A very competitive environment in ecommerce and logistics business forces companies to make their operations and processes super effective. One of the most important requirements is to keep the goods available for potential customers all the time while minimizing the costs of warehousing.
Not being able to offer to the client the product they are looking for is a high risk of losing them forever. Avoiding stockouts can help you save money and make your customers happy. This is where the solution named real-time inventory management comes in handy.
What is real-time inventory management and why does it matter?
Real-time inventory management is a full view offered by dedicated software on what is going currently on with your stock levels. As you can imagine, synchronizing all the data related to the ecommerce business sounds like a huge challenge. If not done properly, it may cause problems with inventory control, because the data is delayed, and stock levels are not matched with customer demand.
In other words, it’s a smart system that gives you the possibility to track, view, manage, plan inventory levels in real-time, so you can react right away. It also means an online retailer has an accurate order management database with centralized inventory management.
Realtime inventory management optimizes supply chains, focuses on product flow, and can lead to efficient operation. It analyzes this data as a guide for optimal scheduling the raw material or production, thus eliminating stock-out situations and excess stocks.
Why the real-time inventory management is important?
When your business is growing, there are a lot of fields that are growing very rapidly too. With the expansion of channels, sales levels, new markets, new products all the processes related to operations, collecting historical data for planning, inventory management is increasing their quantity multiple times.
To a certain level, it is possible to manage the inventory data with simple solutions like spreadsheets or static software solutions, that update for example once a day. But if insufficient or excess inventory is becoming more and more common problems, it’s time to redesign your enterprise resource planning system and consider real-time inventory solutions.
With the lack of these tools, the chaos will grow day by day and will make your situation still worse raising your frustration. Therefore it’s much better to react at the appropriate moment and switch for easier inventory management.
The challenge of supply chain planning
Of course, there are no two identical businesses, and redesigning the inventory system will be as complicated as the current supply chain is. First of all, it’s good to take a look at the current situation and the supply chain management, mapping all the components, channels, connections between them. Before going to a real-time data solution, you should be sure that there are no supply chain disruptions and there is a chance to clip everything under one system.
Also, the backorders affect several aspects of the supply chain and the reasons why they occur are not always predictable.
Simple ERP systems like OMSs may not provide enough support to handle this task efficiently.
Advantages of a real-time inventory management system
There are a lot of advantages of real-time inventory systems – we have listed some of them.
With real-time inventory management, you can make better and quicker decisions regarding your business. Tracking inventory becomes transparent, and you can see exactly how many products are in the warehouses, how many orders came, what is shipped, what is returned, and where are possible stockouts. Real-time data flows to the system from all the channels, and you have everything in one place.
Advanced reporting tools can analyze the real-time data for you, providing a wide spectrum of various business reports. That’s very helpful for ad-hoc business decision, and give the management the feeling of having everything under control. You don’t have to guess what’s going on with your stocks, you just select the report you need, and voila’! you receive an accurate picture.
Another level of inventory reports and management is predictive logistics, which allows you to leverage all the data and predict the situations that can occur.
How awesome it would be if you could ensure always the right level of the stocking – not too much, to be sure that a warehouse floor isn’t too expensive and goods are blocking the space, and not too less, to avoid stock-outs. The inventory management system helps you adjust inventory to the demand.
(If you're curious about how Linker Cloud manages stock, be sure to read our Tech Overview series).
Benefits are not only about the supply chain – as everything is strictly connected, and implementation of the right inventory management software brings many advantages in general operations in the company. Knowing the real-time inventory, you can plan production, shipping, simplify many processes, as the data flow automatically.
Especially when you are doing an international business, selling goods in different countries, you will have to coordinate multiple warehouses in different countries (unless you are using a fulfillment network). To meet customer demand and ensure enough inventory, you may need to split or transfer some goods between the entities. Having real-time tracking and a wide view of what is happening and where you can shuffle the goods to optimize the stocks.
All those are of course strictly connected to customer satisfaction – they will love to buy from you, as they will see the products always available, with quick shipment in your online store. There is nothing more irritating than ordering the desired product, happy to have it found finally in an online shop, and receiving information that the stock level hasn’t been updated and that thing is not orderable anymore.
Generally speaking, gaining more data and being able to use it accurately, means more accurate decisions, more business stability, less unpredictive events. Splitting the goods reduces the risk of dead stock. Also, in case of problems during order fulfillment there is immediate access to the information on what is happening with it right now – if there were any incidents, delays, when in lose track, maybe human errors. Saving time on finding out where the problem is improved greatly customer experience and business decisions.
Strategy for real-time inventory management
How to approach the implementation of the real-time inventory management system? It’s all about the business model company selected if this is a small business or rather one of the large companies, how the inventory processes look like. Various systems can handle real-time inventory management. Another solution is to start a collaboration with the fulfillment network or 3PL.
Inventory management software
Inventory management software should be chosen after analyzing all the needs of the company. The solutions may vary with the features they include, such as bar code systems, bar code scanners, detailed reports, support for many sales channels. Companies such as Orderhive, inFlow, Rightspeed retail, Megaventory, and Zoho Inventory propose interesting solutions.
A tool, that is a comprehensive solution, being not only a software that helps you to manage your warehouse, is Linker Cloud. Linker is a single order management system that lets you connect with and manage your orders, stocks, and processes in real-time. You can easily add and integrate marketplaces, eCommerce platforms, and courier companies, configure fulfillment processes so they suit your workloads. Well-thought-out and executed processes and rules are the keys to success in the ever-changing and complex reality of order fulfillment.
If you feel that implementation of the real-time inventory system is too complicated for you, but you still need to be able to track inventory, there is another option: outsourcing your logistics to a fulfillment provider or fulfillment network. Experienced companies use the best inventory management software, so you get the best service possible in this area, and even more benefits in logistics generally.