What Must the Best Inventory Management Software Have?
Booking in stock. Receiving orders. Creating pick lists. Picking stock. Packing orders. Handling returns. Marking down damaged or out of date items. Raising purchase orders.
These actions are at the core of warehouse operations. They form a key part of inventory management.
But is that all you want inventory management software to do?
Let’s begin with the most obvious question.
Why Use Inventory Management Software Rather than Do It Manually?
· Save Time
It’s almost a given, but one of the major reasons businesses turn to software is efficiency. Only taking half the time to record something or look it up saves man-hours every week. So, this gets to be first on our list. It may be obvious but it’s also essential.
· Double Check/Sense Check
On a busy day, even the best staff member can feel rushed or distracted. And when we’re distracted, we make errors. Maybe we’d notice that we entered the wrong brand or the wrong size for one product while booking in six. Maybe not. A modern inventory management system should be able to compare what you scan into inventory against the purchase order in the system, and flag it.
Being able to ‘sense check’ an error like that, and to double check the number booked in against the number on the order, can be vital.
The risk of error and the lost time come in again whenever data needs to be re-entered into new software. Today’s software should integrate with other essential operational software.
Directly updating records in your accounts package to reflect restocking, shipping costs, shrinkage, etc., gives you a clearer real-time picture of your business.
Integrating with courier services can speed up the often tedious process of booking orders in. Together with picking and packing orders, booking shipping is one of the biggest bottlenecks in order processing. The time you spend booking delivery for each order limits how many orders you can ship each day.
Preparing orders, handling returns, and more all benefit from an integrated Customer Records Management system or CRM. There’s less risk of transcription error. And being able to access all information from the same program is a huge advantage.
· Multi-Location Support
Many large eCommerce retailers maintain more than one warehouse. Storing the same product in multiple locations means a simple ledger can’t work. In fact, basic software won’t work either – you need software capable of tracking overall stock level plus levels in different locations.
You’ll also benefit from software which assigns an order to a single warehouse, so you don’t risk shipping two packages for the same order.
· User Access
Non-software solutions mean only one person can access and update records at a time, or in multiple, more accessible, but contradictory records. The only way to keep a correct record which more than one person can use at once is with software. Not just any software, either – many small businesses report issues with contradictory or overwritten Excel documents as the reason they had to adopt actual inventory management software instead.
Some inventory management software scales fees based on the number of users who need access. This can result in surprise costs during expansion.
What Else Should You Look for In Your Ideal Inventory Management Software?
Ease of Use
If inventory management requires accuracy and speed, it’s important that using the software is easy.
That may mean easy after your team is trained. In fact, it probably should mean that. Software that’s easy to use without training may hide essential features (meaning your team never gets used to using them) or even skip some of the functionality you want.
It doesn’t mean easy to set up, either. Unless you’re installing your software at the same time you start your business, set up has some key, time-consuming steps to take.
For example, you’ll need to carry out an audit of your current inventory. That inventory will need entering into your new software.
If you sell on more than one sales channel, do you use the same SKU in all locations? Even the best inventory management software on the market won’t give you accurate inventory until you reconcile these. This process – setting one SKU set as the master list and producing a complete record of all the different SKUs it is sold as – is often known as ‘product mapping’.
Your software should make product mapping as easy as possible to do, but the work still needs to be done. ‘Easy setup’ inventory management software is a recipe for trouble down the line.
What’s important is that once trained, your team can use the software easily and get full benefit from it.
Most modern retailers sell through more than one channel. In the spirit of integration, it’s important for your inventory management software to easily process orders from each channel used.
If your inventory management software automatically generates pick and pack lists for your orders (and it should), can it prioritise orders from channels which require faster response?
Operating across multiple computers is essential once a business grows large enough. Cloud operation makes it easier to swap new devices in as the business upgrades, and allows business owners to check their inventory on the go.
Wireless barcode scanners and tablets connected to your cloud system also provide warehouse workers with real-time information and tools. They can carry out their jobs much more effectively.
Choosing the Best Inventory Management Software
As you can see, there are a lot of things you’ll want your inventory management software to do. The best inventory management software delivers in all these categories. But it also offers some extras, delivering more than the competition.
Perhaps you want shipping to be booked automatically for your orders. Or you might want purchase orders to be automatically created and updated as stock drops below a certain level.
Outside of the software itself, consider the payment plan. Will your potential software scale with you? Are some core features only available above a certain price? Will you have to pay more the more personnel and locations it looks after?
Inventory management software should help your business grow. It’s worth making sure it will grow with you.