QuickBooks 2012 Serial Number Tracking

Written by Charlie Russell

Serial number tracking is a key requirement for many inventory based businesses. Until now, if you wanted this feature in QuickBooks you had to use an expensive third party add-on product that would move inventory functions entirely outside of the QuickBooks company file. With the 2012 version of QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions we have a closely integrated Serial Number Tracking feature available.

To get Serial Number and Lot tracking (which is discussed in this article) you have to purchase the Advanced Inventory feature, which is available for an additional fee. Note that you can only use one OR the other of lot tracking and serial number tracking, you can’t combine them in a single company file.

This article was updated on 9/14/2011, 9/28/2011, and again on 10/20/2011.

How This Works

If I receive an inventory part (or assembly) I can enter a Serial Number for each of the items in the last column.

QuickBooks Serial Number Receiving

Serial numbers can be up to 40 characters long, and must not have any spaces. You can enter them all in line here, separating each serial number from the others by either a space or a comma.

You must enter the same number of serial numbers as the quantity for the line, or you can leave the serial number field empty. I wish that we could specify which items should get serial numbers so that I don’t the annoying warning message if I leave the field blank. I know that I can turn off the warning, but then it is turned off for all items.

When you are entering the serial numbers here you will see a small down-arrow next to the field. Click on this and you will see a dropdown menu with the option Quick View for Serial Numbers. This is very nice, it is easier to enter your serial numbers with accuracy if you use this.

Quick View for Serial Numbers

When I sell the item, I can select the serial numbers for the order. If you just start typing in a serial number the program will show you the list that matches. Or, you can click on one of the other options for selecting serial numbers.

QuickBooks Invoice with Serial Numbers

Add Multiple Serial Numbers will open a window that lets you easily locate and select serial numbers. There is a nice filter feature at the top, where you can limit the list that is displayed to include serial numbers that start with, end with or contain a particular value. Here I filtered to show items that contain the value “1”.

Add Multiple Serial Numbers

I wish that this window would tell me how many serial numbers I need for the order detail line I’m working on, since I usually want to match that. I can drag the window aside to see the order underneath.

If I select some serial numbers this way, and then click on the option again, it doesn’t show me the serial numbers I already selected. It is easy to add the same serial number multiple times. Yes, I will be warned, but it would be nicer to have a little more help from the program here.

Quick View for Serial Numbers opens a Quick View window like what we saw above in the item receipt. This will let you add new serial numbers that don’t already exist. This feature worries me – there are certainly many situations where this is very beneficial, but for many businesses you don’t want to allow the order entry clerk to create new serial numbers. A key issue in managing serialized inventory is to have the proper control over who can create serial numbers, so the ability for the order entry clerk to add serial numbers here breaks this control process.

Autofill from Existing Inventory is easy to understand – select this, QuickBooks will select the serial numbers to match what you enter for the quantity to sell.

A serial number column appears in every transaction where you will be changing the quantity of the item.

Adjusting Inventory

Adjust Quantity/Value on Hand has a new adjustment type, Serial Number. You can use this to add or remove serial numbers. This is a bit of an oddball transaction, as it doesn’t change the quantity on hand, so there are no adjustments to your chart of account. I’m not sure why “Customer:Job” and “Class” are options here?

Serial Number Adjustment

Building Assembly Items

This is a special case that I want to look at further. In some industries you will be building inventory assembly items that are serialized. Going further, you may be using serialized components in the assembly. It is crucial that you be able to create the serial numbers easily, and be able to track serialized parts that are consumed. You must be able to locate an assembly that uses a particular serialized item.

This is more common with Lot Control, where you are tracking all components in a lot, but it does apply to Serial Numbers as well. And keep in mind that you cannot mix Lot Control  with Serial Numbers in QuickBooks.

Here’s an assembly build that I’ve created. Two problems came up right away:

  • The Serial Number box shows in the right side, but it is grayed out. I can’t select it. I can’t enter the serial number for the assembly item that I’m building. That means that I have to also enter an inventory adjustment (in another window) to add the serial number. Update 9/14/2011 – if you enable the Multiple Site option, and you select the warehouse for the assembly, this box is enabled. I can’t (using the R1 release) get it to be enabled otherwise, so far. Updated 10/20/2011 – this problem is fixed in the R3 release.
  • I have the program set to warn me about blank serial numbers in a transaction, which I want for SOME items. However, that applies to ALL inventory part and assembly items. I get the warning You can’t have fewer serial numbers than items when I save this build. In fact, I get it twice, once for each of the items that aren’t serialized. Yes, I can still save the build, but to do that I have to click build & close, then OK to close the warning, then build & close again, then OK to close the warning, then build & close a third time. If you have a large bill of materials, this gets old VERY fast. And, yes, I can turn that warning off, but then I lose that feature for the times when I DO need it. Update 10/20/2011 – this bug is fixed in the R3 release.

Build Assembly with Serial Number

Serial Number Reports

Two new reports have been added, Transaction List by Serial Number and Serial Numbers in Stock.

The Transaction List by Serial Number has you enter the item and the serial number to look for. You can’t show multiple items or serial numbers.

Filter the Transaction List by Serial Number

Transaction List by Serial Number

You cannot customize this report, which is frustrating.

The Serial Numbers in Stock report also cannot be customized. Note that the serial numbers print only on one line, with no word wrapping, so if you have a large number of serial numbers you won’t be able to see all of them in this report. This is a significant shortcoming. Update 9/28/2011: If you double-click on the serial numbers a “Quick View” window opens that will show you the entire list of serial numbers. You cannot print this, however. See this article for details.

Serial Numbers in Stock

An number of other reports can be modified to add the serial number as a column. I’m not sure how widespread this is. One useful report is the Sales by Customer Detail – as I show here with the serial number added.

Sales by Customer Detail with Serial Number

Serial Number Setup

Select Edit in your QuickBooks menu, then Preferences. Find the Items & Inventory preference and select the Company Preferences tab. Click the Advanced Inventory Settings button.

 Serial Number Preferences

Check the Enable Lot or Serial Numbers box, and select Serial Numbers. Note that you can only use one of these features in a company file.

There are several options that you can set. The options that you want will depend on what you are working with. If you are manufacturing the serialized items, for instance, you wouldn’t need that feature in purchase transactions. You can easily change these options later. I’m not sure on the best recommendation for settings on the three warnings – if you have a small number of serialized items but a large number of inventory parts in the item list, the warnings can become very tiresome. Try leaving them at “warn me”, at least to start, and you’ll see the impact.

Don’t Switch from Serial to Lot

One side note – make sure that you fully understand the differences between Serial Number and Lot tracking, and choose the right approach for your business situation.

You can turn off the feature without any big impact on your QuickBooks company file as far as I can tell at this time.

However, you might not be allowed to switch between the features. I’ve not worked out all of the details on this yet, but here is an example. I had a company file set up to use Lot Tracking for one of my blog posts. I then wanted to write THIS post, so I tried to switch. I just assumed that the lot tracking information would go away, and the serial number tracking would be turned on. However, that isn’t the case. I got this error message:


Looking in the QBWin.log file, I found a number of messages like the following:

SerialNumberQueries.cpp (158) :  CHECKPOINT: 1880: Tue Sep 06 09:03:06 A record with unmatched quantity for item : Gravel and site :  and Serial Number – 59 found. Quantity in SN – 300.00000, in Transactions – 1.

The short answer to this is that I couldn’t make the switch without doing a lot of work, perhaps deleting transactions.

Should You Use This?

This is a first release of serial tracking, so it isn’t surprising that there are some small glitches and features that aren’t included. I think that this is a good start, at least for some businesses.

If you need tight control over serialized items this isn’t your product, at least not yet. I’m not satisfied that you can operate this with proper separation of duties for your QuickBooks users. I’m also not satisfied with the reporting capabilities.

Here is a list of problems that I can see at this point:

  • I wish that I could specify which items were to have serial numbers, so that I can leave the warnings on about blank serial number fields, but not have it pop up for EVERY item. This becomes extremely tedious in the build assembly window. I want this feature for some items but not for all.
  • Although you can be warned about entering duplicate serial numbers, I wish there was an option to prevent me from entering duplicate serial numbers. Again, I would like this to be set per item. There are some situations where this could be a critical feature.
  • I would like the option to enable this feature for non-inventory parts. Unfortunately, that may be a complicated thing for Intuit, as this item type is treated very differently from inventory parts, internally. What if you are serializing non-tangible goods? For instance, selling licenses for software products? I would like to be able to enter a list of serial numbers for non-inventory parts and have it work the same as for inventory parts. The suggestion that I got back from Intuit was to just change my non-inventory parts into inventory parts, but that doesn’t work well. That makes a major change as to how the sales transactions are posted to the financial statements, and to get around that you have to do a lot of manual adjustments and journal entries.
  • There are key control features missing here. In many businesses a serialized inventory item represents a significant asset that must be controlled. Serial number tracking best practices (in this situation) require you to limit the people who have the ability to create serialized items. QuickBooks allows any order entry clerk to create new serial numbers – which may be convenient for some businesses, but which will make this feature risky to use (or unusable) for others. We need an option to have tighter control over this process, in many places in the program.
  • Reporting is weak. The Serial Numbers in Stock report won’t show you all serial numbers for an item if you have a large number of them, and you cannot customize the report.
  • The build assembly process doesn’t let me create the serial numbers when I issue the build, I have to do a separate transaction for that. Note that this might be an issue with the pre-release version (release candidate) that I’m using.
  • If you use a third party add-on that works with inventory you have to be careful, this feature might interfere with add-ons. I’m not sure about this, just check with your add-on developers to see if they have any information. Intuit is updating the programming interface, but that is still in beta test and it may take awhile before add-on developers can release products using that.
  • There is almost no connection between the number of serial numbers that you have and the quantity on hand. You can have more serial numbers than you have items available, for instance. There are times when this loose connection is desirable, but there are a lot of situations where you need them to be tightly coupled. I would like to see more options here.

On the other hand, I don’t see this creating big problems with your company data file, since serial numbers are kept separate from the item list. If there are problems with serial numbers it shouldn’t affect your data integrity, and you can always turn the feature off. This is a good first step, and it can save you from having to purchase an expensive add-on product if this covers the features that your business needs.

So, test it, think about it, before you jump in. Unfortunately, if you don’t have Advanced Inventory already, you have to purchase that to be able to test it.

Thanks, Intuit, for starting down this path!

About the author

Charlie Russell

Charlie Russell has been involved with the small business software industry since the mid 70's, and remembers releasing his first commercial accounting software product when you had an 8-bit microcomputer with one 8 inch floppy disk drive. He has a special interest in inventory and manufacturing software for small businesses. Charlie is a Certified Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor with additional certifications for QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Enterprise, as well as being a Xero Certified Partner. Charlie started blogging about QuickBooks in 2008 (Practical QuickBooks) and has been writing for the Accountex Report (formerly the Sleeter Report) since 2011. He retired from accounting and QuickBooks activities in early 2018.

Visit his CCRSoftware web site for information about his QuickBooks add-on products. He is also the author of the California Wildflower Hikes blog.


  • You can’t assign a serial number to non-inventory because non inventory does not stock a quantity. I don’t see where creating an inventory item for a license is a problem, not any different that doing it for software download sales, You either bought the licenses or you didn’t, so the inventory item either has a cost or it doesn’t.

    Thanks for the write up.

    • can it be scannable?,
      i mean when i ship a lot/master carton that contains 20 individual serial numbers ,instead of key them in can i create a barcode that will contain the 20 serial numbers so i don’t need to key it in or scan them manually?
      you think i can assign 20 serial number to a lot number or to any barcode that later will be scannable and will contain the 20 serial numbers?

  • “You can’t assign a serial number to a non-inventory because a non inventory does not stock a quantity” – but as we have seen, there is not connection between “quantity” and “serial number” in the system. You can be using serial numbers and have more serials than items, or less serials than items, without a problem…

    • Yea I forget that, cause it makes no sense to me I guess. Serial numbers are unique to an item, I find it hard to think I can have a serial number and not an associated item.

      I guess that would come in handy if you were creating and assembly item and wanted to assign serial numbers to the build quantity, but there we go again with a quantity relationship.

    • can it be scannable?,
      i mean when i ship a lot/master carton that contains 20 individual serial numbers ,instead of key them in can i create a barcode that will contain the 20 serial numbers so i don’t need to key it in or scan them manually?
      you think i can assign 20 serial number to a lot number or to any barcode that later will be scannable and will contain the 20 serial numbers?

      • Alon, if you have QuickBooks Enterprise with the Advanced Inventory option, that includes barcode scanning, and there is some support for scanning serial numbers. I found it a bit tricky to use for that, AND note also that QuickBooks itself can’t print barcode labels with the serial numbers.

        I’m not aware of a third party addon that will let you do this without going to an expensive product that manages inventory outside of QuickBooks.

  • i have to ask a question, we are a third part warehouse operator. we are facing bi g problem with serial numbers. we are the supplier, not producer so when we are importing goods same serial number is coming back to our warehouse. because producers are creating same serial number again. this not problem them. but problem to us, because still previous serial number product is staging with us. then we have to do more work for it, we are creating new serial number for those duplicate numbers. please give a good solution for this problem.

    • Nimalan: That is a complicated situation that I can’t really address in a blog comment like this. I would need to know a lot more about your situation – and why you as a distributor need to be tracking serial numbers yourself…

  • Hello, I’m using Quickbooks 2012 and doing the Purchases by Item Detail report. I can’t see all of the serial numbers of the same item if there are too many of them. Is there a solution? Or does it mean that when I create a purchase order, I have to create separate line for the same item (say qty is 100+, meaning 100+ of the same line) and put serial number in each line so they can appear in the report? Any help would be appreciated.

  • At the time of receiving inventory ,If there is a huge quantity (Eg:20,000 nos from same item with 20,000 serial nos),is there anyway to upload an excel file consisting all the numbers because it is not practical of entering one by one.

    • Rashika, you might ask the folks at Baystate Consulting (www.baystateconsulting.com) to see if they can accommodate that with the Transaction Pro Importer.

      However, in the Enter Bills window, in the Serial Number column, if you click the down arrow you will see an option “QuickView for Serial Numbers”. Select that and you get a window that will let you paste in values from an Excel spreadsheet. I have NOT tried it with 20,000 numbers.

      In fact, if you have that huge a number of serial numbers in one receipt for one item, I’m not sure that QuickBooks is going to be the best solution for you?

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