How to simplify inventory management for your business
Consumer expectations around in-store purchases, online shopping, and order fulfillment are only growing. Yet, a recent small business survey showed that 43% of businesses either have no inventory management system in place or rely on a manual method.
As your business grows, manual processes cause operational pain. Startups and ecommerce businesses feel this friction even more. At a time when your team needs better data insights, their inventory visibility is fuzzy at best. Pen-and-paper methods also leave the door open for human error. Humans make mistakes, and 62% of retailers say these slip-ups are "the root cause of inventory fulfillment issues,” according to one survey.
Businesses at all stages need some level of inventory management software. With it, users can easily track inventory and manage reordering from one platform. It’s especially essential for ecommerce businesses who need to count, control, and ship physical inventory from afar.
In this article, you’ll find a list of essential software features to look for and highly rated inventory management software you should consider.
Essential features in inventory management software
The best inventory management software allows business owners to optimize their complete product journey. From sending a purchase order to your supplier to delivering items to your customer, software smoothes out the kinks. You can also:
- Order and track raw materials and finished goods throughout your supply chain
- Determine the economic order quantity (EOQ) needed to meet customer demand
- See a real-time analysis of your sales, products, and supply chain
Of course, you need a tool that provides inventory control—visibility into the amount of inventory you have at any moment. But your software should also be easy to learn, use, and deploy. Cloud-based software is especially convenient, allowing you to manage your stock from a mobile device or computer.
Standard inventory software should include:
- Robust inventory tracking
- Low- and over-stock notifications
- Sales orders and purchase orders
- Visibility into your inventory levels
- Automatic product reorder points
- Report generation and data analysis
- Single or multi-location warehouse management
- Support for thousands of SKUs and UPCs
- Inventory image and photo capabilities
- Setup assistance or customer support
- Tracking information and returns
- Integrations with your point of sale system, accounting software, website, and other sales channels
- Compatibility with barcode scanners, radio frequency identification (RFID) tools, or QR code scanners
All together, this data informs your business decisions. For example, a burgeoning ecommerce business can’t afford to have capital tied up in excess inventory. But, features like over-stock notifications and product-level sales tracking help you avoid this common problem.
Factor in your inventory strategy
There's no shortage of software, but your business workflow is unique. Before comparing software solutions, you need to consider the inventory management technique you have in place. We'll go over a few examples.
A retailer using the just-in-time method (JIT) generally has just enough stock on hand to fulfill orders. The JIT technique typically reduces issues with dead stock and boosts cash flow. To avoid long lead times, founders using this technique will need a solution with accurate forecasting features.
Similarly, an online store may prefer drop shipping to save money on carrying costs and warehousing needs. Drop shipping is the go-to order fulfillment method for 33% of ecommerce businesses, after all. This business needs software that can connect to popular shipping companies, not software packed with warehouse management tools.
The first-in first-out (FIFO) method is popular with businesses selling perishables. If you’re outsourcing fulfillment to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider, you'll look for a software vendor that supports a fast and reliable FIFO system.
Top-rated inventory management software
Inventory software is a make-or-break variable for avoiding stock outs and ensuring on-time deliveries.
Each software will bring a different set of features to the table. Browse the inventory management solutions below to see if there's a fit for your operation.
Skubana is a data analytics heavyweight in the inventory management space, and a standout for high-volume businesses. Its cloud-based platform delivers operational speed and efficiency while placing vital business metrics front and center.
With a wide network of integrations and an open API, Skubana users can bring all their marketplaces and websites into one software, save time by automatically generated purchase orders, synchronize inventory across an extensive selection of warehouses, and track orders with your carrier of choice. You can also dive into profitability by SKU number and tap into comprehensive demand forecasting.
- Great for: High-volume brands and ecommerce businesses looking for an all-in-one option
- Pros: Industry-leading data analytics, unlimited integrations, and an intuitive user interface
- Cons: Cost-prohibitive for low-volume businesses, some users report lengthy onboarding and implementation
- Price: Starts at $499 per month, custom pricing available
Brex integrates with NetSuite, a leader in enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. Cardmembers can export their Brex transactions to their NetSuite account at any time.
NetSuite is a cloud-based software, providing end-to-end supply chain management. As an ERP solution, it also offers procurement, warehouse, revenue, billing, and order management. An optional CRM tool allows even more system unification. Your team can take inventory counts and make sales using iOS or Android devices.
- Great for: Mid-sized or large businesses in need of a long-term solution
- Pros: Includes a powerful feature set as well as options for integrations
- Cons: Cost-prohibitive for early-stage startups
- Price: Available by quote (Some sources suggest $999 for the Limited Edition license plus $99 per month per user)
Learn how to get the most out of the Brex-NetSuite integration.
Zoho Inventory is an affordable cloud-based inventory control system. Streamline your inventory and make quick stock adjustments. Take management on the go with the mobile app, and select from shipping carriers like DHL, FedEx, and UPS. Zoho offers multiple pricing tiers, making it accessible to businesses of all sizes.
Zoho is also notable for its interconnectivity. The company developed its own suite of apps which includes accounting, marketing, and customer relationship management (CRM) programs. Add and connect these apps to craft one, seamless, business-management system. Explore the features prior to purchase with the free version.
- Great for: Startups looking for an early, low-cost solution
- Pros: User-friendly interface and a suite of apps for centralized business management
- Cons: No bill of materials functionality, users report issues with international operations and currency, and QuickBooks is currently the only accounting integration
- Price: Free version available, $39 per month for the Basic plan, $79 per month for the Standard plan, or $199 per month for the Professional plan (billed annually)
TradeGecko provides a full inventory management feature set across each of its pricing plans. This software suits a wide range of business sizes and industries, and enables multichannel selling. You can manage your picking, packing, and shipping. You can also make mobile sales, although TradeGecko's app is for iOS devices only.
Centralize your products and orders while the platform gathers business intelligence on your behalf. You can also save commonly used work orders and bills of material for future projects. Test each feature using the 14-day free trial.
- Great for: Businesses that need a customizable omnichannel solution
- Pros: Comprehensive feature set for each pricing tier
- Cons: Mobile app for Apple devices only
- Price: $39 per month for the Founder plan, $59 per month for the Lite plan, $159 per month for the Small Business plan, and $479 per month (billed annually)
Cin7 automates inventory management for a variety of industries, from coffee shops to fashion retail businesses. It's a comprehensive solution with a built-in POS system and CRM.
Manage inventory, process payments, and take care of customer accounts with one tool. Set up automatic reorders when the amount of product drops below your safety stock level. Cin7 is also noteworthy because it supports inventory consignments.
- Great for: Any business needing end-to-end software
- Pros: Able to handle complex order fulfillment requirements, and supports supplier consignments
- Cons: Lacks a full-fledged warehouse management system
- Price: Available by quote
Fishbowl, a cloud-based inventory system, saves businesses significant time on data entry. Craft a detailed product catalogue and organize stock by location or warehouse. It also offers integrations with UPS, Shopify, and Amazon, among other connections.
Fishbowl features an extensive library of support documents and user experience tips. At no added cost, you'll receive access to helpful training videos, online tutorials, and customer support specialists. A 14-day trial is available to test out this inventory solution.
- Great for: Small to mid-sized businesses, especially avid QuickBooks users
- Pros: Integrates with major business management solutions, and includes a detailed online wiki
- Cons: Users report some issues with shipping carrier integrations
- Price: Available by quote
Software is a strategic addition to your inventory management system. For the best results, look for options with an intuitive interface, advanced inventory tracking, and rich reporting features.
Select a tool that's reasonably customizable without having to contact customer support. Every software will take time to implement, but it doesn't have to bring your business' momentum to a halt.
Be sure to take advantage of free trials and demos to make sure features work as advertised. For further software research, free online software directories like Capterra are a great starting point.
*Note: All product and service details are current as of 02/11/2020.