Inventory management is a critical process in all industries, including e-commerce companies that deal in physical goods. Balance is key when it comes to inventory management. Insufficient stock means the brand is unable to meet customer needs, while an excess portends significant financial losses. Under package X, only 43% of the small businesses track and manage their inventory. Some of the medium to large companies that do manage inventory optimally. With the integration of AI into inventory management, every ecommerce company – regardless of size – now has the opportunity to perfect this important part of their business.
WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF STOCK MANAGEMENT?
Inventory management refers to the steps and strategies involved in managing the company's inventory throughout life cycle. It includes the procurement of raw materials, the storage of goods and the distribution of finished products to the end consumers. The main goal of this important business process is to strike a balance between sufficient flow of goods to meet customer demand and minimizing the cost implications of overstocking. Striking this balance ensures uninterrupted delivery of goods to customers at the right time and at the lowest possible cost for the company.
To successfully perform inventory management, a company must pay attention to several key components of the practice. It starts with purchasing, which involves acquiring raw materials or finished products. After purchasing inventory, it must be stored in appropriate warehouses. Subsequently, stock usage and movement are closely tracked and monitored. These steps are supported by critical strategies such as demand forecasting to estimate future customer demand and inventory analysis and reporting to discover insights for inventory optimization. Inventory management is an ongoing process that involves many stakeholders with a lot of expertise and the right tools, but it opens up a world of benefits for companies that get it right.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EFFECTIVE STOCK MANAGEMENT?
Effectively managing an ecommerce brand's inventory means making products available for purchase on demand and avoiding unnecessary costs associated with overstocking. When brands achieve these goals, they will experience the many benefits of inventory management, including:
IMPROVED CUSTOMER SATISFACTION
Providing customers with delicious and satisfying customer experiences is the focus of most companies today. With effective inventory management, causes of customer frustration, such as running out of stock or waiting for backorders to be fulfilled, are minimized. Orders are also fulfilled without significant delays and companies can negotiate the return and exchange of products for customers without any problems. These experiences are sure to increase customer trust in the brand, fostering retention and higher lifetime value.
The quality of a brand's inventory management will significantly impact its overall financial performance. This is because efficient inventory management prevents overstocking, which can lead to losses due to products becoming damaged or obsolete. Furthermore, costs associated with holding stocks, such as storage costs and labor costs. By avoiding these unnecessary expenses, companies can make more money available for other activities, such as marketing and product development. Hence, cost savings and revenue generation increase overall profit margins.
Efficient inventory management promotes business process optimization through careful, informed, data-driven decision-making. For example, an ecommerce brand can optimize its purchasing strategies by better selecting suppliers and closing more favorable deals at reorder points. Likewise, companies can forecast demand more accurately by analyzing the data related to inventory flow over time. In addition, inventory management shows companies the products their customers demand most, allowing them to stock up on these high-performing goods. By leveraging the data from inventory management, companies can move one step closer to operational excellence.
HOW CAN AI HELP COMPANIES OPTIMIZE INVENTORY MANAGEMENT?
Since inventory management is so important to the success or failure of a business, it is advisable to use the best tools to streamline and automate the process. Artificial intelligence offers intelligent solutions to brands that want to optimize the flow of goods from their storage units to the hands of the customers. Here are four ways to apply AI's superior computing power to the process of managing inventory purchase, usage, and movement:
ADVANCED DEMAND FORECAST
Demand forecasting is a critical aspect of inventory management, as it helps companies predict future demand and adjust inventory accordingly. Accurate demand forecasting requires analysis of large and diverse data sets that can overwhelm traditional analytical tools. However, AI has the necessary robustness. For example, the AI model can be fed with historical sales data, market trends and customer behavior and preferences. It can even take into account sources such as supplier data and seasonal trends. All of these sources provide extensive data that AI can analyze, leading to the discovery of numerous patterns and correlations that can improve the accuracy of the demand forecasting process.
In addition, machine learning capabilities allow AI models to learn and adapt to new and emerging data that could impact future demand. As the predictive model receives feedback on the accuracy of past forecasts, it can make adjustments to improve accuracy. In addition, AI provides real-time forecasting that allows businesses to quickly respond to changes in market trends, customer demands, and supplier availability. By combining these functions, AI can deliver superior demand forecasts that increase the quality of inventory management.
REAL-TIME VISIBILITY OF INVENTORY
For companies looking to scale inventory management, real-time inventory visibility is important. AI-powered inventory management solutions integrate data from online sales platforms, warehouse management systems and POS systems into a centralized platform for a comprehensive view of the company's inventory. In addition, AI provides real-time inventory updates after orders are placed, sales are made, or raw materials are purchased. With real-time data, companies can make informed decisions about inventory.
Another key feature of AI-powered inventory management systems is that it provides real-time, cross-channel inventory visibility. This feature is crucial because ecommerce brands often sell through multiple sales channels, including their website, online marketplaces, social media, and physical stores. A unified view of inventory will improve inventory allocation by allowing companies to make informed decisions based on available inventory. For example, if the product is not available in one of the physical stores, the system can offer to ship it to the customer from another location. Alternatively, the system can initiate a drop-ship order with one of the suppliers. This ensures that the order is fulfilled and that customer demand is met at all times.
INTELLIGENT AUTOMATED REFILL
Stocks need to be replenished quickly to maintain the stock flow within the company. AI algorithms can apply intelligent stock replenishment solutions by automatically generating purchase orders when stock or demand reaches certain thresholds. This automated replenishment is data-driven, as it takes into account real-time inventory data and demand forecasts. The analytical process also takes into account historical sales data, seasonality and safety stock levels. These variable factors are weighed against the fixed replenishment threshold to determine the optimal purchase time and order size. By using this AI feature, your business will reduce the need for manual intervention in restocking, ensuring the process is free from costly errors and delays.
INVENTORY ANALYSIS AND REPORTING
Stock management is a continuous process that requires regular adjustments to optimize the process. As such, it requires advanced analytics and reporting to accurately assess the quality of current management practices and discover insights for improvement. The power of AI as an analytical tool is well established and can be applied to various areas of inventory management. For example, AI can analyze and calculate key inventory metrics to provide an objective view of inventory performance. This includes metrics such as inventory turnover, which measures the frequency with which inventory is replenished and sold, and inventory management costs, which estimate the cost of maintaining inventory.
In addition, AI analytics can evaluate demand forecasts and identify tactics to improve process accuracy. It can also reveal barriers to inventory flow optimization, such as stock delays from suppliers and slow delivery by the logistics team. Harnessing the analytical power of AI in these and other ways allows for proactive inventory management. The accurate analysis and user-friendly reporting point out the areas that need improvement so that appropriate strategies can be formulated. Companies can make smarter decisions based on up-to-date data.
In short, inventory management is an important practice for businesses of all sizes. By handling this process efficiently, you ensure that your ecommerce brand never runs out of product or too much, preserving the delicate balance between meeting customer requirements and remaining profitable. Artificial intelligence can be a game changer for optimizing inventory through accurate demand forecasting, real-time inventory visibility, reliable automated replenishment, and advanced analytics and reporting. Invest in this technology to take your inventory management to the next level.