October 13, 2004

How many products are there?

Commerce By: ams

Sergei Burkov of Dulance asked via email:

Any idea how many products are out there?

This can probably be derived from the total number of UPC codes issued, or something. (We can probably ignore products for which no code of any type has been issued.)

Is there an estimate how many different products are sold on the world’s markets today?

Ross Stapleton-Gray responded:

According to Peter Hurtubise at QRS, the QRS Catalogue is now up to 100 million entries (up from c. 80 million a few years ago). NB that QRS is GMA-focused [GMA being General Merchandise and Apparel], so some large swath of that will be every variation of every size of a particular article of clothing, say.

I’ve a couple of my own questions that would help illuminate this space; most could probably be answered by a QRS, or one of the major retailers, but they’d unfortunately see them as rather sensitive. A big one would be (for Target, or Wal-Mart): what is the total SKU or product code count for what you carry (my guess is that it’s in the several tens of thousands… perhaps several times higher if they’ve got a lot of apparal)? Of that, how many manufacturers would account for 90% of the total product count? Of 99%? My guess is that a relatively smallish number (say, 500) might produce the 90% coverage. That’s distinct from (though these would be other numbers worth knowing) the *unit* count of goods inventoried/sold.

And so we continue the search for an answer of how many products are out there…

Kragen notes that most products don’t come from companies or even people rich enough to be assigned product codes, as related to his essay on the long tail of ecommerce. Also, if we take into account that, for example, in a pack of colored markers each marker should have its own product code (and not just the pack), or that a Spiderman-contest-branded can of Diet Dr. Pepper should have a different product code than a regular can of Diet Dr. Pepper… well, there are likely to be at least an order of magnitude more products than we think of as “product coded” today.

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