Inventory management is one of the most important responsibilities for any retailer. Without products, you don’t have a business. You need a steady supply of stock to avoid delays and unhappy customers. But with the growth of ecommerce, retailers must adapt to a new set of fulfillment and inventory management strategies.
Before the rise of ecommerce, products were shipped to retail stores in bulk via pallet loads and cases, usually in a weekly or bi-weekly shipping schedule. Online ordering has placed new demands on the traditional supply chain, forcing retailers to start shipping directly to customers.
The direct-to-customer fulfillment model poses many challenges. Not only do you need accurate inventory management, but your customers also expect fast order fulfillment, typically within a few days or less. Warehouses are now expected to pick, pack and ship single items and small volume orders, as well as handle returns and exchanges.
Poor Order Fulfillment Creates Bad Customer Experience
Picking, packing and shipping small volume orders to individual customers at a large scale requires careful inventory tracking and efficient fulfillment systems. With consumers directly influencing the supply chain, it adds a layer of unpredictability and complexity.
Since consumer demand can sometimes be unpredictable, you need to keep a high number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) in each of your warehouses. If you sell a wide range of products, you have the challenge of maintaining fast-moving items, in addition to slow-moving items. Overstocking can become a problem where you have a surplus of products that take up valuable space and tie up your cash flow.
Consumers have very high expectations when it comes to timely delivery, order tracking and accuracy. Any delays or mispicks in SKU will inevitably damage your brand reputation and ruin customer loyalty. As a result, online retailers must take inventory management and distribution operations very seriously.
The Need for Smarter Inventory Management
Given the challenges of multi-channel selling, retailers must have full control and visibility of their inventory in order to avoid mispicks, oversells and out-of-stock scenarios. You need a solution that’s scalable and flexible, a system that automates your daily operations and is capable of handling high volume orders.
Manually entering your inventory on spreadsheets is a waste of time and resources. Calling or emailing your employees and warehouses to check stock levels would only lead to error. Why spend hours getting data from your warehouses when you can have real time reports from a good inventory management software?
Poor Inventory Management Can Cause Overselling
Without an automated inventory management system, you risk overselling. Overselling is essentially giving a false promise, having sold a product you actually don’t have. With today’s customers expecting fast delivery, you cannot afford having customers wait indefinitely until your products are back in stock. These backorders could earn you bad reviews and even canceled orders.
Overselling could happen very easily as you start selling on multiple channels. The more SKUs you maintain, the more likely it is to lose track of inventory.
Understocking Leads to Missed Sales Opportunities
Similarly, understocking occurs when potential buyers come to your web store wanting to buy your products, only to find that they’re unavailable for purchase. This mistake not only loses their business, but it also annoys your customers and forces them to seek out competitors.
Understocking can easily be avoided with a solid inventory management system. A well-designed inventory management system centralizes your inventory across multiple warehouses and alerts you to take action when your stocks are getting low.
How to Start Managing Your Inventory Better
A solid inventory management system means having total and accurate visibility and control of your stock, from receiving to shipping. Without this basic necessity, you risk having too much or too little inventory, in addition to backorders that cause you to lose customers.
If you’re still managing inventory through an old, inflexible system, perhaps it’s time to consider how much it’s really costing your business. Start selling efficiently with intelligent inventory management.