Small business inventory management

Adapting to the unknown and unexpected

By | 3 minute read | April 15, 2020

The world has changed. People have changed. Demands are evolving. COVID-19 unexpectedly shook the global marketplace and as a result, created a domino effect of challenges for business leaders and consumers alike. Among them? Inventory management. For small and mid-size businesses in particular, the management of dispersed inventory has delivered major disruptions and unexpected experiences. Collectively, this has created frustration and confusion – and yet, in the midst of it all, the opportunity to help people get what they need in a timely manner.

Looking ahead into 2020 and beyond, what inventory challenges do you face? What opportunities do you have to help your clients get what they need through better utilization of inventory? And what can help you bring better clarity to both?

Introduce untraditional strategies into inventory management

Traditionally speaking, inventory should never experience a birthday. After all, once inventory is delivered to a store, the goal is to sell it. For many businesses, seasonal inventory in particular may never have the chance to connect with consumers due to unexpected challenges posed by COVID-19. Keeping this in mind, consider how unanticipated ways inventory management can help you navigate some of these challenges:

Re-allocate inventory slotted for Spring 2020 into Spring 2021. By repositioning both your investment into seasonal inventory – and securing a future time for it to be merchandised, marketed and ultimately sold – you can reduce the possibility of having to mark it down over the course of the next weeks, months and even year ahead. In order to do this, however, you must be financially positioned to continue introducing inventory into the summer, fall and winter seasons despite not selling this previously purchased inventory. The catch will be to shift the dollars already spent into your 2021 budget, opening up your 2020 with less financial expectations.

Introduce new channels into your existing fulfillment strategy. Many organizations depend on one or two selling channels, with physical stores and e-commerce being the most common places to process orders. There are a variety of other ways to connect with customers, however – including selling directly from social media, as well as incorporating delivery and curb-side pick-up options into your fulfillment strategy. Even offering a phone number attached to product images shared on social media can help convert browsers into buyers, if they’re forced to shop from home versus going into your store or ever landing on your website. The main takeaway? Don’t limit your selling avenues to just one or two. The more you can offer, the better.

Offer gift-card sales to be used at a future date. Managing inventory ultimately comes down to managing your collective business expenses. With less sales than expected likely to come into most small, mid and even large businesses during this time, capturing any revenue you can is critical. Encouraging customers to purchase gift cards that they can enjoy at a later date is a win-win scenario. This can bring you revenue and consumer satisfaction. This revenue will then allow you to more comfortably manage existing on-hand inventory and not be forced to mark it down for a quicker sell-through – or worse, a sell-through with little profit gained.

Additionally, one thing business leaders should remember is that while consumers are also experiencing unknown and unexpected challenges, they still appreciate personalized attention. Now is the time for businesses to show a little loyalty to their customer base – new and existing – in order to build a long-lasting relationship. To help achieve this, cognitive technology can review multiple applications used by businesses to better understand customer behavior. As a result, consumers benefit from being supported with personalized customer care no matter where they may decide to shop with your company – social media, website or even through a search engine. Essentially, this data is then collected through cognitive intelligence and allows retailers to better support consumers in their future purchase decisions and alert businesses what inventory they should more proactively sell or shift in their management strategies.

Inventory management software can help ease these challenges as well and shed light on opportunities during unexpected times. When investing in technology to support your unique business, aim to prioritize systems that work together cohesively so that you can gain deeper insights into your business, stronger management across your inventory network and, of course, additional opportunities to help at a time of need.

As many decision-makers know, efficiently managing overhead – dollars and inventory alike – can be essential. Leverage technology to help you achieve this and as a result, you can enjoy a more proactive approach to the unknown and unexpected challenges inventory management may deliver in 2020 and beyond.

This post was sponsored by IBM.

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