Keeping track of warehouse inventory – accurately and efficiently, at least – is no simple task. From labeling and tagging to inventory audits, software systems, and more, warehouse inventory tracking is multi-faceted, and if you don’t establish consistent inventory management systems upfront, it only grows more complex as your business grows.
Naturally, you want to track inventory as accurately as possible to avoid errors that can have far-reaching impacts throughout the supply chain. But you also don’t want inventory tracking to demand so much time that other processes suffer. So, to help you identify the best ways to keep track of warehouse inventory and avoid those pitfalls, we reached out to a panel of warehouse pros and business leaders and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the single best way to keep track of warehouse inventory?”
Meet Our Panel of Warehouse Pros and Business Leaders:
Kim Smith is the Content Marketing Manager at GoodFirms. Based out of Washington DC, GoodFirms is a B2B research and review platform to help businesses find the best agencies, software or consultants to tackle their business challenges. Kim’s efforts have been featured in SEMRush, Business2Community, JeffBullas, and several other leading platforms.
“The best way to keep track of warehouse inventory is…”
Taking in suggestions from numerous experts listed as top software companies serving SMBs and E-Commerce for outsourced business automation, and market leading Warehouse Management Software and Inventory Management Software, one could say Inventory Management Software could be a single best way, but it comes with some supplements it needs to sustain.
Inventory Management Software: Automated management tools are easy-to-use, flexible, secured, cost-effective and mobile-friendly. They not only keep the track of the inventory but also help you interact the data to optimize and mobilize the warehouse inventory. Some of the advanced software also has features for data mining in order to recognize sales trends, purchasing trends, and much more. This overall results in optimized management and increasing labor as well as profit margins.
RFID and Barcodes: Both methods are a form of electronic tagging of products, an electronic chip in RFID and label in barcodes, which can be scanned by a small reader device such as mobile or anything else. This tagging stores a vast range of product data like what it is, where it was manufactured, where is set to go, added instructions for handling and much more. These are some of the supplementary aids for updating the inventory in the software.
Auditing and Cycle Counting: Regular cycle counting and auditing consistency help to streamline and perfect the inventory localized at inter- as well as intra-warehouse. It works best when the cycles are conducted regularly, as it continuously rectifies any glitch in the system and makes it smooth to run.
Eugenia Lebedynska is a Digital Marketing & SEM Manager for McDonald Paper & Restaurant Supplies.
“Optimizing a warehouse is the only way to avoid mis-shipment, sudden out-of-stocks, returns, and human error…”
In the perpetual cycle of receiving, picking, packing, and shipping there is a workflow algorithm. So, the best way to keep track of warehouse inventory is highly optimized warehouse management system.
There is no single best way of doing things. Every business has its own system depending on the industry, number of people working in the warehouse, items turnaround and more. We, at McDonald Paper, are working with restaurant supplies. Our well-oiled machine is based on the following:
Optimized floor plans. Appropriate use of warehouse space, proper lighting, wide aisles, and walkways allow getting the job done faster. Labeling for aisles and product locations is essential for navigation.
Location of the fast-moving items is important. Such packages should be easily accessible and placed closer to the shipping area. A well thought-out layout should include zones for the hottest-selling items such as peak season products or on sale items, as well as a designated area for damaged items.
Receiving process. We have a manual checking process and a special room where an employee visually checks that everything listed in the invoice has arrived undamaged and in the right quantity. Unlike, for example, Amazon,
where everything is automated.
Labeling. Everything must be categorized and labeled accordingly. It is best to track not only separate items but also the units and pallets. You can come up with your own labeling system and purchase thermal printing labels to print them on. Labeling can be done without the use of additional apps, but our warehouse and inventory management systems are enhanced with software. We use the specialized program, barcodes, scanners, and iPads.
Warehouse management software allows you to locate any item at any time. It is one of the most critical parts of the workflow and a key to successful warehouse inventory.
What type of software to choose depends on the needs of a particular warehouse. There are options like:
- SAP Warehouse Management system
- Latitude WMS
- Fishbowl Inventory
- Lead Commerce
Quality control. It is better to perform regular inventory control audits to keep track of warehouse inventory. Double checking orders to make sure the SKU, quantity, and shipping data are correct and to check items for damage is also important.
Shipping control is the final and crucial step in the items warehouse lifecycle. We work with the most popular and reliable providers like FedEx, UPS, USPS, and freight on board (FOB) services. To help us keep track of the shipping process we use specialized shipping software. It creates product labels and calculates the weight of the package. Among this kind of software, there are options like:
George Keliher has been involved in the making and stocking of parts for over 30 years, both as an entrepreneur and as a small business consultant, specializing in inventory management. George is having so much fun with LOCATE Inventory that his retirement plans have been put on hold. In addition to growing and expanding LOCATE, George keeps himself busy with a regimen that includes inline skating and standup-paddleboarding.
“The best way to keep track of your warehouse is…”
With an inventory management software that instills best practices into each step of the workflow. A program that supports shortcuts and workarounds will inevitably lead to missing inventory, inaccurate costing, and ultimately, loss of profits.
Libba Durrett is the Founder of Sparklers Online. Since 2003, Sparklers Online has provided wedding parties and planners with celebratory sparklers to make their wedding day (and photos) that much more memorable.
“Keeping track of inventory is a tiresome and tedious responsibility…”
While there are fantastic software programs to help with this process, absolutely nothing beats hands-on reconciliation. A physical inventory count every 60 days, cross referenced against shipments and computer inventory levels. One would think that keeping track of the products I sell, three sizes of wedding sparklers that are sold seasonally as well, would be the easiest job. What is not taken into account is theft, personnel changes, and pure laziness. I have been on the lazy end of inventory reconciliation once when I thought I had more than $20,000 in inventory and was simply dead wrong. It was a huge embarrassment and financial strain on the business. By holding my warehouse staff, as well as myself responsible monthly, there is no blame and the process is bearable. My warehouse does not use any fancy inventory management systems. We use Microsoft Excel and some crafty equations allowing us to keeps costs down.
David Altemir is the President of Altemir Consulting, a manufacturing and supply chain consulting firm located in Dallas, TX. Altemir specializes in improving inventory management practices.
“Strong transactional discipline is the single most important element for maintaining accurate inventory…”
Purchase receiving is usually the first point at which an item is identified and located, so the receiving dock can really make or break an organization’s inventory control. At that point, barcode labels can be applied to the product to facilitate further in/out transactions later in the use cycle, for example, during picking and shipping. Barcode label scanning will ensure that part numbers are correctly captured and transacted. Warehouse locations can also be barcoded to ensure accurate location entry in those cases where the warehouse is finely organized into distinct shelf and bin locations. RFID tagging is another option, but barcode labeling is usually much more cost-efficient for most applications and just as effective in supporting accurate cost and quantity inventory accounting.
Punit Gupta is the Founder & CEO of EasyEcom, an Omni Channel commerce platform. EasyEcom is a platform of choice for major brands like Casio, Provogue, Killer Jeans, Swiss Military etc to run their eCommerce business.
“Managing inventory in the warehouse has become a whole another battle as compared to earlier…”
Before the internet became everybody’s thing and before Amazon dominated retail, life was simple. Brands mostly ran the wholesale business from their warehouses, while the retail happened at retail shops.
However, with the advent of Amazon, internet and, most recently, omni-channel commerce, that differentiation between the wholesale and retail has become blurred. As a result of that, now brands have to manage a number of channels from their warehouses that were previously only handled wholesale.
Running that kind of business is new, and most systems don’t support that. That’s giving way to new age of warehouse management platforms that are pre-integrated with eCommerce, shipping carriers, payment gateways, etc.
Doug Orlove, VP of Operations at Amify, has an extensive background in supply chain and finance, having led operations teams at Dole Food Company, Frito-Lay, and Medge. He has over 20 years of experience managing inventory and production planning in both the perishables and consumer goods segments. Doug studied Biology at Georgia Tech and has a masters in Logistics from Florida Tech. He currently resides in Maryland with his wife Birna and four children.
“Ensuring the optimal amount of inventory on hand through demand planning is key to maintaining an efficient product flow through the warehouse…”
Excess inventory amounts will contribute to handling and storage costs, while inventory shortages slow down the order fulfillment process and affect customer service. Forecasts can be improved by adopting supply chain management concepts such as information sharing. Point of sale data is harnessed to provide accurate base demand levels. Layering seasonality and trends on top of the base demand will provide an accurate projection of future product needs.
Patty is the Medical Content Writer at Computers Unlimited. She blogs about how TIMS Software, as an all-in-one solution, can help HME teams work smarter. Patty recently returned to Montana, so when she’s not writing she’s eagerly exploring Billings and other nearby areas, looking for her next weekend adventure.
“Too much inventory creates unneeded expenses and too little inventory means lost revenue…”
For many in our industry, inventory management is a necessary evil that isn’t done well. From my experience, many businesses find it challenging because too many inventory management software systems have been weakly bolted on to billing software systems. This weakness causes insecurity for the CSRs who feel the need to verify inventory numbers themselves when answering inquiries. Also, warehouse personnel can’t accurately forecast when to reorder, so we end up with a downward spiral of inventory and an upward spiral of frustration.
What would it look like if inventory management was “just right?” Warehouse personnel would maintain optimal levels of inventory allowing CSRs to trust the quantities being shown and quickly respond to inquiries. Picking would be optimized by several tickets displaying on one handheld device so the employee only goes through the warehouse one time in order to fill several orders. Up-to-date sales history trends would assist with forecasting inventory and keeping carrier costs low. A “Goldilocks” scenario to be sure, but an excellent goal to strive for.
A fully integrated software solution will make sure the right people are doing the right work at the right time. The improvements in customer service and inventory forecasting will boost employee productivity, and reduce labor and carrying costs. You’ll have accurate reporting from inventory to sale and from dispensing to delivery. You’ll also have the data you need to make adjustments that will enable continued growth in your business. Carrying too much inventory is a cost against the bottom line – without inventory, there is no revenue to cycle. Having the correct balance of inventory is key to a healthy revenue cycle program.
Jan Bednar is the CEO of ShipMonk.
“Having a robust inventory management system…”
That can track your orders and inventory across multiple channels and locations is the best way to track warehouse inventory. This tech solution’s efficacy can be accentuated by performing cycle counts on a regular basis to ensure that inventory levels are accurate.
Mihai Corbuleac is a Senior IT Consultant at Bigstep.com – a Chicago based IT company providing reliable and scalable cloud-based platform purpose-built for big data.
“If you want to upgrade your warehouse operations, you should consider implementing a warehouse management software that is…”
Also able to gather big data, so your data scientist can structure it, extract what is relevant, and interpret it to increase business profitability. A dedicated warehouse management software will allow you to use scanners with barcode labels to ensure that you can locate products in your warehouse, check stock levels, pricing, trends, etc. This can improve your discount strategy, and it will provide a competitive advantage.
Tim Stevens is the Operations & Logistics Manager at Find Me A Gift. Find Me A Gift is a leading online retailer with over 9,000 gifts to choose from and new lines added every week. Established in June 2000, the company specializes in a wide range of gadgets, experiences, toys, novelty and personalized gifts with worldwide delivery, special offers and year-round sales.
“The best single approach to keeping track of warehouse inventory is cycle counting, also known as Perpetual Inventory (PI)…”
Perpetual Inventory is a process where a section of the warehouse is closed from any stock movements, the stock is counted and then this count is checked against the warehouse system. Any discrepancies can then be investigated and adjustments made. The results can be tracked to form a stock control KPI, which should be updated weekly to show any stock trends and improvements. PI can deliver a wall-to-wall stock take multiple times a year, aiding stock availability and giving more confidence in stock levels.
Robin Schwartz, PHR
Robin Schwartz is the managing partner of MFG Jobs. She leverages her years of experience in HR to bring functional change to organizational leadership and direction to management structures and employees. She holds a Masters Degree in National Security Studies from American Military University. Robin currently holds a PHR certification from HRCI.
“Invest in an inventory tracking system that is appropriate for your business size…”
Smaller warehouses may be able to create proprietary inventory tracking systems with database software. Larger organizations should consider using a system which allows for both movable and fixed tracking options. Moveable tracking allows organizations to see where items are located at all times while fixed tracking allows for easy management and assignment of destinations. Using moveable and fixed tracking together ensures greater inventory efficiency and accuracy.
Jim Herst is the CEO of Perceptive Selling Initiative, Inc. He helps businesses build sales and accelerate cash flow.
“The single best way to keep track of warehouse inventory is to…”
Assume each item has a stock number and a description if desired. This info is posted on top of a hard card lined with four columns, or if electronically maintained, the same process will apply.
Head columns as: Date, In-stock, Deduct, Balance. Or, as such in the computer program used.
Enter (from carefully counted inventory) the quantity available on (opening) date. Add new purchases of ‘that’ item on date received.
From orders (sales) when first received post date, deduct quantity ordered, mark remaining in Balance column.
NOTE, on/at Order coded ‘to fill’ or ‘Not Avail.’ Order picking, either electronically or manually MUST signal, if even the Item is in stock, it is NOT to be filled for an order marked ‘Not Avail.’
This method, depending on many factors, could or could not require a full-time clerk to maintain. It can be maintained manually or certainly in a computer.
The key is to deduct from available in-stock quantity. Variation of this system, whether manually maintained or in a computer program, will serve well to control inventory. Possibly this same program will show the Source(s) for purchase, costs based on quantity, necessary lead time, and other information.
Eric Allais, president and CEO of Washington-based PathGuide Technologies, Inc., has over 30 years of experience in marketing, product management and sector analysis in the automated data collection industry, including warehouse management practices in wholesale distribution.
“The critical success factor to reliably tracking warehouse inventory is…”
Hiring an experienced and highly-qualified warehouse leader. Strong warehouse leaders embrace necessary process changes to optimize the positive impact on customer service and profitability of the warehouse operation. They have a duty and allegiance to inspire the best work from warehouse employees and ensure that processes are followed. Lastly, a strong warehouse leader understands the value and effectiveness of software tool investments such as a warehouse management system. They ensure these tools are used to maximize efficiencies and control of inventory movements.
Maxwell Ziegler is the Marketing Manager for Conveyco Technologies, a premier automation systems integrator who helps warehouse and fulfillment/distribution center operations grow and thrive.
“In a typical warehouse environment, the best way to keep track of inventory is through the use of…”
Scanning technology to communicate location events via a Warehouse Execution System (WES), which then talks to the Warehouse Management System (WMS). The WMS oversees all big picture warehouse data and is the official inventory of record. In this method, the inventory would be scanned either manually by a worker with a handheld unit or automatically (as is typical with an AS/RS system) as it is moved into inventory, or is stored, and then scanned again when it leaves storage. In an advanced warehouse, scan points will be work in conjunction with sortation systems to deliver orders or batches of work to their destination, as determined by the WMS.
Katie Christman is Inventory Analyst at East West Manufacturing, an Atlanta-based global contract manufacturer of components, sub-assemblies, and finished goods for OEMs and distributors – managing projects from design to delivery.
“Check your work…”
For a company of any size, there is nothing equal to physically seeing product for yourself, counting it, and comparing to your system numbers to make sure systems are working correctly. Trusting the number in a computer only works free of input error, delays, and shipping errors. Setting the system aside, standing in front of a shelf or pallet, and then reconciling the two is the best way to make sure that processes and inventory management are on track. For a company the like East West, where inventory is processed by hand, this is something we do every month. But even for a larger company with things like barcoding or RFID, nothing beats checking your work on a regular basis.
Karen Gordon is the VP of Growth for Goodshuffle Pro, a software for event rental companies.
“The first key to successfully tracking warehouse inventory is…”
Finding an inventory software that does the dirty work for you. Simply using spreadsheets are a risk and not mistake-proof for various reasons. Spreadsheets are not multi-user friendly, meaning if many employees are accessing the same spreadsheet, the risk of deleting data is very high. An inventory tracking software could allow many employees to enter and alter inventory at the same time without any risk.
Organize your inventory in batches or crates for easy counting and barcode scanning. Buy clear bins and a label maker so you can clearly see what’s in each bin. This will allow for your staff to only remove a section of items at one time, rather than reshuffling things every time you need to scan something in or out. Consider sectioning off by a very specific sub-category of inventory, so that you don’t waste time sifting through items you aren’t looking for.
You should always train your employees to be technologically proficient. Hiring employees who are not able to adapt to your desired software will cause a loss of efficiency in the workplace. If your employees fully understand the technological process, it will save your supervisors tons of time. Implement training sessions and interactive practice sessions to make your employees more comfortable with a software. Allow your employees to practice using the software with fake inventory before throwing them into the job.
Andrei Vasilescu is a renowned Digital Marketing expert and CEO of a Money Saving platform in the name of DontPayFull. He has been providing cutting edge digital marketing service to various international companies and different online coupons of various brands for years.
“Categorically labeling everything is essential…”
Proper labeling supports managing warehouse inventory in the most efficient manner. Label everything that enters your warehouse categorically. Items not labeled properly might get out of your notice and accounts at the same time. Other than inanimate things, there must be some people working in your warehouse. You should label every human employee to monitor every activity and prevent any unauthorized presence or movement in your warehouse. To track warehouse inventory most successfully, labeling every object and person is necessary.
Abhishek Jaiswal is the CEO and Co-Founder of CedCommerce. The firm he represents specializes in helping 3P sellers onboard largest marketplaces of the world. Largest retailers Walmart, Sears, BestBuy have made CedCommerce their channel integration partner to enable 3P sellers list their catalog on their e-commerce marketplaces.
“The single best way to keep track of warehouse inventory is the amalgamation of 3 important elements…”
Demand Forecasting, WMS (Warehouse Management Systems) Integrated with barcode scanners, and JIT (Just-in-Time) Ordering.
Accurate forecasting drives most efficient results. It includes past sales records, market trends, health of the economy, marketing efforts and much more. The key is to be a price as it is possible and include all the variables that could impact forecasting. Correct forecasting helps you order items in just the right amount so as to save precious space.
Thereafter, this data should be synchronized with Warehouse Management Systems. You can easily draw crucial information – fastest moving inventory, low-turn stock, the status of perishable goods, and more. Moreover, threshold-status based alert features alert you just-in-time to re-stock before inventory actually runs dry.
And then there is good old JIT or (Just in Time ordering) This strategy mitigates inventory wastage risks by offsetting them to the manufacturer themselves. So, once you receive a low stock notification from the WMS, you order when they are needed, minimizing wastage problems and saving vital warehouse space.
Amy Kilvington works at Blinds Direct, a leading manufacturer of blinds, curtains, and interior furnishings.
“Manage your inventory digitally on a daily basis by…”
Finding a high-quality inventory management system that fits within your budget. If possible, build your own bespoke system! This integrated software should continuously track your inventory levels along with all orders and deliveries. We do recommend that you complement this with up to four stocktakes per year.
Scott Crumrine is the Founder & CEO of Guava Family, Inc.
“Random quality control checks with the manager of the warehouse is a great addition to any inventory process…”
Random quality control mitigates potential mistakes by adding another layer of responsibility in the warehouse to keep it clean and organized. Accordingly, these random checks will help to catch and mitigate potential mistakes in packaging, shipping, and receiving. Not only will random QA checks help improve the overall inventory, but it will also allow the inventory manager more flexibility and ownership over his or her warehouse floor. Giving “ownership” of the processes to the warehouse team will help support innovation and reduce mistakes that hurt the bottom line.
Antonia Townsend is the Founder & Chief Knicker Officer at Enclosed.
“The right warehouse inventory solution varies by size, industry, and stage of company…”
For Enclosed, a high-end lingerie e-commerce company, we have frankly been unable to find any off-the-shelf solutions for our particular warehouse inventory needs. While we looked at several off-the-shelf offerings, nothing fit our needs for managing our high-value (we carry expensive designer lingerie), small sized (think of the size of a pair of folded panties!), and rotating needs (we fulfill our customer demand daily, but do larger batches monthly).
For us, a combination of careful Excel-based tracking (using lots of fairly advanced functions) and old-fashioned plastic-box and label organization has kept our inventory organized and accessible. (The latter being as important as the former.)
Ryan Polakoff, vice president, sales and marketing of Nexterus, is a supply chain professional with 15 years of experience in sales, supply chain optimization, logistics operations, marketing, and project management. Ryan oversees the Corporate Sales and Marketing teams and is the head of Franchise Development for Nexterus.
“The best way to track warehouse inventory is with the use of…”
Either an IMS (Inventory Management System) or WMS (Warehouse Management System), in which information is fed to and from the warehouse floor via bar coding or RFID.
IMS is focused on inventory management and can be used to supplement current in-house systems. A WMS will provide more overall warehouse management processes and can stand alone in providing direct external customer access and links to systems. In today’s software market, the difference between an IMS and WMS software package is sometimes hard to distinguish.
The determination to use barcoding or RFID will depend on the actual layout of the warehouse, value of the goods, and what type of security is needed. RFID is more expensive overall, and therefore is usually associated with higher valued goods, where tighter security is warranted, or where the company wants to use a more passive data collection method.
Further, the system (IMS or WMS and method of identification) will need to be compatible with the type of picking process being utilized, which will affect the number of personnel and type of equipment needed.
Andrew Rawson came to Traliant with more than 25 years of experience in strategy, operations, and marketing. Most recently, Andrew served as the Global Head of Compliance Learning (eLearning) at Thomson Reuters, an information, technology, and services company with more than 60,000 employees.
“One of the best ways to keep track of warehouse inventory is to…”
Make sure everything has a label. It may seem like a simple fix but it could make a huge difference when trying to properly manage warehouse inventory. Having labels on everything makes it much easier for warehouse workers to pick the right inventory more often. Human error is inevitable but by labeling, ultimately you are cutting the risk of these errors way down.
“We use software to help manage our warehouse inventory…”
It’s also critically important for the entire returns process. Our recently upgraded software can now automatically send a customer a return label for them to send products directly back to us. This cuts down lots of friction by not requiring the customer to provide their own shipping labels. The software also helps us track exactly which stages the return is in and clearly communicate the status to the customer so they know what’s going on at all times. Also, we automate these types of communication to all the necessary departments, including operations and marketing:
- The product is live on the site
- Purchase Orders are initially ordered
- The order is received by our warehouse
- A partial or full order is shipped
- Low inventory
Before we had this type of communication, we had lots of issues in terms of overselling, marketing products that have low stock, and having inventory sit in our warehouse too long before items became live for sale, etc.