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Speed Commerce

Inventory Management Guide - Strategies, Tips, Terms

The Ultimate Guide to Effective Inventory Management for eCommerce Stores in 2024

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Effective inventory management is a critical aspect of running an eCommerce store. Successful eCommerce stores require having the right products available at the right time, preventing stockouts or overstocking.

Here’s the ultimate guide to effective inventory management for eCommerce stores: As early as possible in your eCommerce journey, implement a robust inventory management system that tracks your stock levels in real-time. This system should integrate with your eCommerce platform, automatically updating product availability after each sale or periodically throughout the day. Set par levels by determining the minimum quantity of each product that should always be in stock. This helps you avoid running out of popular items and ensures you can fulfill orders promptly. Par levels change, so review frequently to ensure that changes are anticipated. Analyze sales data and historical trends to predict future demand. This can help you anticipate peak seasons and stock up accordingly. Categorize your products based on their sales volume and value.

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The "ABC analysis" helps you prioritize which products to focus on. Classify items into three groups: A (high-value, low-volume), B (medium-value, medium-volume), and C (low-value, high-volume).

Consider adding safety stock levels, especially for high-demand or seasonal items. Safety stock acts as a buffer during unexpected spikes in demand or supply chain disruptions. Critical to your supply chain strategy is to maintain strong supplier relationships and if possible diversify your available suppliers. Prompt communication and reliable suppliers will help you restock quickly and potentially negotiate better terms. Establish order and reordering points for each product. When the stock reaches the reorder point, it’s time to place a new order to replenish inventory. It is highly recommended (regardless of the product) to follow the FIFO (first-in, first-out) principle to manage perishable or time-sensitive products. Sell the oldest items first to avoid product expiration or obsolescence. If possible and especially when growing rapidly invest in automation. Consider using inventory management software that automates repetitive tasks, such as order processing, stock updates, and reordering. Regularly review your product performance. Identify slow-moving items and take appropriate actions, such as offering promotions or discontinuing them. If you sell across multiple platforms (e.g., your website, marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Target, Rakuten, etc.) ensure your inventory system integrates seamlessly with each channel. This prevents overselling and improves customer satisfaction. Utilize real-time data analytics to gain insights into your inventory management process. Monitor key metrics like stock turnover rate, sell-through rate, and carrying costs to make informed decisions. A great technique for encouraging cross-selling is to group complementary products together as bundles or kits. Create promotions or subscription plans around bundles to increase revenue per customer.

Keep track of returned products and damaged items. Monitoring returns can provide great insight into which products are working, or potentially have quality, sizing issues or expectations that weren’t met. Having a process in place for handling returns efficiently can help minimize inventory discrepancies. Cycle counting at regular intervals or based on turnover (popularity) of the product or at minimum stock levels is an important practice. Conduct regular physical audits of your inventory to verify its accuracy. Discrepancies between your records and actual stock should be investigated and resolved promptly. Using barcodes or RFID technology can streamline inventory management and reduce manual errors during receiving, picking, and tracking processes. Reduce excess inventory by running clearance sales or running promotions. Carrying too much inventory adds carrying costs, reduces warehouse efficiency and can be the death knell of your business. Liquidate poor performing stock quickly. Continuous improvement, education and training should be a key part of any business. Continuously analyze and refine your inventory management strategies based on new data and insights. Adapt to changing market trends and customer preferences.

Inventory Management is Ongoing​

Remember, effective inventory management is an ongoing process that requires attention and adaptation to optimize your eCommerce store's performance. By following these best practices, you can minimize stock-related issues, improve customer satisfaction, and ultimately boost your bottom line.

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Introduction to Inventory Management

Understanding the basics of inventory management is a critical process for any company selling physical products. Inventory management is the process of efficiently overseeing and controlling the ordering, storage, and usage of a company’s inventory or stock. It is a crucial aspect of business operations, as it directly impacts the overall profitability and customer satisfaction. Proper inventory management ensures that a company has the right quantity of a product on hand to meet customer demand while minimizing excess stock and associated costs. Below are the basics of inventory management:

    By mastering the basics of inventory management and implementing efficient systems, businesses can maintain optimal stock levels, reduce costs, and provide better customer service, leading to improved overall performance and profitability. 

    Demand Forecasting

    Accurate demand forecasting is crucial for inventory management. Businesses analyze past sales data, market trends, and other factors to predict future demand. This helps in avoiding stockouts or overstocking.

    Reorder Point

    The reorder point is the inventory level at which new stock must be ordered to avoid running out of products before the next order arrives. It considers lead time, demand variability, and safety stock.

    Inventory Tracking and Management Systems

    Utilizing technology, such as inventory management software, barcoding, or radio frequency identification (RFID), streamlines tracking and management processes, improving accuracy and efficiency.

    Stocktaking and Auditing

    Regular stocktaking or inventory audits help ensure that physical stock aligns with the records, uncover discrepancies, and identify theft or errors.

    Continuous Improvement

    Inventory management is an ongoing process. Regular analysis of key performance indicators (KPIs) and adjusting strategies as needed can lead to continuous improvement and cost savings.

    Supplier Management

    Establishing good relationships with reliable suppliers is vital. Efficient communication and coordination can reduce lead times and improve overall inventory management.

    Inventory Control Systems

    There are various inventory control systems that businesses can adopt, such as: Just-in-Time (JIT): Inventory is ordered and received only when needed, reducing holding costs but requiring a reliable supply chain. First-In-First-Out (FIFO): The oldest inventory items are sold first, ensuring that goods do not become obsolete or expired. Last-In-First-Out (LIFO): The most recently acquired inventory is sold first, which can impact taxes and cost of goods sold. Economic Order Quantity (EOQ): Calculates the ideal order quantity to minimize ordering and carrying costs.

    Safety Stock

    Safety stock acts as a buffer to account for unexpected fluctuations in demand or supply chain disruptions. It helps prevent stockouts during peak demand or delays in procurement.

    ABC Analysis

    This technique categorizes inventory items based on their value and significance. The inventory is divided into three categories: A-items: High-value items that require tight control and frequent monitoring. B-items: Moderate-value items with less stringent control. C-items: Low-value items that can be managed with less attention.

    Inventory Types

    Inventory can be categorized into three main types: Raw Materials: Basic materials and components used in production. Work-in-Progress (WIP): Items in the production process but not yet completed. Finished Goods: Fully completed products ready for sale.

    The Importance of Proper Inventory Management

    The importance of proper inventory management cannot be overstated.  A key for businesses of all sizes and across various industries involves overseeing the purchase, storage, tracking, and distribution of goods and materials to ensure that the right products are available at the right time in the right quantities. Here are some reasons why proper inventory management is important for an eCommerce store that sells physical goods:

    Effective inventory management helps reduce excess stock and avoid stockouts. By maintaining optimal inventory levels, businesses can minimize carrying costs, storage expenses, and potential losses due to perishable or obsolete items.

    Meeting customer demand is essential for retaining existing customers and attracting new ones. With proper inventory management, businesses can fulfill orders promptly, reduce delivery times, and ensure customers receive their desired products when they want them.

    Excessive inventory ties up valuable capital that could be used for other business operations or investments. By optimizing inventory levels, businesses can free up cash and allocate it to more profitable areas of the company.

    Accurate and up-to-date inventory data enables informed decision-making regarding purchasing, pricing, and sales strategies. Real-time inventory insights can lead to better forecasting and planning for future demand.

    An organized inventory system facilitates smoother day-to-day operations within a company. Warehouse staff can locate and handle items more efficiently, reducing the time and effort required for order fulfillment.

    Running out of stock can lead to lost sales and dissatisfied customers. Inventory management helps prevent stockouts by providing visibility into stock levels, enabling businesses to reorder products in a timely manner.

    Historical inventory data can be used to analyze sales trends and forecast future demand accurately. This enables businesses to adjust their inventory levels based on expected changes in demand.

    In some industries, proper inventory management is essential to comply with specific regulations and legal requirements, such as tracking batch numbers or expiration dates.

    Overall, proper inventory management plays a fundamental role in the success and profitability of businesses. It not only ensures efficient use of resources but also helps maintain a competitive edge in the market by delivering exceptional customer service and meeting demand effectively.

    Strategies for Efficient Inventory Management

    Efficient inventory management requires a well-structured approach and the implementation of various strategies. It’s important that businesses evaluate both their short and long term needs to implement the appropriate tools and processes. Here are some key strategies to achieve effective inventory management:

    Classify your inventory items into three categories - A, B, and C - based on their value and sales frequency. Category A items are high-value, fast-moving products, while category C items are low-value, slow-moving ones. Focus on different inventory management approaches for each category. For example, closely monitor and reorder Category A items more frequently, while maintaining lower safety stock levels for Category C items.

    Use a reliable inventory management software or system to track and manage your inventory accurately. This system should provide real-time data on stock levels, order history, sales patterns, and lead times. A computerized system can help automate processes, minimize human errors, and streamline inventory-related tasks.

    Determine the minimum stock level at which you should reorder a product (reorder point) and maintain additional safety stock to handle unexpected fluctuations in demand or supply disruptions. These levels should be based on historical sales data, lead times, and forecasted demand.

    Adopt Just-in-Time (JIT) inventory management to keep inventory levels low by receiving goods only as they are needed in the production process or to fulfill customer orders. It reduces storage costs, minimizes the risk of obsolescence, and promotes a more efficient supply chain.

    Utilize the FIFO (First-In, First-Out) method for perishable or time-sensitive goods, the FIFO method ensures that the oldest inventory is sold or used first. This prevents items from becoming obsolete and minimizes waste.

    Organize your warehouse to improve efficiency in picking, packing, and shipping processes. Place fast-moving items in easily accessible locations and use proper labeling and barcoding to facilitate quick identification.

    Create key performance indicators to track essential inventory metrics such as inventory turnover, fill rate, stockouts, carrying costs, and order fulfillment cycle times. Analyze these KPIs regularly to identify areas for improvement and make data-driven decisions.

    By implementing these strategies, businesses can enhance their inventory management practices, reduce costs, improve customer service, and ultimately boost their overall competitiveness in the market.

    What We Do

    Receiving

    The inbound shipping team with Speed Commerce is ready to receive, inspect, enter into inventory, and place your products on the shelves, ready for the warehouse team to pick products for your orders.

    Picking & Packing

    Accurate assembly of ecommerce orders can make or break your business. Our team goes the extra mile to ensure orders are assembled correctly, packed with care, accurately labeled, and sent to shipping on time.

    Shipping

    Because of our shipping volume to and from our facilities, we have established relationships with major carriers and negotiated favorable rates. Ensuring your orders are received by the carrier as expected is our top priority.

    Inventory Management

    Making sure you have enough stock on hand (but not too much) takes expertise in ecommerce retail trends. We work closely with our clients and their Speed Commerce client success manager to anticipate spikes or dips in demand. Our team also manages monthly inventory reporting and takes measures to avoid shrinkage.

    Cross-Docking

    Need to expedite order fulfillment to meet unexpected high-demand? We're experts in cross-docking. Our team is agile and can quickly receive (and complete their inbound checklist) on the dock, then our pick-pack team will quickly assemble orders and prepare for shipment. We don't waste time putting items on the shelves; instead we get them out the door!

    Returns Management

    Get your reverse logistics under control. We manage the full end-to-end process of returned product, including refreshing and reviving! Reducing shrinkage and get your product back out the door generating profit with our returns management service.

    Long-Term Storage

    Store your inventory in our safe and secure warehouse and gain flexibility you need in your operations. We have space for your long-term storage needs. Centrally located, our warehouses are ideally situated to give you access to your inventory in a secured location. We offer transparent pricing, quick start, and flexible terms.

    Managed Services

    We remove the headaches in managing your ecommerce fulfillment and warehousing operation. We work with you to learn what's important to you and craft our agreements to match your expectations. You'll meet with your client account manager regularly to review our performance and make adjustments.

    Speed

    Your customers want their orders delivered quickly. In ecommerce, fast order fulfillment is a must! We live up to our name and ensure speed in everything we do. Same-day fulfillment gets your orders packed and shipped shortly after your customer makes their purchase.

    Essential Techniques for Inventory Management

    Great inventory management is important for operation to meet the expectations that were promised to the customer. The success of any business that deals with physical goods is dependent on having inventory available when customer demand exists. It helps reduce costs, improve efficiency, and increase customer satisfaction. Here are some essential techniques for achieving effective inventory management:

    1

    Start by analyzing historical sales data, market trends, and other relevant factors to predict future demand accurately. Utilize forecasting techniques to estimate how much inventory you will need and when you will need it.

    2

    Classify your inventory into categories based on their value and significance. The ABC analysis typically involves categorizing items into three groups: A items (high-value, low-quantity), B items (moderate-value, moderate-quantity), and C items (low-value, high-quantity). This helps prioritize focus and resources on managing high-value items more closely.

    3

    Put in measures to maintain safety stock levels (extra inventory kept to handle unexpected spikes). Anticipating and preventing disruptions in supply chain is necessary the viability for any business. Consumer trends have changed, and expectations are that inventory is in stock and available when the customer demand exists. Calculating and maintaining appropriate safety stock levels can help prevent stockouts and ensure customer satisfaction.

    4

    Instead of relying solely on full physical inventories, conduct regular cycle counts of a subset of your inventory items. This helps identify discrepancies and maintain inventory accuracy without disrupting daily operations. Done properly this will facilitate the process of completing annual inventory counts. If possible, utilize inventory management software and barcode systems to track stock levels, monitor sales, and manage reorder points efficiently. Technology can streamline inventory processes and provide real-time insights into inventory status.

    5

    Collaboration between marketing, sales, procurement, warehousing, and finance teams are required to create a unified approach to inventory management. Effective communication ensures that everyone understands inventory needs and goals. Define key performance metrics for inventory management, such as inventory turnover ratio, fill rate, stockout rate, etc. Analyze these metrics regularly to identify areas for improvement and make data-driven decisions.

    By implementing these essential techniques, businesses can optimize their inventory management processes, improve cash flow, and ultimately deliver better customer experiences.

    Maintaining Relationships with Manufacturers & Suppliers​

    Maintaining strong relationships with manufacturers and suppliers is essential for successful inventory management and overall business operations. As your eCommerce business grows, so will the demand to have strong developed relationships that can withstand any potential headwinds.

    Here are some key strategies to foster and sustain these relationships:

    maintaining relationships

    Open and transparent communication is fundamental. Regularly engage with your manufacturers and suppliers to discuss business goals, forecasts, and any changes in demand or supply requirements. Address concerns promptly and share information to improve collaboration.

    Demonstrate reliability as a customer by meeting your payment obligations on time and adhering to agreed-upon terms and conditions. This builds trust and shows that you value the partnership.

    Approach the relationship with a long-term view, aiming to build mutually beneficial partnerships. Invest in understanding their business and challenges to find ways to align interests. Negotiate fair terms that are beneficial to both parties. Avoid overly aggressive negotiating tactics, as they can strain the relationship and lead to poor service or product quality.

    Share accurate and timely sales forecasts with manufacturers and suppliers. This information enables them to plan their production and inventory, accordingly, reducing the risk of stockouts or overproduction. Work together with suppliers on collaborative planning, forecasting, and replenishment initiatives. Such collaborative efforts can optimize inventory levels and reduce costs for both parties.

    Offer access to relevant sales and inventory data to help suppliers understand market trends and anticipate demand fluctuations better. This can help them align their production schedules and inventory levels more effectively.

    Inevitably, issues may arise during the relationship. When problems occur, address them professionally and constructively. Seek solutions together, rather than placing blame, to maintain a positive working relationship. Periodically evaluate your manufacturers and suppliers based on their performance, quality of products, and service. Provide feedback on areas for improvement and acknowledge their strengths.

    Whenever possible, arrange face-to-face meetings and visits to your manufacturers' facilities. Building personal connections can strengthen the relationship and lead to better understanding and cooperation. Be prepared and respect cultural differences and acknowledge exceptional performance and commitment to the partnership. Recognizing the efforts of your manufacturers and suppliers can further motivate them to continue providing excellent service.

    Be prepared to acknowledge when results or trends seem to lead to cause for concern and plan for backup or alternate suppliers. When necessary, minimize risk by having multiple suppliers. Remember, strong relationships with manufacturers and suppliers go beyond transactions; they involve mutual respect, trust, and a shared commitment to each other's success.

    By investing time and effort into maintaining these relationships, you can create a reliable and efficient supply chain, ultimately benefiting your business and customers.

    Leveraging Technology for Inventory Management

    Technology continues to evolve, and the importance of leveraging technology is vital for efficient and effective inventory management. Here are some ways technology can be used to optimize inventory management processes: Implementing an advanced inventory management software system is the foundation of modern inventory management. Such software can automate various tasks, including tracking stock levels, managing reorder points, generating purchase orders, and providing real-time visibility into inventory status. Barcode and RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) systems have become a staple and enable accurate and fast data capture. By using barcodes or RFID tags on products and shelves, inventory movements can be tracked in real-time, reducing manual errors and improving overall inventory accuracy. Integrating your inventory management system with your order management system allows for seamless updates of inventory levels with each sale. This ensures that stock levels are accurate, and you can quickly identify low-stock situations. Technology-driven demand forecasting tools use historical data, market trends, and other factors to predict future demand more accurately. This helps optimize inventory levels, minimize excess stock, and reduce the risk of stockouts.

    Cloud-based inventory management systems offer flexibility and accessibility. You can access inventory data from anywhere with an internet connection, enabling better collaboration among teams and remote access to critical information. Inventory management technology often comes with advanced analytics and reporting capabilities. By analyzing inventory data, you can identify trends, spot inefficiencies, and make data-driven decisions to optimize inventory levels and reduce carrying costs. Mobile apps for inventory management enable on-the-go access to inventory data, making it easier for warehouse staff to perform tasks, such as stock counting, receiving, and order processing using mobile devices. Implement automated reorder systems that trigger purchase orders or replenishment requests when inventory levels reach predefined thresholds. This helps prevent stockouts and ensures timely replenishment. The internet of things can connect to devices that can be used to monitor inventory in real-time, including tracking temperature and humidity for perishable goods, ensuring optimal storage conditions. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data to optimize inventory levels, improve demand forecasting accuracy, and identify patterns that might not be evident through traditional methods. By embracing these technological solutions, businesses can significantly improve their inventory management practices, reduce costs, enhance customer satisfaction, and gain a competitive edge in the market.

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    Top Glossary Terms to Know For Inventory Management

    Here are some top glossary terms related to inventory management: 

    Inventory

    The collection of goods and materials held by a business for production, sales, or other purposes.

    SKU (Stock Keeping Unit)

    A unique identifier assigned to a specific product or item within the inventory.

    Reorder Point

    The inventory level at which a new order should be placed to replenish stock before it runs out.

    Safety Stock

    Extra inventory maintained as a buffer to cover unexpected fluctuations in demand or supply chain disruptions.

    Lead Time

    The time taken from placing an order with a supplier to receiving the goods in inventory.

    Economic Order Quantity (EOQ)

    The optimal order quantity that minimizes total inventory costs, including ordering and carrying costs.

    FIFO (First-In, First-Out)

    An inventory management method where the first items purchased or produced are the first to be sold or used.

    LIFO (Last-In, First-Out)

    An inventory management method where the last items purchased or produced are the first to be sold or used.

    Stockout

    A situation where an item is not available in inventory when demanded by a customer.

    ABC Analysis

    Categorizing inventory items into groups based on their value and significance to prioritize management efforts.

    Cycle Counting

    Regular and periodic counting of a subset of inventory items to ensure accuracy without performing a complete physical inventory.

    Deadstock

    Items in inventory that are obsolete or have not been sold for an extended period.

    JIT (Just-in-Time)

    An inventory management strategy where inventory is replenished only when needed, reducing carrying costs and waste.

    ROP (Reorder Point) Planning

    A method of inventory planning that calculates when to reorder based on a predefined safety stock level and average demand.

    Stock Keeping

    The act of monitoring, managing, and organizing inventory to ensure its accuracy and availability.

    Days Sales of Inventory (DSI)

    A financial ratio that indicates the average number of days a company holds its inventory before selling it.

    Stock Turnover Ratio

    A measure of how many times the average inventory has been sold or used up during a specific period.

    Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI)

    An inventory management approach where the supplier is responsible for monitoring and managing the customer's inventory levels.

    Batch Tracking

    Tracing the movement of goods in inventory by grouping them into batches or lots with unique identifiers.

    Carrying Cost

    The cost associated with holding inventory, including storage, insurance, and opportunity cost.

    Conclusion

    When operating an eCommerce business, the importance of inventory management becomes self-evident as your business grows.

    The earlier you learn the keys to managing inventory properly or hire the right person to manage your inventory, the higher your chances of success. Many companies make early mistakes that are either irreversible or takes a long time to overcome. Consider the most common mistake made by new eCommerce merchants is the over ordering of goods and tying up valuable capital that is not available for other business needs. Often the lure of paying a lower cost for purchases of a higher quantity are not done with an appropriate analysis of sales throughput, carrying cost and financial viability of the company. Understanding proper inventory management strategies will lead to higher margins and business success.

    Develop a needs assessment to understand what the requirement of the current business is and where you see the forecast to be in year 3 and five. Partnering, with a 3PL provider like Speed Commerce, can alleviate many of the concerns you might have regarding inventory management.

    Let's Get Started

    A fulfillment expert will get back to you within 1-2 business days.