How to Improve Inventory Control: A Detailed Guide

  • By Matthew Davis
  • Feb 19, 2024
  • Loss Prevention

Inventory control isn’t a glamorous topic. But it’s the silent engine powering countless successful companies.

If you don’t have a handle on your warehouse’s inventory control, your business may stumble. Unfortunately, inventory control isn’t easy to fix. It requires a delicate balance between having enough stock to meet demand, without drowning in unsold units.

OK, but what exactly is inventory control?

First, inventory control differs from inventory management. Inventory control, in its simplest form, focuses only on physical inventory. It’s the process of managing the flow of goods through a business.

Therefore, a store inventory control process would include tasks like purchasing, receiving and storing products, and successful inventory control would tell you exactly how much of an item you have on hand at any given moment. Inventory control’s aim is to have the right amount of the right product at the right time.

You’re here because you want to improve the inventory control procedure. And this article offers a deep dive. Keep reading to learn:

  • What inventory control is and how it works
  • The challenges and hidden costs of poor inventory control
  • Practical methods like ABC analysis and forecasting to streamline operations.
  • Leveraging technology to optimize your inventory

What Is Inventory Control?

The aim of retail inventory control is to have the right amount of stock to meet customer demand. This isn’t easy, especially if your warehouse jugs thousands of SKUs. Inventory control helps to solve this problem by:

  • Tracking and monitoring stock levels across all locations.
  • Setting reorder points to automatically trigger new orders.
  • Automating inventory management methods (like FIFO or LIFO) to optimize stock flow.
  • Receiving, labeling and storage of new inventory.
  • Conducting regular cycle counts to verify physical stock levels.

Ultimately, inventory control helps to prevent stockouts and overstocking, and maximizes revenue through reduced carrying costs and less waste.

Inventory Control vs. Inventory Management

Inventory control is not the same as inventory management. They’re often used interchangeably, but the focus of inventory control is much narrower than inventory management.

Inventory Control

Inventory control refers to the organization, tracking, and management of physical inventory. In a nutshell, store inventory control is “stock control.” Its core purpose is to accurately manage physical units and move them through the business.

For example, inventory control might include tasks like:

  • Tracking items by quantity, location and condition.
  • Setting receiving protocols to facilitate warehouse organization.
  • Conducting cycle counts and barcode scanning to maintain the most accurate stock counts.
  • Loss prevention strategies to minimize theft.

Inventory Management

Inventory management, however, includes retail inventory control. But it also includes aspects like forecasting and planning. In other words, inventory control is one aspect of inventory management, which encompasses everything related to inventory.

Inventory management, for example, includes store inventory control as well as tasks like:

  • Demand forecasting to maintain inventory efficiency.
  • Managing the order quantity and timing to minimize overstocking.
  • Maintaining supplier relationships to ensure reliable deliveries and favorable terms.
  • Using inventory data to identify trends, make decisions, and find efficiencies.

Using Technology to Sync Inventory Control and Management

Ultimately, warehouse inventory software typically provides automation and tools to facilitate better inventory control and management. Some of the features you would need include:

  • Barcode scanner integration
  • Reorder reports and adjustments
  • Product details, histories and locations
  • Comprehensive inventory lists and counts
  • Variants for bundles and kitting
  • Syncing on-hand stock with sales and purchase orders

Challenges in Retail Inventory Control

Maintaining optimal inventory levels is critical for businesses – a misstep can lead to lost sales, wasted resources, and unhappy customers.

Here are some of the key obstacles that businesses face in the world of warehouse inventory control:

1. Forecasting Accuracy

Demand forecasting is often predictable and prone to sudden shifts. Seasonality, trends, and economic fluctuations can throw off forecasts. This leads to overstocking, slow-moving inventory, or stockouts of popular products.

Getting better forecasts starts with improving retail inventory control procedures. Accurate and consistent inventory counts, and real-time inventory data help make inventory forecasts more accurate.

2. Bad Data

Controlling physical inventory requires quality data. Unfortunately, inventory data is often inaccurate or incomplete. Missed counts, issues with data sharing (between locations), or mis-scanned items, for example, cause this problem.

Bad data creates a murky overall picture of inventory and hinders data-driven decision making. A missed count, for example, is a fast way to overstock or understock an item.

3. Visibility Issues

Inventory visibility refers to tracking and viewing inventory in real-time. However, in businesses with complex supply chains or large warehouses limited visibility is a real problem. Lost or misplaced inventory translates to lost time and money.

For example, let’s say warehouse staff misplaced a pallet. They placed it behind several products and obscured it from view. This pallet is now unaccounted for and would skew any counts until it is found. Your inventory visibility would be limited.

4. Human Error

Human error causes a lot of store inventory control issues. These errors are often made due to:

  • Ineffective or unclear processes
  • Improper training
  • Communication breakdowns
  • Inefficiencies

Inventory control procedures seek to address these issues by putting clear processes in place.

5. Supply Chain Disruptions

Delays, shortages and price fluctuations can throw off forecasts and strain businesses. Inventory control solves this with reorder automation. This can reduce the need for last-minute ordering, significantly reducing delays.

Overcoming Inventory Control Challenges

Navigating these challenges requires a multi-pronged approach and the right tech tools. First, you must set efficient processes and organization for managing inventory.

Next, focus on utilizing technology to be more efficient. Automation, machine learning-driven forecasting, and multi-location syncing – all features in modern warehouse inventory control tools – will help you get a handle on your inventory faster.

Hidden Costs of Poor Inventory Control

Stagnant revenue can often be tied to poor inventory control. However, this connection isn’t always obvious.

Instead, you might notice your carrying costs (costs to store and handle inventory) going up, low inventory turnover rates, etc. Therefore, it’s important to track and recognize these indicators of poor inventory control. Here are some reasons why inventory control is important:

1. Financial Drain: Carrying costs, markdowns, capital tie-up, and write-offs eat away at profits. Inventory turnover ratio is a great metric to track to better understand the financial impact of inventory.

2. Operational Chaos: Inefficient processes, inaccurate records, and increased employee workload hinder productivity and accuracy. A few metrics to watch include inventory and picking accuracy, as well as put-away cost.

3. Customer Frustration: Stockouts, backorders, and unreliable availability damage brand loyalty and lead to lost sales. You can get a sense from customer reviews and feedback, but also be aware of your on-time delivery rate and packing accuracy.

4. Environmental Footprint: Excess waste and increased transportation contribute to a larger carbon footprint. You might watch metrics like cardboard and packing waste or delivery efficiency.

5. Missed Opportunities: Tied-up capital limits growth potential, and inaccurate forecasts hinder informed decision-making. One small business KPI to consider would be inventory-to-working-capital ratio, which shows how much capital is tied up in inventory. An ideal rate would be 1:1; if you are over 2:1, you likely have an opportunity to improve.

These costs can quickly add up. Therefore, you need inventory management tools that put data at your fingertips. Once you’ve established a baseline, you can begin to make improvements.

Fortunately, there are some fast ways to overcome inefficient inventory control.

Steps for Improving Inventory Control

Maximizing inventory control requires a multi-pronged approach, and it will differ depending on the business type and industry. However, there are some tactics that apply to all businesses.

Here are some ideas to improve inventory control:

1. Know Your Numbers

A strong inventory control plan starts with accurate inventory data. You can then use this to build your inventory optimization plan. You might try:

  • ABC Analysis: Classify your inventory based on value and sales velocity (A: high value/fast moving, B: moderate, C: low). With ABC analysis, you would manage A items closely, while streamlining processes for C items.
  • Demand Forecasting: Use your historical data to build advanced demand forecasts. Inventory control systems typically include machine learning-driven forecasting, which can greatly reduce time and human error.
  • Safety Stock Levels: Maintain a buffer stock for A items to prevent stockouts during unexpected demand surges. Regularly review and adjust these levels based on lead times and supplier reliability.

2. Embrace Technology

Technology is 100% a necessary tool to get better at inventory control. Some of the tools you will need include:

  • Inventory Management Software: Invest in warehouse inventory management software to automate tasks like order processing, stock tracking, and reporting. Inventory control tools will be some of the central integrations of the platform.
  • Barcode/RFID Systems: Use a warehouse barcode scanner or RFID scanning for faster picking, packing, and cycle counts, minimizing errors and streamlining inventory movement.

3. Optimize Your Processes

There are many different approaches to inventory control. Just-in-Time; FIFO and LIFO are some of the methods you can use. Here’s a look at some processes you can implement:

  • Just-in-Time (JIT) Inventory: Aim to receive inventory only when needed for production or sale. This reduces carrying costs and improves cash flow, e.g. a reduced inventory-to-capital ratio.
  • Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI): This type of system means the vendor owns the inventory but would store it in your warehouse. The vendor is therefore responsible for managing inventory levels. A benefit for retailers is that you can leverage the vendor’s expertise and economies of scale. Communication and accurate data are vital for making vendor managed systems work.
  • Regular Cycle Counts: Conduct regular, focused inventory counts instead of full annual audits to identify discrepancies and ensure data accuracy. Barcode and RFID scanning that sync to your inventory database make this possible.

4. Communication is Key

Inventory control doesn’t just happen in the warehouse. There should be synergy between all areas of the business, from sales and marketing to purchasing and operations.

  • Clear communication: Establish clear communication channels between purchasing, sales, and operations to ensure everyone is aligned on inventory needs and forecasts.
  • Demand Collaboration: Encourage sales and marketing teams to share insights on upcoming promotions and potential demand shifts to inform inventory planning.

5. Continuously Improve

Finally, inventory control isn’t a set and forget process. Shifts and changes in demand will always require continual improvement.

  • Review and Analyze: Regularly evaluate your inventory performance, metrics, and processes. Identify areas for improvement and adapt your strategies as needed.
  • Embrace Change: Stay updated on industry trends and new technologies relevant to inventory management. Be willing to adapt and implement innovative solutions.

Must-Have Inventory Control System Features

Ultimately, inventory control software automates many tasks that can help you stay ahead of your stock levels. Some must-have features include:

1. Real-Time Inventory Tracking

Real-time inventory refers to understanding your stock levels across the entire operation – retail stores, warehouse, in-transit – at any moment. Real-time inventory is especially necessary for businesses that do ecommerce.

The reason: You need to update your website regularly, so that your storeroom, retail brick-and-mortar shops, website and warehouse all show accurate data. For example, without it, you would have to manually sync inventory data, which is time-consuming and leads to a lot of errors.

For real-time inventory tracking, you need two tools: barcode scanners and RFID tags. These make it possible to scan inventory at the register or the warehouse, and since that data instantly.

2. Learn Your Reorder Point Formula

Maintaining accurate inventory control requires you to balance demand and supplier reliability. To balance the two, you need to understand the reorder point for every product in your database.

A reorder point is an item’s minimum quantity that triggers automatic replenishment. Inventory control tools use data and machine-learning to suggest reorder point thresholds.

3. Set Reorder Points

Once you’ve estimated a reorder point, you can use automation to trigger the reordering process. This greatly reduces the risk of human error and oversight.

Orders would still need to be accepted. For example, using inventory control software, once a reorder point was met, an order notification would be sent to the warehouse manager. The manager could then accept the order and process it.

4. Use Economic Order Quantity

The economic order quantity, or EOQ, refers to the optimum stock level the warehouse should maintain. Again, for a warehouse managing thousands of SKUs, this process is time-consuming. This is another method because FIFO or LIFO.

Software automates the process. They use data like demand forecasts, annual fixed costs of items, and the carrying cost per unit to fine-tune the EOQ. This can greatly reduce carrying costs for warehouses.

5. Issue Quality Control

The quality of products is important to monitor, and software makes it easier. During regular cycle counts or doing a warehouse-wide QC assessment, you can mark products that fail QC as “On Hold”. This will prevent the product from being stocked or sold to customers.

6. Stocked and Non-Stocked Items

Accurately differentiating between items that are “stocked” versus “non-stocked” is one of the most critical aspects of inventory control. These terms have nothing to do with whether an item is housed in your warehouse. Rather, these are accounting terms that will ultimately simplify your financials and reporting.

A “stocked” item refers to a traditional inventory item that will reflect on your company’s Balance Sheet as an asset. A “non-stocked” item, because it’s typically “bought and sold” quickly, will impact your company’s Profit & Loss Statement as either an expense or a COGS. Designating the classification “stocked” or “non-stocked” to each inventory item within your software should be done when you first enter the item, along with all its pertinent information, into the system.

7. Conduct Regular Audits

Performing regular audits is another important process for managers that want to maintain inventory control at their warehouse. Warehousing high levels of inventory stock generally leads to overstocking, an unnecessary expense that impacts cash flow. Measurable costs are associated with shelving items, and depending on whether those items are classified as “stocked” or “non-stocked”, your financial reporting could end up appearing inaccurate.

The key is to only warehouse an optimal quantity of each item, not too much and not too little. Your inventory management software is your best tool for conducting inventory audits in an efficient, streamlined manner.

Wrapping Up

Choosing inventory management software isn’t an easy decision to make. But it’s critical for gaining control of your inventory, reducing costs, and improving warehouse customer service. This is especially true as your business scales.

FTx POS includes a variety of warehouse management tools that are designed to help multi-location retailers succeed. Our warehouse management software includes:

Sign up now and get 10% off your first year. Contact our sales team today to learn more.

FAQs

Inaccuracy leading to stockouts and overstocking, slow picking and packing times, inefficient layouts wasting space, lack of automation hindering productivity, and even theft impacting stock levels.

Start by assessing your current processes. Identify bottlenecks, areas with high error rates, and inefficient workflows. Then, choose relevant strategies like barcode scanners, cycle counts, or layout optimization based on your specific needs. Implement changes gradually, monitor results, and adjust as needed.

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) provide a centralized platform for managing inventory data, streamlining processes, and optimizing picking routes. Barcode scanners and RFID tags improve picking accuracy and real-time tracking. Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) can significantly boost efficiency and space utilization.

The frequency depends on the value and demand of your items. High-value or fast-moving items might need monthly counts, while slower-moving ones could be counted quarterly. A risk-based approach helps prioritize the most critical items.

Implement clear labeling and zoning in your warehouse for easier item identification and navigation. Conduct regular staff training on proper inventory handling procedures. Leverage forecasting tools to anticipate demand and optimize stock levels. By addressing these basic areas, you can see noticeable improvements in accuracy and efficiency.

Remember, continuous improvement is key. Regularly re-evaluate your processes, adapt to changing needs, and embrace new technologies to keep your warehouse inventory control sharp.

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Business Experts & Contributors

A New Solution Coming To FasTrax

Danielle is a content writer at FTx POS. She specializes in writing about all-in-one, cutting-edge POS and business solutions that can help companies stand out. In addition to her passions for reading and writing, she also enjoys crafts and watching documentaries.

Danielle Dixon

Content Writer
A New Solution Coming To FasTrax

Matthew Davis is a content marketing specialist for FTx POS. With experience in marketing, brick-and-mortar retail, and ecommerce, Matthew enjoys writing about strategies and technology retailers can use to grow. Previously, he managed retail operations for a sports/entertainment facility and worked in marketing consulting.

Matthew Davis

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