How to choose the right inventory management system for your retail store
To say that stock control is important in retail is an understatement. Inventory is the lifeblood of any retail business; without it, you won’t have anything to sell. That’s why finding the right inventory management system is essential. The right solution will help you manage your products, streamline your processes, and enable you to run a more efficient retail business. But the wrong platform — or worse, having no stock control system at all — can slow you down.
If you’re looking to level up your store’s inventory management practices, follow these tips for selecting the right stock control solution for your business.
Take stock of your needs
Zeroing on the right solution starts with figuring out your needs.
The first step to doing this is thinking about how you currently manage stock in your business. What are the different steps involved in ordering merchandise, putting products on the floor, and tracking stock levels? Who are the people involved in the process?
Answer these questions, and if possible, map out your processes on paper, so you can have a visual resource on how stock flows in your business.
If you’re selling beyond the four walls of your retail store — i.e., online or through pop-up shops — then you should also consider how your products move across different channels.
Ideally, your system should seamlessly connect various stores and channels, so that stock levels are synced whenever you sell products or add new merchandise.
For example, if you’re selling in-store and online, then your inventory data should automatically update whenever you sell items on either channel. That way, you won’t ever end up in a situation where you’re selling something that isn’t there, or your team is trying to locate an item that’s already been sold.
Another crucial step? Talk to your team. Members of your staff have first-hand knowledge of how inventory management works in your business so their input would be valuable.
Have conversations with employees who are in charge of your inventory. These may include your store managers, warehouse personnel, sales associates, etc. Go over your processes and ask them about their needs. What do they like about your existing system? What are its shortcomings?
The answers to these questions will give you clarity on your stock control requirements and help you find the right solution for your business.
Consider your ePOS system
Inventory management and ePOS systems often go hand-in-hand in retail. After all, stock movements are closely tied to your sales, which are typically handled by your point of sale platform. That’s why for many retailers, their ePOS system and stock control solution are one and the same.
There are some exceptions to this (and we’ll get to them later), but if you already have an ePOS system, you’ll want to explore its full range of features first and ensure that you’re taking advantage of all its capabilities. As we mentioned previously, these features would include:
Multi-channel inventory management – If you’re selling on different channels (i.e., bricks and mortar + e-commerce) your system should automatically sync your stock across all your channels.
Multi-store inventory management – The same goes for multi-outlet retailers. You need a solution that lets you centrally manage stock across multiple locations. Ideally, your solution should enable you to transfer stock from one location to the next, as well as generate reports for each store.
Stock counts – Counting your stock regularly keeps your inventory records up-to-date and accurate. If your solution has a feature for stock counts, you’ll certainly want to use it.
Product performance reporting -Your system should be able to tell you which items are doing well, how fast stock is moving, and which products are making you money.
In certain cases, a retailer may require an inventory management solution that’s separate from their ePOS. This often arises when you have advanced stock control requirements that aren’t covered by your point of sale system.
For instance, if you have specialized warehousing or supply chain needs, then you may need a more sophisticated solution to run alongside your ePOS system. If you decide to go this route, you’ll want to make sure that the two platforms are tightly integrated so sales and inventory data are synced across both solutions.
Make sure the price is right
The costs of an inventory management system will vary from one retailer to the next. For obvious reasons, merchants who have advanced inventory requirements or those running multiple locations can expect to pay more compared to single-store retailers.
That said, when choosing an inventory management solution, it’s best to go for a system that offers subscription-based pricing instead of a huge upfront investment.
Subscription-based pricing offers more flexibility and helps you maintain better cash flow. You’re not locked into a contract and you’re not required to shell out large sums upfront.
These factors are critical, especially if you’re an independent retailer. You need a solution that can scale up or down with your business, not a system that will weigh you down.
Evaluate the vendor’s customer support
Don’t let customer service be an afterthought. Features and functionalities are essential, but a vendor’s customer support offerings can be just as important.
When shopping around for a stock control system, opt for a solution provider that offers support on the channels that you’re comfortable with.
Do you prefer to talk to someone over the phone or are you ok with live chat? Are comfortable with a self-service knowledge base or do you require a dedicated account rep? Whatever the case, make sure your vendor can fulfil your requirements.
And don’t forget about timing. Does the vendor provide 24/7 support or is customer service available only during business hours? If it’s the latter, see to it that you’re in the same time zone. The last thing you want is to run into stock control issues and not have the support you need.
Bottom line – Getting a new stock control system requires time and money, but the investment is more than worth it when you find the right system. Hopefully, the tips above help you do just that!
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