Inventory that isn't carefully tracked and managed can create big problems down the road. Excess inventory occupies warehouse space and can tie up your working capital, while stockouts can contribute to a decrease in sales and an increase in dissatisfied customers. To keep the state of your inventory healthy and profitable, you should incorporate the following best practices into your day-to-day inventory management.
A.B.C. - Always Be Checking
In order to get the most robust picture of your inventory and how it moves, you should keep your data up to date with daily stock checks. Ideally, this should be an automated process executed through your inventory management software. By keeping close tabs on the changes in your inventory levels, you'll be able identify supply issues and solve them before they cause real damage to your bottom line.
Address the root causes of excess stock, ASAP
Overstock is an easy problem to fix via liquidation or donation. However, falling back on those strategies regularly without addressing the root cause of the excess inventory could cause you to lose out on profits in the long run. Take a serious approach to identifying what's causing excess inventory and develop a plan to 1) reduce the creation of new excess and 2) find ways to sell off the overstock more effectively.
Identify & prioritize your inventory's winners
Keeping a level inventory of all your products is a common inventory management strategy. However, it’s important to determine which products are your "winners" and focus on keeping those items in-stock, rather than just trying to maintain the same amount of product across the board. Running out of stock on a product that sells quickly is lost potential revenue.
Collaborate with your sales & operations teams
Inventory data is an important consideration when making logistical, purchasing, and fulfillment decisions. Of course, more data is better. Aligning your inventory management with your sales and operations teams can lead to more effective inventory forecasting – which involves estimating the quantity of a product or service that consumers will purchase based on data. Accurate tracking, measuring, and forecasting of inventory is crucial for seamless order fulfillment, financial decision-making, customer satisfaction, brand perception, and other aspects that drive the success of an ecommerce company.
In a busy fulfillment center, picking efficiency is a crucial element for shipping orders correctly and in a timely manner. Of course, fulfillment management systems, warehouse technology, and other innovations have done a lot to help pickers and reduce human error. However, there are some simple changes you can make to streamline your picking process even further. Below are some of our favorite low-tech tips for improving picking accuracy and efficiency.
Prominent Inventory IDs
Ensure that your entire inventory has clearly marked, easy to find identification (i.e. part numbers, barcodes, etc.) to reduce picking errors and time spent tracking down the correct products or product variations.
Kitting & Presorting
In kit assembly, or "kitting," you take individual items from your inventory and bundle them together as a unique SKU. The kits are then ready to ship when orders are placed – saving more time compared to picking all the products individually. Another strategy is to presort orders into groups so that orders requiring the same products are filled together – boosting picker efficiency.
Make sure that the most frequently ordered products are slotted in a layout that as close as possible to the pick/pack area to minimize travel time as the order picker fills orders. For year-round efficiency, periodically review your slotting assignments to account for changes in customer demand (especially for seasonal items).
As ecommerce businesses gain more customers and add more SKUs to their inventories, some begin to struggle with the physical limitations of their warehouse facilities – negatively impact in the speed and efficiency of your fulfillment operations. Before you reach that point, look for ways you can consolidate inventory, cut excess supplies, and really get the most out of your current warehouse space.
The number of users shopping around and completing purchases using smartphones and tablets is bigger than ever. An ecommerce site designed exclusively for desktops, no matter how well done, is no longer a viable strategy in ecommerce. For starters, the user interface for mobile devices (a small screen with touch-based inputs) makes it cumbersome for users to navigate desktop-only sites. This inconvenience alone contributes to increased bounce rates and abandoned carts. In addition, search engines now use “mobile-friendliness” as a factor in deciding how well a website ranks in search results (especially for searches done on a mobile device). In this post, we'll cover the most important changes you can make in order to provide your users with a convenient shopping experience that makes it easy to place an order from anywhere, on any device.
At the basic level, taking an existing desktop site and optimizing it for smartphones and tablets entails using existing sections of content from the desktop site and organizing them in a mobile-friendly layout by leveraging scan-able content (with large-size font for smaller screens), intuitive navigation (think: thumb-friendly), and clear calls to action.
Additionally, the conversion paths on your mobile site should be as short as possible. Generally – the fewer steps it takes to buy something online, the higher the chance of conversion from mobile users. Look for ways to declutter your site's navigation, consolidate product categories, streamline checkout forms, etc.
Finally, use A/B testing to test as many elements of your site as you can to determine which variables perform the most successfully. Part of doing well on the mobile front is collecting data and putting it to use on your mobile site. As mobile consumers engage with your ecommerce site, collect data and adjust your strategy accordingly:
- time spent on a page
- number of returns to that page
- average page views before making a purchase
Shifting your site’s focus to mobile will require time and resources. But, as the number of mobile shoppers inevitably grows, redesigning your site for mobile usability now may set you up for greater success in the future.
It's common for businesses to obsess over customer satisfaction levels – after all, it's true that happy customers are key to long lasting success in retail and ecommerce. However, it's only part of a larger picture: the customer experience.
A good customer experience comes from consistently meeting the individual's expectations during ALL touchpoints with your business. Things like the user experience of your website, the content you post in your social media channels, your returns policy, customer service interactions, the unboxing experience, and many other factors are all cumulative to the customer experience.
Someone who was able to find and purchase products they wanted from your site, and received them on time, is a satisfied customer. However, that's not a difficult bar for your competition to clear. That's why focusing on the customer experience your company offers is critical for standing out from competitors and earning customer loyalty.
If you want to implement a backordering system on your ecommerce site, communication is key – not just with your inventory managers but with your customers as well.
Before allowing customer to place backorders on your site, you should have a detailed understanding of your inventory management. Keep the lines of communication open and active with your fulfillment team to help determine the volume of backorders you’d be able to manage. Without this foundation, your backorder system could quickly start causing problems.
Once you’ve established that basis for working with backordered inventory, you’ll need to focus on the customer experience. From the shopper’s experience, ordering products that won’t be delivered right away can be risky or inconvenient. You can improve the backorder experience for your customers through informative communication. Be honest with estimated delivery dates and keep customers in the loop regarding delays as they happen. Let them know when you have the product back in stock, when their order is being processed, and when their order has shipped. If you predict another stockout, advise customers to order refills sooner, rather than later.
Using intel supplied by your inventory management team, you’ll be able to manage expectations and be forthcoming on order status to provide your shoppers with a smooth backordering experience.