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Far too many businesses still manage inventory through a mix of digital spreadsheets and manual stocktakes. The result? Costly inaccuracies, disappointed customers, and spreadsheet olympics that waste time, money, and resources.
This ratio is critically important because total turnover depends on two fundamental components of performance.
Fortunately, technology has transformed inventory management systems for both online and offline retailers ready to sell more, grow faster, and run smarter.
Let’s take a look at the differences between inventory apps, software, and systems. Plus, how to decide on the best inventory software and features for your business.
Inventory management apps make accessing and updating a business’ stock possible from any location at any time using smartphones and tablets
Many apps also include features like customer-facing product catalogs and processing sales; supplier and customer data management; order entry, editing, and tracking; as well as direct integrations with other physical and digital tools.
There are hundreds of management, control, and tracking apps that can be downloaded on iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) devices. Some stand alone; others are mobile extensions of full-scale inventory software. Some are free; others are paid subscriptions, and still others are one-time purchases.
The hardest part is deciding which app fits the capabilities you require. Carefully consider:
How many internal users (employees and team members) will need access? Will you need different permission levels for those users?
What other programs and platforms — eCommerce, POS, warehouses, order fulfillment, logistics, etc. — will it need to integrate with?
What physical devices — like barcode scanners or credit card readers — will connect? Should the app itself act as a scanner through the phone or tablet’s camera?
What customer and supplier information will you need? Will the app function as a mobile CRM (customer-relationship management) tool? If so, will it be B2C, B2B, or both?
Will the app be used for both inventory management as well as processing sales? Will customers enter orders directly or will they be guided by sales reps?
Will orders simply be monitored through the app or will they also be created and edited? If so, how frequently should it sync with other systems?
Will devices travel in and out of internet access? When connections are unavailable, what features will you still need? How will offline data entry be synced?
What is your current volume and complexity of inventory? What will it look like one, two, or even five years from now?
Available for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.
Answering the above questions should guide you through the app selection process. However, the more features you require the more important it becomes that the app you choose is an extension of...
Put simply, inventory management software is a digital system for tracking inventory levels, orders, sales, and deliveries.
For fast-growing businesses, inventory systems should be directly integrated with the overall supply chain and customer experience. This means the ability to make and oversee purchases from either suppliers or customers, monitor storage and locations, control the amount of product for sale across channels, and streamline all aspects of order fulfillment.
The right inventory, at the right volume, in the right place … at the right price.
There are two types of systems that use different methods to track the quantity of your products: periodic and perpetual.
The perpetual system operates by accepting inventory movement reports in real-time: a continuous record of the quantity on-hand. Periodic systems rely on the occasional physical count of the inventory to determine what products have sold, where they are located, and quantities.
Depending on the system, inventory management software may have some or all of the following features. Before evaluating solutions, decide which capabilities are most important to grow your business.
Accurate inventory control lies at the heart of every business. It hinges on a tracking system that automatically updates stock levels whenever and however sales are made. You may also need to control your inventory across multiple warehouses and in multiple currencies.
To maintain the right volumes — as well as ensure data accuracy — creating and editing purchase orders that update both pipeline and on-hand inventory is critical. Automatic reorder reports, points, and alerts aid greatly.
Inventory optimization isn’t just about having the right amount of stock at the right time in the right place right now. It’s also about demand forecasting and tracking individual product performance to predict what you’ll need in the future.
Whether you manufacture yourself or outsource production, time tables, bills of material, production orders, reconciliation, and material requirements planning (MRP) integrations can all make or break success.
If your products are customizable, these features become even more vital.
Once you begin storing in multiple warehouses and locations, efficiency depends on a single platform for warehouse inventory management in total.
Features to pay attention to are transfers between warehouses, receiving and fulfilling orders through specific warehouses, bin locations, and restricting access for warehouse workers outside your organization. Equally vital are warehouse activities, like receiving, picking and packing, barcode printing, stocktake.
Synchronizing order management with inventory increases speed and customer delight across the purchase-to-fulfillment process. Depending on your complexity and size, look for a single system that combines sales channels and allows you to create, edit, and monitor orders on the customer and supplier sides.
Additionally, robust software should keep all your customer and supplier data in one place. Why? Because a single view of each customer’s orders and history lets you understand their behaviors. It also unlocks personal experiences, better overall forecasting, and smarter new product creation.
Multichannel eCommerce is the new normal. That means investing in a central hub to make efficiency effortless. Be sure whatever platform you choose enables you to sell and synchronize marketplaces, B2C storefronts, mobile applications, and B2B eCommerce.
Selling greater volumes at lower costs demands integrating channels, locations, and processes. Likewise, delighting customers calls for optimizing your shipping rates according to different shipping methods within various geographic zones and through first-, second-, third-, and even fourth-party logistics.
While inventory and accounting go hand-in-hand, for small businesses, no single system does both. Instead, choose an accounting system with pre-build connections to your inventory and order management system. Doing so enables you to automate invoicing and gain greater visibility over costs and profits.
Batch and expiry tracking not only gives you insight into product traceability but it also reduces spoilage, eases the pain of recalls, and improves customer relationships. As such, the ability to monitor inventory through batch and expiry tracking for consumable goods cannot be overstated.
Generating accurate sales and inventory reports is a must-have feature no matter what size your business currently is. Better data leads to better business decisions. Smart inventory management software makes sales history and order reports fast and easy — whether by customer, product, channel, or location.
Although it might sound obvious, managing product prices is key to running a business. What many founders and medium-sized retailers underestimate is the need to manage custom price lists in different currencies, for various sales channels, customer types, product categories, zones, and so on. Anticipate this need now, before it becomes a roadblock.
Even if your business is B2C, don’t overlook the opportunities of B2B wholesale. Start taking bulk orders in minutes with an automated, private wholesale ordering platform tailored to your customers and brand. Create and email sales quotes, generate sales orders, provide self-service to existing customers, and more.
When implemented properly, a good inventory management system helps you understand how well products are selling, manage relationships with suppliers and customers, and plan intelligently for the future.
How do you make sure you are able to monitor and track sales, make informed business decisions, forecast for growth and save time while you're at it?
TradeGecko is a powerful cloud-based inventory and order management software for modern online businesses. We combine sales channels, locations, and currencies so that every product, order, and customer can be managed in one place.
From accounting to eCommerce, shipping to POS, warehouses to B2B to internal and external-facing mobile apps, TradeGecko either has or integrates with all the tools you’ll need to not only make managing inventory smarter but also build an amazing business.