Physical Inventory Management In A Digital World

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Today’s omni-channel consumers want to be able to get their products through the fastest medium possible, whether delivery, ordering online for in-store pickup, or going to an actual store to shop. This means retailers need to manage increasingly complex supply chains and inventory management systems to ensure their customers can get what they want, when they want it, and how they want it.

Ecommerce is booming in the UK, the market grew 16 percent last year, 5 times faster than traditional commerce and is now said to be worth more than £62 billion, it is now the largest ecommerce market in the world. A new report from the Ecommerce Foundation found that 43 million people in the UK shopped online last year, 20 percent of whom used mobile devices to shop. While the majority of shopping still takes place in-store, the rapid and continuing growth in ecommerce puts new demands on retailers.

While most online shoppers want their orders delivered, a growing number prefer in-store pickup or a pick up point. Retailers need to have their goods in-store for display and to keep shelves stocked, but this can create strain if they also need to be shipping lots of inventory around the country or the world. These new and sometimes conflicting demands can make it hard for even the most efficient, large retailers. And for small- and medium-sized businesses being able to efficiently manage the new demands can be the difference between being in the black or the red.

In the U.S. the boom in ecommerce is literally changing how retailers approach warehousing and shipping. The Lehigh Valley, a quiet area in central Pennsylvania, is quickly becoming a shipping hub as FedEx Group plans to build its largest facility in America there to be able to more effectively reach consumers on the East Coast. “E-commerce is really changing the shape of the market,” Perry Colosimo, a FedEx spokesman, explained to the Wall Street Journal.

call-to-action-810x75-cThis news can be daunting too many small- and medium- business who don’t necessarily have the resources of big-box retailers like Tesco or Argos, but the growing ecommerce market represents big opportunities for companies that implement the right strategy and have a good inventory management system.

At the end of the day managing your sales and stockroom operations for omni-channel shopping relies on the same principles needed to manage single channel shopping. To gain sales you need to create a great buying experience and when it comes to inventory more than ever you need to know when you need to order, where your inventory is, and how much you need to keep on hand as you try to cater to both local customers and those ordering from around the country and the world.

Though the principles remain the same, in practice there are some important strategies to keep in mind for your business to succeed with ecommerce.

Manager working on computer in the warehouse.

Create a Great Ecommerce Experience

If you want to capture online sales you need to have a strong online presence. This includes a website optimized for both desktop and mobile viewing. Creating a shopping app and finding innovative ways to connect with consumers on social media can be a good way to find new customers and increase sales from existing customers.
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“Trading online is vital for a business to flourish. For small and medium-sized businesses in particular, a digital presence can be transformative, empowering firms to find new markets, sell more products, and increase revenue. Without a well-designed and mobile friendly website or an online marketplace, it’s very difficult for businesses to grow” Lee Perkins, Managing Director of Sage UK and Ireland, explained to Fresh Business Thinking.

For companies selling online, an integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is critical. This system needs to be linked to an advanced stock control system to centralise information about payments, orders, and stock levels. That way you can make sure that inventory is in the right place and heading in the right direction and you can maintain appropriate stock levels in the store, warehouse, and shipping center.

Track Your Stock

As with any stock management system knowing where your inventory is, is crucial, but when it comes to omnichannel you really need to have a strong handle on this because you are no longer approaching the issue as one item, one location, you need to be able to spread your inventory to multiple locations, in-store, in a warehouse, and in all likelihood a shipping center.

With inventory in so many different locations and moving through different channels you need to be able to find items in real-time, and you need to make sure sales, warehouses, and shipping and logistics teams are all connected. An automated inventory management system, like a barcode based system.

Using a barcode scanner and barcode system you can capture inventory data instantly and without the potential for human error, like in Excel or other manual based systems.  This information is automatically entered into a centralized database, accessible to multiple users. Because a barcode based inventory management system updates in real-time, it gives you a complete picture of where inventory is and where it needs to go. Over time, the data generated will also help you forecast future inventory needs and optimize your supply chain so that goods are turning over quickly and company resources are being used efficiently.

Maintain Your In-Store Experience

The growing ecommerce market provides many opportunities for small- and medium- brick and mortar retailers to reach new markets or provide greater convenience for existing customers. However, developing a strong ecommerce operation should not come at the expense of your existing in-store experience. Shelves still need to be stocked, employees still need to be able to provide quality customer service, and the store should provide a pleasant shopping environment.

Using an effective stock control system will allow you to maintain your in-store experience by ensuring that inventory is always in stock and that employees can quickly and easily find it, and help customers find it.

As the shopping options for consumers continue to expand and evolve it is important for companies to make sure they have infrastructure in place to take advantage of new sales channels and opportunities. For any retailer this begins with an effective inventory management system that will be able to grow and scale with your company and your customers.

Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter

Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode
Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing at Wasp, responsible for the development and execution of the company’s marketing strategy. His role encompasses brand management, direct and channel marketing, public relations, advertising, and social media. He also writes and speaks on topics related to helping small business owners grow their business and improve operational efficiency.
Brian Sutter
Brian Sutter
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