Product Categories in Shop OnLion (11.15.21)

Selecting the product category for goods and services in Shop OnLion can be challenging as there are over 350 product categories available in the system.  With that in mind, let’s review what they are, why they are important, and some tips and tricks to selecting correct product categories. 

What are Product Categories? 

Product categories in Shop OnLion are an eight digit code that is derived from the United Nations Standard Products and Services (UNSPSC) codes.  These standard codes are used by suppliers worldwide to classify the goods and services that they provide.  There are tens of thousands of UNSPSC codes available for use – the University has selected a little over 350 codes to help us classify our procurements. 

UNSPSC codes classify products by Segment (first two digits in the code); Family (third and fourth digits in the code); Class (fifth and sixth digits in the code); and Commodity (final two digits in the code).  In most situations, the codes selected by the University for use are not detailed down to the commodity level.  So, if you were attempting to purchase cattle (UNSPSC Code 10101516) you would not find that specific code in Shop OnLion.  In that instance, you should select the code that most accurately reflects what you are buying, based on the code structure.  So, cattle would fall into the Live Animals UNSPSC code 10100000.  You can see that the Segment (10100000) and Family (10100000) are the same for Live animals as they are for cattle, as cattle are a subset of live animals. 

Why are Product Categories Important? 

Product categories are important in Shop OnLion for several reasons.  First, product categories help the Shop OnLion software route the shopping cart to the correct buying staff in Procurement.  If you select a product category that does not accurately describe what you are buying, you may get a shopping cart rejected back to you for correction.  Additionally, selecting the correct product category helps Procurement to track and understand the University’s buying trends, helps us to understand where contract opportunities exist, and makes sure that high demand areas are getting the best prices for their products. 

Tips and Tricks for Selecting the Correct Product Category 

The best guidance for selecting a product category for your purchase is to make sure that you select the category for what the good or service is, not what it is being used for.  For instance, a shovel should always be coded as 27110000 (EQP-Hand Tools) regardless of whether it is being used in an agricultural, construction, or research setting.  If you are having difficulty searching through the product categories in Shop OnLion you can filter by the prefix added to all of the descriptions.  With the product category search open, search by the prefix followed by a * - this should filter only to categories with that prefix (for example LAB* should get you all LAB related categories).  The prefixes available are: LAB(Laboratory), EQP(Equipment), SUP(Supplies), FAC(Facilities), SW(Software), IT (Information Technology), and SER(Services). 

As always, if you have questions about product categories, reach out to the Purchasing Agent responsible for assistance. 


  1. A full list of Penn State’s available product category codes, and the buying staff responsible for those codes is available here.
  2. There are many different UNSPSC lookup tools available online.  Here is a link to one such tool that may help you look up UNSPSC codes