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Without proper inventory management for eCommerce, the chances of the business’s survival are slim. But which features are the most critical? And what criteria should be used to compare different alternatives?
If inventory is the lifeblood of an eCommerce business, then inventory management software is its heart. Software is responsible for moving the inventory from vendor to warehouse to customer and tracking it every step of the way. Without proper inventory management for eCommerce, the chances of the business’s survival are slim.
The right inventory management software can help an eCommerce company reduce costs, optimize efficiency, and cut down on errors. Managers need to understand which features to look for to ensure their business stays healthy and strong as it grows.
The most effective inventory management systems have the ability to do several tasks at once. Software can track every piece of inventory, provide useful data about operations, plan workflows, and predict future trends.
Here are some of the most important features to look for in inventory management software, and what each can accomplish for an eCommerce business:
When inventory management software uses barcode scanning technology for data collection, it gives an instant picture of exactly where each piece of product is. Ancillary to the scanners themselves are printers that create the barcode labels. Affixing a label makes every item trackable, and each swipe of the scanner shows its progress throughout the system.
Data gathered from barcode scanning allows inventory management software to keep a close eye on inventory levels. Managers have the ability to set predetermined levels (or better yet, have the software set them) when it is time to reorder. The software should be able to alert purchasing agents that it’s time to buy more, or place an order automatically with the appropriate vendor. Automating this task can prevent the dreaded out-of-stock backorder.
Make sure all areas of the eCommerce business are communicating and speaking the same language with inventory management software with a good application programming interface, or API. Operations are more efficient when all departments are integrated and working in sync. The right software can link the receiving department with vendors’ product availability data, sales orders with the shipping providers, returns with accounting, and so on. The result is greater efficiency and profitability.
Inventory management for eCommerce should include a reliable forecasting function. Predictive analytics give managers valuable guidance about what to buy, how much, and when. Look for software that studies past data while also factoring in seasonal demand and market trends. Finding a trustworthy source for these analytics will help an eCommerce company not just keep up with inventory fluctuation, but anticipate it.
Inventory management software can help design the layout of warehouses to optimize the available space and make it easy for workers and machinery to move around. It can also plot out the best pick paths and the best picking methods for speed and accuracy. The best software systems take care of daily work assignments too. Reports can show exactly what needs to be accomplished and how many people are needed to make it happen. This is particularly helpful for companies who rely on part-time or temporary help to work through their busy times. They will avoid having workers standing around idle, while never being caught short-handed.
eCommerce businesses need inventory management software that can handle multiple sales channels and shopping cart platforms. Even a small company that sells a few SKUs through their own online shop is limiting itself if they don’t insist on this feature. Adding a few more products or deciding to sell through Amazon or eBay completely changes the dynamic of inventory management. The business must keep track of inventory across all channels so customers know what is truly available for purchase.
Inventory management software for eCommerce must produce meaningful reports that help management make important decisions. To do this, customization is a must. The type of product can drive which KPIs a company should track. Managers will want to study some reports daily, others monthly, and still others on a quarterly basis. Reports that are easy to modify, generate, and interpret will become a necessary tool.
Does a small eCommerce company really need an inventory management system that does it all? Maybe not right away, but as it grows, so does the need to keep a handle on inventory. Features that were once considered fancy bells and whistles often become essential when scaling a business.
The importance and priority of the items on the shopping list above will be different for every company. There are some things, however, that every eCommerce business should look for in inventory management software.
It is tempting to try to save money on software, but a system that can’t grow with the businesses will quickly become obsolete. Investing in something robust from the start will save the time and money it will take to find a replacement.
Last week’s or yesterday’s data helps to see trends but does nothing to show the current state of inventory. You and your customers need to know what you have right now. Not knowing what is on hand means possibly running out or overstocking. Both are bad for the bottom line.
If inventory management software is too complicated or confusing, no one will use it. Make sure to find something that is user-friendly. Managers need to be able to decipher reports and understand the data. And supervisors and staff need to be able to train new employees without.
While it is important to find inventory management software that is easy to use, no one wants to be left out in the cold. There are bound to be questions and a learning curve with any new software. And even the best software can have the occasional bug or glitch. Make sure your provider has a support team that is responsive and helpful. It is important that they understand what you need your inventory management software to do, and help you reach those goals.
ECommerce companies rely heavily on knowing their inventory. The most powerful tool they can use for that task is inventory management software. Choosing one that not only helps your business today, but that will adapt along with your company’s growth is worth the investment.
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