Whether you’re considering your first inventory management software system or thinking about making a change from your current software, the options can be overwhelming. While many inventory management software systems share a similar set of core features and functionality, there are a multitude of variations between software programs, from compatibility with barcoding to real-time data, integrations with other third-party tools, and more. Some software programs are targeted to the specific needs of e-commerce retailers, for instance, while others are designed to cater to the complexities of managing inventory in other verticals.
Needless to say, it can be difficult to determine what you should prioritize when researching new inventory management software. To dig a bit deeper into the most important features to look for and what functionality companies in various industries should be looking for, we reached out to a panel of inventory management pros and asked them to weigh in on this question:
Puneet Gangal is the CEO and Founder of Aciron Consulting, a business management and technology consulting firm based in Boston, MA, with a focus on the client’s specific needs and helping them achieve greater efficiencies in business/IT alignment. He has over 20 years of technology and management consulting experience.
“When evaluating inventory management systems…”
There are several important features to consider. An intuitive user interface will make it easy for users to navigate the system. Communication tools will help resolve inventory shortages or delays more quickly, without relying on phone or email. Reporting functionality will provide your company up-to-date, detailed data on inventory, which will allow you to make more informed decisions. However, in order to determine which features to prioritize, first you should pinpoint the areas where your organization will derive the most business value from an inventory management system and classify those features as Must-Haves.
Jessica Thiele is the marketing manager at VL OMNI, an iPaaS data integration platform and an official technology partner of Shopify Plus.
“You see it every time a business is shopping for a new software solution…”
Evaluating the application as if it’s going to exist in a bubble.
Looking at any application in a vacuum – inventory management or enterprise resource planning or any other – happens in the majority new software shopping scenarios. Features, customizability, agility, and so forth are all important to consider in the evaluation process (not to mention, any potential solution should be scrutinized point-to-point against other possible solutions), but these checkpoints don’t assess the fit of the new solution in your existing technology stack.
Businesses should absolutely approach a new inventory management system with all these elements in mind, plus those must-haves for your particular business, but should also include one very important additional step: evaluating the API. This is how data will be able to (or not be able to) be moved in and out of the application. Look at the level of integration and automation your business wants to achieve in the tech stack as a whole, and then compare that against what can be done with the new IMS’s API. Is it even possible?
Don’t be stuck with something that you’ll have to manually key in to move data to and from the new application – take a really close look at the API’s capabilities!
Anna Daugherty is the Digital Marketing Manager for PITSS LLC.
“Having worked with clients on improving their legacy inventory management software…”
We’ve learned the most important feature to look for is scalability.
Can your system easily grow and adapt with your business? Conversely, if you need to downsize will your system be manageable or too bulky?
Does your system easily integrate with the rest of your business systems? Is it easy to connect to 3rd party APIs and functionalities? You never know when you’ll need to create a new partnership!
Jake Rheude is the Director of Business Development and Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an e-commerce order fulfillment provider with warehouses across the United States. Red Stag Fulfillment was born out of a successful e-commerce store when two entrepreneurs couldn’t find a high-quality fulfillment partner to handle the company’s growth. By taking an innovative approach to how an e-commerce fulfillment service should operate, Red Stag was born to meet the needs of other online stores aiming for world-class levels of customer satisfaction and retention.
“One (relatively simple) feature that can make a huge difference in a warehouse management software is…”
The ability to split up inventory into what seems like non-logical patterns. Let’s say I have an electronics e-commerce store that sells speakers, wiring, and amplifiers. Human instinct is going to be to organize my inventory by type: putting all speakers in the same area of my warehouse (or even garage if I’m a startup), organized by manufacturer, model, and size. Then, I follow suit with the amps and other inventory. However, especially if you’re hiring a $10-15/hr workforce to pick and pack your orders, it’s inevitable that a Kenwood 10 speaker, with only a character or two difference in appearance with the 12 version of the product, is going to be mis-picked. In RSF warehouses, clients and products are mixed with one another, so that when a picker walks down an aisle to pick a specific Kenwood 10 speaker, that speaker is shelved next to the cell phone cases of another client, and the space heaters of yet another client. We have other checks and balances built into our system, such as barcode scanning to double check the correct product is picked, but this makes it pretty obvious to the picker what product they need to grab and drastically helps us to reduce (and essentially eliminate) any mis-picks.
Of course, the second part of this answer is that to really ensure the benefit of this tactic, you need a warehouse management system that allows for mixed picking shelf locations and can batch and optimize picking routes as orders come through. However, especially for smaller e-commerce stores looking to compete, simply mixing up their inventory, (while seemingly confusing at first) can be a huge asset to ensure your workers aren’t duplicating time, energy, and money with mis-picked products.
Augustin Kennady is the Media Relations Director for ShipMonk.
“The answer to this question largely depends on the size of your enterprise…”
But inventory forecasting and optimization is definitely the most important thing if you have reasonable sales volume. It’s never good to carry too much inventory, and if you have a predictable and/or seasonal sales cycle, an inventory management software system that offers this insight can save you thousands upon thousands of dollars.
For smaller companies with more sporadic sales, I would absolutely stress ‘ease of use’ as the most important thing. When you’re juggling between building brand identity and targeted product improvements, the last thing you want to saddle yourself with is an unnecessarily complex inventory management system.
Jeff Hands is a restaurateur and president of TracRite Software. He has been helping restaurant and hospitality owners increase profitability for over 20 years. TracRite Software develops Optimum Control, a leading inventory management software for the hospitality industry, with applications for restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts, and more worldwide.
“One of the most important features of your inventory management software system is…”
The ability for mobile and remote access. In the digital age, the ability to record, send, and access information from wherever you are is imperative to a software becoming successfully integrated into your daily workflow.
An easy-to-use mobile solution also encourages acceptance and meaningful use from your team. If there are too many barriers to use, your team will not be inclined to use the software to its full potential and you will be fighting an uphill battle to adopt the software as part of your company-wide structure.
Huib Maat is the in-house perfumer/founder of Pairfum and has a track record of successfully inventing, developing, and launching products and perfumes that have succeeded and became trend-setters.
“For our company the key feature we are looking for in an inventory management software is an ‘interconnected & modular’ approach…”
We are a perfume manufacturer and we are increasingly using ‘cloud technologies’ in everything that we do to compete with the major manufacturers and retailers in our industry.
In this context, we see the ability of cloud based software (SAAS) to integrate with other cloud platforms as THE key feature for the foreseeable future. We see SAAS for Small & Medium Sized Business as an interconnection of modules from different companies that are all the best in their field. We do not believe that one system can do everything. Instead, it should connect accountancy software, shopping feed generators, web shops, email newsletters, purchasing, … the list is endless.
This is how a company like ours can compete with the ability of multi-national corporations to invest in custom-made software systems from suppliers such as SAP.
With the inventory management software being at the heart of our company, it is its ability to integrate and connect with a multitude of external service providers that defines our purchase decision.
Mihai Corbuleac is the Senior IT Consultant at ComputerSupport.com LLC, an IT support company providing professional IT support and services to businesses across the United States since 2006.
“For us, the most important aspects, what makes an inventory management software truly powerful is…”
To simplify the process of creating branded documents such as orders, invoices, and more. It should also be scalable enough to work with small, medium, and large companies. Another useful feature which is progressively popular is the QR code implementation for each product to easily scan inventory and find out in less than a second if a certain product is in stock, the number of available units, how many are on order, etc., simply by using a smartphone. Eventually, the app should be user-friendly, so it can be used with minimum training by a large team, and last but not least – make sure your option is a viable one.
Jason Rueger is an email marketer and staff writer for Fit Small Business, specializing in online and offline storefronts and product reviews. When not helping other small business owners, Jason runs his own small business, Rueger Pottery, where he makes handmade, functional ware that he hopes will lead those who use it to find some meaning and beauty in the everyday moments of life.
“The most important feature of an inventory management system is…”
The ability to track inventory throughout the entire process, from sending purchase orders to the final sale of an inventory item.
This allows a business to always know how much inventory is available, when it is getting low, what items are selling and which are not.
That’s why, in most cases, I recommend trying to find an inventory management system that also has the potential to handle the point-of-sale for your store and your purchase ordering as well. If your inventory management, purchase ordering, and point-of-sale are all connected, then you have a one-stop system that will always allow you to have eyes on exactly what is going on with your inventory.
You can do this with a standalone system that integrates with your POS, but it can complicate matters trying to integrate things and cause more troubles than it is worth.
Nick Chandi is the CEO of SlickPie Accounting Software. Nick is a serial entrepreneur and a member of the Forbes Technology Council. He has extensive experience working with business software and he is a frequent speaker at national events on technology and cyber security.
“Hands-down, the most crucial feature in any inventory management software is barcoding…”
It’s almost imaginable to convey an inventory control tool that doesn’t offer this feature. One of the main purposes of implementing inventory software in a business is to save time by automating tasks that would otherwise be done manually, which pretty much requires barcoding to be listed in any program. It’s such an essential feature that there are even solo products on the market handling that alone. It’s just too crucial to be left ignored.
Reuben Kats is a Web Design Sales Engineer /Customer Service/ Account Manager for Falcon Marketing, LLC and GrabResults,LLC.
“The following is a true story…”
I have worked for a company called GrabResults, LLC and Falcon Marketing, LLC for the last couple of years. The last couple years my company and colleagues have been designing a website and application for one of our clientele. The website one day had certain items saying they were in stock, but really they were out of stock. The following day, orders were coming in for that certain product and the client was stuck for a few days before shipping out the needed item. It’s very important to have all quantities correctly listed or any business could see legal action. These cases are caused by carelessness. When a business does inventory it’s better to update on a drive such as Google Drive so it updates on all platforms, on all devices, and on the back-end as well.
Joe Oliaro is the Managing Director of Global Corporate Services and a Logistics and eCommerce Specialist. He blogs at The Logistics Broker, covering logistics and ecommerce from a real estate perspective.
“One of the most important things to think about when selecting an inventory management software system is…”
Customization. Identify what level of customization will be required upfront. Too much customization can be costly and may also prohibit future upgrades. If that is the case, you may want to rethink what you actually need or explore other alternatives.
Before developing in-house, sign up for a trial of vendor software to get the basics of what a platform should provide. Many vendors will allow you to run a free trial which will save you time and effort “re-inventing the wheel.”
Rick Armstrong is the founder of QBpro Consulting and an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Rick’s out of the box approach and business experience help business owners with their accounting and IT issues, while allowing them to focus on business success. Rick has over a decade of experience in the accounting field working with SMBs and mid-sized organizations. He is a licensed CPA in the state of California and has all the Intuit ProAdvisor certifications, including QuickBooks Desktop, QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Enterprise with Advanced Inventory and Advanced Reporting.
“The most important feature to look for is…”
The app’s ability to handle the entire product workflow from quote-sales order-invoice as well as purchase order-receiving-bill processing.
You want to work with an app that is proven in the marketplace.
Finally, the ability to accept orders from multiple sales channels is a big plus.
Brent Blackmon is the Director of Business Development at United Warehouse Co. He received his MBA from The Wharton School.
“Most people are looking for ‘bells and whistles’…”
Tools that the inventory management system (IMS) uses to improve data handling, decision analysis, implementation flexibility, and the user interface.
But, most importantly, what you should be looking for are systems that are free from “bugs and weevils.” Generally speaking, the more features and tools and the more flexible the system is to be adapted to a variety of industry needs, the more problematic it becomes for the developer to support over the long term, and the more likely you are to be saddled with issues for your users.
Instead, look for systems that have excellent support from the software developer, and are built on platforms that are universally dominant and broadly supported in the software industry with other long-term development. Systems that are built on the right platform by a reputable developer are going to be more reliable and have fewer issues.
There are a lot of systems that look pretty cool and demo great, but might fumble and fail right when you need them most. System accuracy and performance uptime are more important than any other features. Beyond that, other important features for your IMS depend on how you will use the system:
There are many third-party logistics providers (3PLs), e.g., public warehouses like United Warehouse, that use IMS or WMS to manage the warehouse, not for their own inventory, but for the inventory of their clients. In the case of 3PLs, the ability to manage multiple clients’ inventory in a single warehouse is most critical.
Other important features of the IMS or WMS will also depend on the demands you make on the system, and how you will use it:
Founder of neatly.io and MD of iResources, Jon has over 10 years’ experience working with ecommerce businesses to build and manage their online business.
“This will depend on the nature of your business…”
However, as a rule, your inventory system should monitor your inventory levels in as close to real time as possible. It should also provide you with an estimation of how many days of inventory you have left, allowing you to manage your stock accordingly. These are the basics I’d expect.
An ideal system will also provide you with a re-order report so when stock levels are running low on certain products ranges your system will alert you, create a purchase order and send it off to your supplier so you never have to disappoint a customer again.
Bob Shirilla is the Marketing Director for Simply Bags.
“Integration is key…”
When we investigated inventory management solutions, integration was key. All the inventory management functions are a subset of our Cloud Based Order Management system.
With seamless integration, we can distinguish between warehouse inventory, the number of units allocated to unfulfilled orders, units expected to arrive on pending purchase orders, and true product availability once pending orders are fulfilled.
Drop shippers’ inventory can also be managed together with our warehouse inventory, allowing our team to accurately see how many units are available.
eCommerce success requires a centralized order management and inventory system that integrates with many marketing channels such as Amazon, eBay, Sears, Etsy, and Yahoo Stores.
The cloud-based system has eliminated the need for us to focus on IT training and support. We can see and manage every aspect of our business remotely.
Curtis McCoy is the President of Best Cellular.
“There are a few features that are invaluable with a good inventory management software system, including…”
The ability to duplicate an existing product and make variations when creating a new product or service. For business owners who have (or ever plan to open) more than one location, a cloud based POS is great because of the ability to transfer inventory between locations, etc. A third feature that I’d recommend when looking for an inventory management system is the ability to bulk upload inventory via a spreadsheet.
Lauren Stafford is a WMS Specialist for Explore WMS.
“It’s very difficult to highlight one key feature to look for in an inventory management system…”
Because specific requirements are often interchangeable depending on varying factors, for example, the scale and size of a warehouse, or the type of goods involved. That being said, product traceability should be high on the list of considerations, particularly if there needs to more information beyond quantity and stock keeping unit (SKU) attached to an inventory record. It may be that a business requires lot tracking to monitor batches along the entire supply chain.
Lot tracking should be an integral component for an inventory management system if a company is handling perishable or potentially harmful materials. FDA compliance relies on a robust system in place in the event of a product recall. Investing in lot tracking demonstrates a good level of care over product safety and therefore over consumers.
Robert Ellis is the Owner of Massage Tables Now, an e-commerce store that sells massage equipment and supplies for massage therapists.
“The key to an inventory management software system is one that…”
Makes backorders seamless. Ideally if someone orders an items that is out of stock, then you should receive an automatic alert letting you know which backorders you need to fill for that item.
Neil Mclaren is the Owner/Founder of Vaping.com.
“There are a ton of features to consider when choosing an inventory management software system…”
For a rapidly growing business, scalability may be one of the most critical factors. Some systems are perfect for businesses with a small inventory, but can no longer support the business once their inventory has expanded. It can be an extremely difficult and expensive process to switch services later, as staff will need to be retrained to the new system and the overall operation of the business may have to adapt to the new system’s needs. When choosing a system, make sure that it can scale easily to support your business and inventory growth over the long-term.
Saloni Doshi is the Owner of EcoEnclose, a sustainable packaging company based in Colorado.
“One of the most important features an inventory management software system can have is…”
Kitting or product bundling. Kitting is essentially the ability to easily connect products as parent and child or as related items. This means that if you sell your goods in different units or combinations, your inventory volumes track properly. This can get super tricky for companies that sell bundles that include multiple products, because the product bundle needs to tie to inventory levels for each specific good.
Valentina Ivan is a Marketing Assistant at Megaventory, the online inventory management system that can help small businesses synchronize stock and manage purchases, sales, and manufacturing over multiple stores.
“Inventory management software packages…”
Help companies keep track of the inventory and supplies they use to deliver products to customers more effectively. One of the most important features for an inventory management software system is accessibility. Cloud inventory software is accessible from anywhere on the computer or mobile devices (tablets, smartphones). Authorized users can access all information in real time. The server is managed by the software provider, no need for the internal IT
staff or consultants. Also, employees can enter inventory and asset transactions, review stock availability and locations on the go, using their tablets and mobile phones.
Earl Choate is the CEO of Concrete Camouflage, a manufacturer of artist grade concrete stains and supplies.
“It’s important to be able to easily see the history of how inventory levels have changed…”
This allows you to know the exact amount of stock levels when sales are made. This critical for making sure you have enough products in stock and are up to date with changes in customer demand.
Based in London with over 6 years of experience in Digital Media and Marketing, Nabeel is a regular contributor to the Crozdesk Blog.
“In all the top-scoring inventory management software products listed on our site…”
There is one distinguishing feature that seems to set them apart from the rest – order management. My personal inclination would have been PO management as the most important feature, but perhaps that ties in with my own experiences handling POs in the past. The unique and innovative ways they conduct management of orders seems to have a huge impact on user experience.
Rachel Jia is the technical marketing manager at Dynamsoft, a provider of web and desktop document scanning and related SDKs. In addition to her marketing experience, she also has six years of customer service and technical support experience. This includes having worked on technical imaging and document management requirements of customers from different industries: finance and banking, healthcare, government, and more.
“The most important feature to look for in an inventory management software system is…”
Barcoding capabilities. Barcodes make assets more trackable and auditable. You can easily scan and update the status of an item in your inventory database. It’s efficient and also helps eliminates human errors.
An inventory management software system can benefit from the combination use of linear – or 1D – and 2D barcodes. For example, with a 1D barcode such as a UPC code, you can easily identify an item by an ID number. With a 2D barcode, you can associate more meaningful departmental information beyond device information. For example, you can assign accounting details to know what budget the item came from. You might ID the employee an item is assigned to. You can define a precise location for an item, and more. Simply put, barcodes add layers of convenience to leverage in any good inventory management system.
Rodrigo Montagner is the Senior Information Technology Manager for Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health.
“The most important feature of an inventory management software system is…”
The asset tag and lifecycle feature. It should have a very solid built in technology to avoid maneuvering and unnecessary open security breaches.
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