Serial Number Inventory Tracking: The Basics

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For most businesses, inventory is a main asset that is critical to business operations. Serial number tracking is a common, modern way of managing this important investment. It is the practice of assigning a series of numbers, or numbers and letters, to each piece of merchandise, part or other material needed to produce a completed product. This is an effective approach to inventory management because it gives the ability to track and immediately recognize every individual piece of your inventory as a distinct item. This article will provide a basic rundown of what you need to know about serial number inventory tracking.

Main Functions

The first and most obvious function of serial number tracking is that unique serial numbers are generated for each item. These are more than ‘just numbers’; they allow items to be grouped electronically in many different ways, so that your computer system will be able to recognize items with common traits, or from the same location. You can then track inventory through all business processes, from the time it is ordered, to when it is a raw material/work in progress/finished product (for manufacturers), to when the stock is in-store ready to be shipped to the customer.

The other main function is the ability to store historical information on products, which can then be searched for later when necessary, even long after the product has been sold to the final customer.

Getting Started

For some businesses, manufacturer barcodes can be utilized, which saves time and cost. For businesses like manufacturers who buy products that don’t come with serial numbers, they will need to generate and assign their own serial numbers. This can be done by simply manually creating the numbers and printing labels, or as a more comprehensive option, investing in software that will generate numbers for you and give you several tag and labeling options. One tip is to make sure that the number assigned to each item identifies it in the way that you want it to, as belonging to a particular type, class, location, or having a certain attribute for example.


Serial number tracking is practically a necessity to manage an inventory that comprises anything more than a small number or variety of individual items, and for this reason the vast majority of businesses use it. Once employed however, it can yield a variety of benefits. You can locate items easily, find replacement or substitute products within your stock, or to give specific instructions about how certain products are to be treated. This inventory visibility allows you to make adjustments or respond to problems easily as well. With every item able to be tracked, you can organize your warehousing and logistics electronically, grouping and moving items on your software, which will then send instructions to staff to do so physically. Finally, serial number tracking allows customer complaints to be dealt with effectively and efficiently. If a customer makes a complaint to a manufacturer about a defective product, for example, the manufacturer can then track back through the production process to investigate the claim, and then if a defect is found to come from a fault in production, then the fault can be corrected and other defective products can be recalled if necessary. Revolutionized

Common Difficulties

Along with the many benefits of serial numbering, there are a few common issues that a manager needs to be aware of. One such issue is when the nature of your inventory makes it tough to assign serial numbers. An example of this is in the manufacture of food and beverages, where raw materials might be homogeneous masses of meat, vegetables, or liquids. It is much simpler to track all the separate parts in making a car by contrast, but many production processes fall between these two examples. Another common difficulty is when a business does not have the requisite supporting systems in place to fully utilize serial number tracking. It is important for instance that you create durable and readable labels, have reliable scanners that read the barcodes, and your computer systems allow you to track and organize your stock.

Serial number inventory tracking is a fundamental inventory management method used by many businesses to organize their inventory. If your business has anything more than a small inventory of items, then it will likely not be a question of whether you use serial numbering, but how. Make sure that you use a reliable, durable system that can maximize value for your business.

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Melanie - Unleashed Software

Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.

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