This is a guest post written by Skubana. Skubana is an all in one solution that unifies omnichannel inventory management, order management, fulfillment, purchasing and analytics in one place.

A successful business turns successful only when they make their customers their focal point.  Customers don’t get any physical access to products while shopping in an online store. They can’t touch or feel products.  For brick and mortar stores this is easy.  In a brick and mortar store there are dozens of helpers milling about and around who are readily available to resolve any question you have. The cashier smiles at you when checking out. There’s someone to open the door and so on.  You can touch, feel, smell products on display taking in dimensions and shades of colors on the aisles.

None of that is available when shopping on an eCommerce store. And that’s severely limiting when compared to real world retail stores you find on any street corner.  And yet successful eCommerce stores compete with both offline and online retailers. They use tools available at their disposal to stand out.

Which tools?

  1. Customer service
  2. Data

Let the fact that customers aren’t able to touch or feel your product stop you from getting sales. Instead focus on:

Providing fantastic customer support

You can make up for for what you lack by providing superior customer support and by putting your customer at the front and center of your business.  By ensuring that products are available for purchase and replenished quickly you’re giving more than a few reasons for them to come back.  By delivering goods on time and managing inventory levels you ensure that customers don’t go back disappointed.

Better customer service comes when you have an inventory management system that automatically keeps track of falling stock levels and takes necessary steps to restock.  Research proves that up to 86% of people will pay more for great customer service and $41 billion dollars is the loss that US companies face each year due to poor customer service.  Zendesk reports that nearly half- 40% of customers switch to a competitor because of poor customer service.

Collecting data and insights

It’s imperative to collect data and build databases on what products sell, which demographics buy most and what the most lucrative segments.  This will help aid future launches.  In other words, using inventory management to excel at customer service, sell more and launch even more successful stores.

Let’s see how inventory management helps big retailers and how it can help us sell more.

Warehouse optimisation

Warehouse optimisation

Warehouse optimisation

Warehouse optimsation increases profits.The most successful stores optimise warehouses by clubbing together highest selling products in the most convenient spots to make accessible delivery possible.   This turns the keys on quick delivery and fulfilment. Which in turn makes repeat sales possible.  Customers rarely visit a site that doesn’t fulfil orders on time or runs out of stock after they placed their order. Inventory management prevents such things from happening at all.

Accurate status of merchandise and its location

A store that doesn’t have automated inventory management can’t scale itself.  Inventory control should occupy the front and center of your thoughts when running an eCommerce store.  Why?  Inventory control an internal control process that helps you have control over inventory levels.

How? Inventory management hands you a map of  what items you have in stock, what’s the current location of the stock in the warehouse, the time periods and cycles when new stock moves in and old stock goes out. Understanding these business factors is seminal to running a successful business. Because it helps you take control of what’s incoming and what’s outgoing and bring up to speed fulfilment and prevent fraud.

By having accurate data at your fingertips you learn to properly balance accounts, and take care of financial reporting.  The right stock balance helps provide great customer service  Such a system improves inventory order accuracy. This helps you prevent product shortages and lets you keep enough inventory at hand and order adequately thus funnelling proper cash flow.

With a powerful inventory management system in place you’re able to track and manage every single item and track its progress from the warehouse to when it gets shipped and reaches the customer.  A good inventory management system would have systems in place to tag and track items. This is usually done through barcode scanning or through SKUs.

This adds another level of organization into your business. Without organization and lack of knowledge on current inventory it’s not possible to manage and know which items you need.  With detailed records of every asset you’re poised to never be faced with less than ideal surprises.

The right balance of stock can be maintained with inventory control taking into account the fact that popular items may need higher stocking levels and backorders can pile up otherwise.  If you don’t know what sells you won’t be prepared to stock that up.

Consequently with the customer first strategy items that sell most should always be close and ready. When the items are in stock and delivered on time this helps forge trust between you and the customer.  This ensures you don’t end up losing sales due to poor practices.

Prevents losses due to excess inventory

Just like stock shortages, excess inventory is also bad.   Because that takes up too much space choking the space required for items that actually sell out.

When a product expires, gets damaged or runs out of demand you end up taking losses on the product due to excess inventory. Proper inventory control prevents that from happening.  Now let’s see what are the different options for inventory control and which one should you choose.

Why is a manual inventory process bad?

There are primarily two ways by which stores keep track of inventory.  The first one is manual and second automated.

There are many different ways to keep control of your inventory.   A Manual process exists when you or an employee takes a basic spreadsheet and fills it with common details viz name of the product, item number, quantity and so on.

You can have a column to subtract items that you have shipped. Another column to keep track of the items that were returned.

Labour-Intensive

The problem with the manual method is that it can be labour intensive where you have hire hoards of people to just finish the paperwork. The labour doesn’t begin with somebody sitting down in the evening with a pen and paper and recalling the transactions. Each a time a transaction occurs that has to accounted for and stock levels updated in response.

Manual processes slow things down and real time update is easier said than done.  Such labour-intensive processes kill automation and is no way of growing any business. Manual monitoring is cumbersome and the risk of error making it too huge to run a business profitably. The only way out is using an inventory management solution.

Human Error

Again since people are involved in manually accounting for the stock numbers it’s always possible that they make mistakes. Sometimes they miss recording transactions and updating stock levels or sometimes different people enter different values. Or they don’t get proper input regarding the arrivals. This can lead to insufficient ordering and running out of things eventually.

Such mistakes make tracking accurate inventory numbers an impossibility.  This results in needless additional orders that increase the company’s inventory carrying costs, demand additional space and so on.

However, when you automate things there’s less paperwork flying around and less red tape. The margin for error is much lower.

Integration

Integration is another seminal feature of good inventory management system. By allowing your store to integrate to ERP systems and financial systems such as Xero, to vendor sites you’re empowering your business to have wings and grow further. Different systems that can be integrated are the point of sale POS system, PO purchase order system and so on.

None of that’s possible without an automated inventory management solution.

Concluding Thoughts

Whether you choose to do your inventory manually or use an automated system would decide how quickly you’d be able to scale your business.  There’s no second opinion on the fact that proper inventory management is key to the success of an eCommerce business. An automated solution does most of the heavy lifting for you.

Additionally, the unique insights you gain by having data at your beck and call will help you create more successful businesses in the future.  You should never let easily avoidable problems like excess inventory or shortage in inventory lead to the closure of your business