— September 27, 2017
It may be only fall, but the retail industry is already well into the holiday spirit. Take a stroll into any specialty shop or local department store and you will notice at least one aisle decked out with reds, greens, and shiny tinsel.
You’ve likely had to make this seemingly fast transition from back-to-school into winter holidays as well. If you think it feels crazy now, just wait until Black Friday. Don’t let yourself get so wrapped up in the holidays that you lose control of your business. Take time now to solidify your business’ inventory management strategy.
Are you still using manual processes for inventory, such as pencil and paper or spreadsheets? This is a mistake many small businesses make. In fact, 43 percent of small businesses, surveyed in the 2017 State of Small Business Report, still use those manual methods or don’t track inventory at all. Yet 40 percent of those same companies claim they also want to make improvements in customer service and retention. Seems ironic, when the reasons your customers are unhappy often stem from poor inventory processes.
An inventory management strategy is important all year long, but particularly during peak seasons. Here are ways inventory control helps you streamline your business during the holidays:
- Avoid Stock-Outs: The holiday season can make or break a business. That’s why you need to make sure you have enough items in stock, especially those hot items you know won’t stay on the shelves long. If you stock out and can’t fulfill orders in time for the big day, then your customers will find someone else to buy from. And that certainly won’t help your customer satisfaction rating. Before the holiday buying season kicks off, make sure to spend extra time inspecting your stock levels. Then you’ll know what you have in stock and what will need re-ordered. An automated inventory management system makes this process streamlined and easy. You can generate accurate, real-time reports in a matter of minutes, rather than sifting through piles of papers for hours on end.
- Forecast best-sellers: You shouldn’t simply have stock on your warehouse shelves during this busy time, you need the right stock. If your organization tracks inventory well, then you should know what your top sellers have been through the years. A certain toy or trinket? A cozy sweater or holiday décor? Or perhaps you are lucky enough to stock a hot item for the season. A historical sales report will tell you what your repeat best sellers are, taking a lot of pressure off your purchasing decisions.
- Organize your warehouse: I can’t say enough about the importance of a well-maintained warehouse. Designated areas for certain products as well as various warehouse functions will make a big difference in warehouse efficiency and productivity. When employees aren’t tripping over misplaced products, or each other for that matter, it’ll be much easier for them to pick, pack, and ship the influx of orders you’ll experience during the holidays.
- Streamline your pick, pack, and ship processes: Once you’ve got the right inventory stocked and your warehouse organized, it’s time to get orders efficiently picked, packed and shipped. You likely have processes in place that work well. But during the holiday rush, your orders will increase. Hire additional seasonal employees well in advance so they are trained and on-hand when the flux in orders begins. And be sure your procedures are well-communicated and all aspects of inventory management are working, from the sales floor or e-commerce site to shipping.
- Get good online ratings: With e-commerce becoming more and more popular with every passing season, make sure you are getting glowing ratings from your customers. The primary reasons for ratings to decline are high refund rates due to overselling, and poor communication with customers when products are back-ordered or shipping is slowed. However, if your inventory and shipping processes work efficiently, items are kept in stock, and your customers receive orders in a timely manner as they expect, you should have no problem garnering good reviews.
Offer the best return policies: You can’t avoid returns, however you can make them less painful for your employees and customers. Especially during the upcoming rush, be prepared for a significant influx of returns and inventory for a number of reasons. And the quicker you account for returned merchandise, the quicker you can resell it and get the revenue back.
It’s a good idea to review your return policies ahead of time. How did they work last year? Were there any gaps in operations? Ask your employees for input to help you identify any holes in the process. If tweaks need made, clearly communicate the changes to your staff so everyone is on the same page across departments.
Don’t be caught by surprise when the holiday blitz hits. Implementing an automated inventory management system is the solution to a merrier holiday season!