Using SKUs and product codes for eBay listings

eCommerce Stock and Inventory
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This is a short article explaining how to optimize your eBay listings to ensure they are processed accurately by a third party fulfillment house (3PL). It is aimed primarily at eBay business sellers using an outsourced fulfillment service such as James and James Fulfillment.

To ensure complete accuracy and privacy, large outsourced fulfillment companies will not access the seller’s eBay account directly to print out packing slips, but will instead request details automatically from eBay. While a human can understand a listing description, it is not sufficient in a more automated process to determine which product(s) are part of the listing. It is therefore necessary to add unique product identifiers to each listing.

Item identification

Invariably it is desirable to change the listing title from time to time, or to list the same product with two or more different titles. The title is also very important on eBay, allowing your product to be found – too important to add a SKU code or product identifier within it.

One work-around to this is to add a SKU code in a known location in the auction listing itself, which can then be stripped out by a remote web server. However, this is not best practice as it requires the listing number of a sold item to be automatically searched for, and the page ‘scraped’ for the stock code. If the page is badly formatted, has been changed since the sale or any other number of reasons could cause this to fail.

It is better to use the hidden SKU field present in all eBay listings, but only accessible via an auction uploader or manager, such as eBay’s free Turbo Lister.

Multiple items in one listing

What happens though if you wish to list an auction for, say, a pair of trainers and a free pair of socks? Or three bags of coffee granules? Whilst each of these could be made a new product with a respective SKU code, this would make inventory rather inflexible. For example, imagine what would happen if you had an order for one pair of socks, but because you only had ‘trainers with socks’ left it couldn’t be fulfilled. Having ‘made up’ products like this only increases the complexity of inventory and hampers sales.

The James and James solution is to offer their clients ‘product assemblies.’ These are known assemblies of products, with a known SKU code. When an assembly is purchased, ControlPort (warehouse management software) interprets the SKU code and correctly identifies the individual components to the picker to process the order. Provided there are enough component products, any combination of assemblies can be sold and stock control is just as a simple as no assembled stock is kept – they are built-on-demand.