Inventory management is how brands organize and manage products throughout the supply chain. Regardless of their size, all retailers need an inventory management system (IMS) to streamline their processes.
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Your inventory management system should maintain your stock levels and enable you to ship products to customers. Even if an effective inventory management system is at the core of any successful retail business. Business owners sometimes use outdated manual processes (which may save money in the short term), but don’t mix them in with the rest of the systems.
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For high-growth businesses, managing inventory and orders through a combination of paper advertising, multiple apps, a single workspace, and home printing and record keeping can be crippling. Struggling with inventory and order management is a common theme among ecommerce brands like Death Wish Coffee, RIPT Apparel, and Shinesty.
So what is the solution? Understand the unique requirements of your business, future goals, and how to choose the best IMS for you. This guide will walk you through it.
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An inventory management system (IMS) is an integrated computer program that tracks inventory in the supply chain. Tracks inventory, orders, and fulfillment between the merchant and its customers and suppliers.
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High-volume electronics companies use IMS to avoid inventory shortages and streamline and optimize their entire fulfillment process.
Centralizing your inventory and ordering data is especially important for companies that sell through multiple online and offline channels, utilize multiple warehouses, or are tied to the packaging of multiple products, often sourced from multiple locations. which are sold and shipped as one product.
Inventory management systems ensure that there is sufficient stock to meet customer orders. IMS alerts managers when stock levels are low or automates bulk ordering before inventory runs out.
IMS coordinates inventory data entry across multiple sales channels so you don’t have to guess at stock locations.
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Advanced reporting and analysis tools show which products have the highest and lowest sales volume. These data-driven insights then influence future stock orders.
Using historical data, IMS can make accurate forecasts and predictions about potential sales volume during a given period of time.
The reorder point purchasing model tells businesses when to reorder inventory so they don’t run out. It usually triggers the purchase of a predetermined quantity of filler material.
Changes in demand, seasons, logistics and the natural life cycle of a product can make inventory management feel like a moving target. Add to those challenges the complex challenges of the e-commerce world—namely, different tax and payment laws—and going beyond spreadsheets and job ads becomes non-negotiable.
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Previous inventory management systems were sheets of paper that stock managers had to update manually. Fortunately, inventory management systems have evolved since then. Now retailers can automate much of their inventory management.
A continuous inventory management system monitors inventory in real time. When a product is sold, its barcode is scanned and removed from the product’s inventory. Also, when a new product is found, it is scanned and added to the product database. Each part of the system has access to a central database and database information.
The main benefit of a continuous inventory management system is that it provides a more detailed view of inventory changes. It also provides accurate calculation of inventory levels without the need for time-consuming manual inventory counting.
It works well for all business sizes but is essential for retail stores with multiple locations or high sales volumes.
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A periodic inventory management system uses physical inventory counts at pre-determined intervals to track them. Businesses that use periodic inventory management systems will not know how much product they have until after the inventory count is complete.
This method of tracking inventory is impractical for large retail businesses. This is because when it comes to processing orders, you rely on manual stock counts that were accurate weeks or months ago. So when a customer wants to buy something, someone needs to physically look at your inventory to see if the product is ready for sale.
Manual database calculations are time-consuming and use up valuable resources. Someone will need to count each and every SKU—your team’s time could be better spent on other tasks. The seasonal system only works for small businesses with a small amount of inventory.
The book inventory management system is the old school way of managing inventory. Manual inventory management systems are often based on spreadsheets or even pen and paper. While this may be a viable option if your monthly sales are in the single digits, it is not a sustainable option for growing businesses. Supermarkets need a more robust option.
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Kirsten Williams, founder of Pod Star, a coffee capsule retailer, describes the moment she realized the business had outgrown her original manual inventory management system.
“In the early days, we stopped and counted every box to know the stock levels at any given time,” she said. “We spent a lot of time trying to update the spreadsheet, and there were times when we didn’t keep up and failed to order new stocks when we needed them.”
Kirsten recalls, “A stock out of stock meant there was no sale of that item. It means lost sales and lost revenue. We’ve moved beyond spreadsheets to IMS. We have saved a lot of time in the packing process by using Bundleup to manage our materials, and its stock accuracy is excellent. Once the setup is back, we can easily restore the item via Bundleup right in the app.
To run a profitable and efficient retail business, you need to have products available when customers want to buy them. But between ordering products, selling, shipping, and warehousing, the whole process is complicated.
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An effective inventory management system will automate the complex aspects of inventory management so you can prioritize valuable resources in other areas of your business.
The product costs retailers about $1.9 trillion annually. Not having enough products to match customer demands results in your business being out of sales. Effective inventory management systems help you reduce missed sales.
Instead of second-guessing your stock, you’ll know in real time how much stock you have available to sell. A continuous inventory management system updates inventory levels whenever a product is purchased, sold, or returned.
Real-time access to accurate inventory enables you to assess inventory flow and order supplies when you need them. This helps prevent warehouse and missed sales.
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48 percent of retailers claim out-of-stock is the top barrier to success. However, today’s IMS with RFID tags can reduce production up to 80.3% and increase inventory accuracy up to 99.9%.
This means an effective IMS can now immediately detect changes in inventory levels and make or automate the right stocking decisions.
Automated inventory management systems give you real-time updates on where your inventory is. This feature is essential if you store inventory in multiple locations, such as multiple warehouses and physical warehouses. If you sell through multiple channels, your system will follow suit as well.
Accurate real-time data helps you always protect your products and helps reduce inventory loss through inaccurate data or tracking processes.
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Without comprehensive tracking systems in place, it is easy for products to slip through the net unnoticed. For example, damaged stock may not be properly recorded, or items may be easily lost in large warehouses.
Accurate inventory management software reports show you the inventory with the highest and lowest sales volume. By ordering fewer SKUs with lower sales volume, you will free up more of your warehouse. You can instead use this storage space for products with high sales volume—putting your storage space to better use.
Alternatively, your inventory management system reports may show that by stocking fewer items with lower sales volume, you can reduce your inventory and lower your costs.
To provide you with the most effective solution, your inventory management system needs to have several basic features. When looking for an inventory management system, make sure it includes these basic features:
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Real-time data allows you to update your product levels as orders are processed. The best inventory management systems give you dashboards where you can see the stock levels of individual products, your top sellers, and items with low sales volume.
This helps you manage your stock across all channels and locations, giving you the peace of mind that you know the exact stock levels and location.
By integrating all your sales and inventory data across all channels, you’ll get a clear picture of your stock levels.
Additionally, optimizing your product controls for each channel will help ensure you don’t experience issues with monitoring or downgrades. This helps improve the customer experience and maintain relationships with manufacturers and markets.
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Knowing the exact location of your products—even if you store products in different locations, nationally or internationally—helps reduce the time needed to manually track individual items in your supply chain.
Accurately forecasting demand helps your business stock the right amount of inventory during busy periods.
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