product is and where it came from, while the Brand identifier specifies who the product is sold by. Therefore the pairing of the two identifiers distinguishes what a product is, where it came form, and who it's sold by.
This enables sales channels and shopping platforms to correctly differentiate and identify an exact product, therefore making it a reliable UPI.