As the busy shopping season winds down and Black Friday and Cyber Monday fade into memory, it will soon be time to take stock and see how you faced up to the competition. If you’re like most small businesses in the retail distribution supply chain, you may have found it difficult to have clear visibility into your inventory availability, leading to more stress than excitement.

Promises, Promises

Retailers large and small experience a hectic flurry of organizing and planning in preparation for big sales — at any time of year. But with the opportunity to move inventory and increase revenue that the end of year provides, it’s critical for businesses to be as prepared as possible. Sales can stress your supply chain to the maximum, and test your ability to provide the best service for your customers (who are often also stressed).

Even with thorough preparation and great customer service, poor inventory management can sabotage your best efforts. Accurate and timely product delivery is crucial for customer satisfaction. Beyond friendly service, effectively managing multiple sales channels in an omnichannel world has become the make-or-break difference in the industry. Poor inventory management leads to making promises to customers that you can’t keep, and ultimately will destroy relationships and cost valuable revenue. Retailers and etailers need to know precisely what they have to offer, and not just make assumptions to fulfill orders. 

It's in the Details

Managing inventory may sound simple enough, but in reality it can be very challenging to do properly without the right inventory management system. Overseeing and preventing small discrepancies in inventory reporting — such as item color, size or quantity — can make all the difference.

Small and medium sized business (SMBs) in particular can struggle to find a solution to fit their needs. After outgrowing accounting systems (which are intended for small businesses), many companies bolt on inexpensive remote ordering apps that are not powerful enough for their needs — i.e., they’re not designed to be complete omnichannel inventory systems. These businesses need a more flexible, agile platform that can scale with them and help them stay competitive.

So what should a SMB look for in an inventory management system? Mobile access, easy integration, real-time processing of disparate information, management of products in the way the business uses them, and available inventory forecasting for starters. Any delay in information and updates will fundamentally disrupt business, as it leads to unrealistic promises for merchandise in windows of time that cannot be met. You need to empower your salespeople with instantaneous access to accurate, real-time inventory information.

Investing for the Long Run

Small businesses have historically struggled with acquiring an inventory management system. While the systems of value tend to be expensive and complicated, the affordable small business options lack return on investment (ROI). Web-based technology is changing that, offering small businesses inventory management capabilities comparable to those of their larger competitors — but without the cost and complexity.

“Delivering products to customers accurately and on-time is as important, if not more important, than the sale itself,” explained Marc Kalman, CEO of BizSlate Inc. “When investing in a new solution, it is important to plan for short and mid-term growth. Don’t just spend money on a bandaid that fixes the short-term problem. Think ahead and give your business a solution to grow into. Changing inventory systems multiple times during your business’ evolution can be costly and disruptive, but will be necessary if you fail to take the proper steps now.”

Remember that proper inventory management is the best form of customer service. Don’t strangle your business by avoiding the appropriate investments for keeping your customers happy. So while it might be too late for this holiday season, consistent, satisfactory delivery of products will help you earn customer loyalty, which will pay off in the long run.

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