Choosing the best inventory management software isn’t easy. You’ve got to consider your industry, costs, features, customer support, and numerous other nuanced factors only you can know about.
This guide is designed to inform you which features are most important, the best time to invest in inventory software, and the costs you can expect to pay.
In this guide to finding the best inventory management software:
What’s the best inventory management software for you? Key considerations
Manual management of inventory is time-consuming and prone to error.
Inventory management software creates a streamlined system for the business to track stock levels and fulfilment progress. It can automatically restock required inventory, forecast future order needs, and offer detailed reports to support data-driven business decisions.
When shopping for inventory software, first determine your answers to the following questions.
What’s your budget?
The first step when looking to invest is to determine how much budget you have.
This allows you to assess which systems fall within your budget.
As a rough guide, the average cost of an inventory management system is USD$150 per month. This excludes onboarding costs, which range from $789, and customer support packages, which cost around $80 per month.
There may also be a one-time licensing fee and third-party integration costs (should the vendor’s software not organically integrate with your other systems).
Do you require a system that can scale with you?
Consider your business size and its potential.
The growth trajectory of the business and its potential for high sales on a certain day – Black Friday or Cyber Monday, for example – should guide your decision around product capability.
It’s important to choose inventory management software that has the capacity to handle spikes or increasing amounts of data over time. However, balance this against the budget – you don’t want to pay for high data capacity if it is an occasional event, or to a level not expected for some years.
What features do you require?
The best inventory software is one that’s suited specifically to your business needs. Consider the software features that are most useful in your business.
The essential inventory software features include:
- Real-time inventory tracking
- Stock tracking
- Low supply alerts
- Supplier management tools
- Detailed reporting
- Unlimited SKUs.
These features allow you full overview and control of inventory movement, meaning you can respond to demand without the risk of over- or under-stocking. Unlimited SKUs are necessary to ensure you can adapt your inventory management to changes in consumer demand, trends, or business growth.
Beyond these basics, most of the best inventory management software systems will offer industry-specific tools as well. For example, if you’re in the manufacturing business, you’ll also require assembly kitting and BOM functionalities.
Can you trust the provider?
Any system in which you input your valuable data must be reliable, consistent, and offer rapid support should anything go wrong. It must also have strong data protection policies and protections.
A warning of what can go wrong can be seen in Intuit’s purchase of TradeGecko.
After the $80 million purchase, TradeGecko as a standalone product was retired by its new owners. It seems the purchase was driven by an up-sell and cross-sell strategy, with an aim of up-selling the inventory management module to its QuickBooks user base, a move that left existing customers furious.
How well does it integrate with your existing (and future) systems?
Any inventory management software that you invest in must be able to integrate with your existing systems such as your ecommerce platform, accounting software, and customer management tools. Effective integration means workflows can continue uninterrupted, but with improved capacity.
It’s also important to consider future plans, as you may need more complex integrations and need to be confident they will be possible with your selected inventory management software.
Sourcing the best inventory management software for your industry
Choosing the right inventory management software means considering the needs of your business, but also more broadly, the demands of the sector or industry.
Below, we outline the considerations that should be in play.
The best inventory management software for small businesses
If you run a small business, you likely have a limited budget and resources. Investing in software will be valuable, as long as it’s affordable and provides the right features.
Features to look for in small business inventory software:
- A simple, user-friendly interface. This will ensure staff across the business will be able to use it, with minimal training.
- Integrates smoothly into your systems. Look for software that integrates with your other tools without the need for additional API integrations or costs. This will ensure there is minimal ‘faffing about’ when the system is integrated and lessens the risk of broader disruption to the business.
- Mobile capacity. Running a small business often means responding to customers or suppliers while on the go. Being able to do this from a phone or tablet will save time for a small business.
- Customer support. A small business is likely to have limited (or no) IT support, so will need fast access to support should any glitches arise.
- Designed to scale. Make sure any system you choose will grow with the business. It may be a small business now but it might not be forever.
How much can you expect to pay for small business inventory management software?
Inventory cost is critical for any business, but even more so for a small business. Small business owners will need to look for affordable products, but ones with the option to expand as required.
Although many features are ubiquitous among systems, inventory management software pricing varies greatly. While some are targeted at major enterprises, there are affordable inventory systems that can deliver notable gains in productivity and profit.
Expect to pay anywhere from $80 per month right into the thousands of dollars. For a small business looking for well-priced inventory system with the capacity to scale, Unleashed software offers the best of both worlds.
The best inventory management software for manufacturing
Inventory management software is especially important in manufacturing. The quantity of inventory being shifted and the need to ensure stock is retained at the right level means the right software is an invaluable tool.
Features to look for in manufacturing inventory software:
- Batch tracking. Batch tracking is the practice of grouping similar items in a ‘batch’ that can be tracked together, from supplier to consumer. This delivers efficiency and traceability.
- Bill of Materials (BOM) management. A BOM is a central information source, detailing what a product needs to be manufactured and how to do it. Bill of Materials management means the various materials needed to create the product can be tracked and reordered as necessary.
- Supplier management. Supply chain management is also important for a manufacturer, to make sure raw materials are ordered and will arrive in time to be utilised for the final product.
- Track and trace. The ability to track and trace products is important for transparency, and to be able to react rapidly if there are any issues such as a batch going missing or being delivered to an incorrect address.
- Business intelligence. Insightful reporting not only enables a business to ensure its supply chain is efficient, but it also offers the ability to manage demand and forecast changes in customer patterns or trends.
Learn more: 15 Types of Manufacturing Software & Who Benefits From Each
The best inventory management software for ecommerce
Ecommerce inventory software should be centred on the customer experience, with features that ensure a smooth user journey.
Features to look for in ecommerce inventory management software:
- Ecommerce platform integration. Integration into the back and front end of an online platform is vital for an ecommerce company. Consider which ecommerce platform (or platforms) you will be using to ensure integration is smooth and doesn’t create glitches for the customer.
- Real-time inventory tracking. Ecommerce generally deals with high-turnover products, and as such real-time inventory tracking is hugely important. Real-time inventory tracking ensures products are stocked and delivered in line with customer demand.
- Multi-channel inventory tracking. The ability to track inventory sales across channels including ecommerce platforms, marketplaces, and in-house websites means stock is replenished at the right speed and customers are not left in the lurch.
- Mobile access. Consumers are increasingly reliant on their mobile devices and m-commerce sales are expected to surpass 43% of ecommerce sales in 2023. User experiences such as one-click sales, or the ability to easily authorise credit card payments are contributing to the rise in m-commerce sales.
The best inventory management software for customer support and onboarding
Implementing a new software system is no small task. As such, you’ll want to be sure you can trust your provider to help you – not just with onboarding, but for any troubleshooting further down the track as well.
At Unleashed, we’re proud of our dedication to customer support and onboarding.
These efforts are reflected in our TrustPilot reviews:
“I have almost completed my onboarding with Jue Wang and I cannot speak highly enough of her professionalism, helpfulness and follow-ups from our sessions which made the transition to Unleashed software as smooth as possible.”
- Lorraine W, via TrustPilot
“Fantastic email support when I faced an integration issue that had me stumped. Callum was brilliant and I’m impressed that, even as a very small biz Unleashed user, they’re still here for you.”
- Vikki, via TrustPilot
“One thing that makes a great program even better is the support from the Unleashed team! It’s been nothing short of amazing.”
- Nick, via TrustPilot
“We have used Unleashed for more than 3 months now and it has given us great clarity across our products, bill of materials, suppliers and customers and most importantly landed costs. The onboarding support of the Unleashed team has been fantastic, very helpful, and timely in resolving issues or answering our questions.”
- Deutsch Medical, via TrustPilot
There’s nothing worse than committing to a major software upgrade, getting through the onboarding stage, and finding yourself up a river without a paddle. Make sure the provider you go with has a good track record of helping customers at every stage of the purchasing cycle.
Spreadsheets & accounting software vs. inventory management software
Spreadsheets and accounting software are useful for inventory management, but they are far more limited than inventory management software.
The limitations of spreadsheet-based inventory control include:
- Simplicity. Inventory management software is able to handle more complex and sophisticated data sets than spreadsheets. For example, it can handle geographic information, tracking and real-time data.
- Data entry. Inventory management software automates data entry, analysis, and future forecasts – a far more efficient way of operating than manually inputting data sets into a spreadsheet. The labour-heavy requirements of spreadsheets also open up the risk of errors, which can lead to under or over-stocking.
- Accessibility. One of the major benefits of cloud software is its ability to share information in real time across devices. This means anyone who is authorised can jump in and view the datasets at any time and assess what that information might mean for business decisions.
- Automation. Inventory management software enables the automation of processes such as stock alerts and supplier management. This supports far more efficient systems than if they were managed manually, through spreadsheets or accounting software.
What’s the best time to invest in inventory management software?
Investing in inventory management software is a significant financial decision, but one that is near inevitable for any business which stores inventory. The question is not if it should be done, but when.
Below are some key criteria to consider when deciding if it’s time to upgrade your inventory system.
Is your business growing?
If your business is on a growth trajectory or expanding into new markets, now is a good time to invest in inventory management software. Businesses often start with manual inventory tracking systems but should shift to specialised software systems as they grow.
Ideally, the investment should come at the beginning of the growth curve, so they are embedded in the systems and don’t have to be retrospectively integrated after the initial growth phase.
Are you carrying high costs?
If you have identified high inventory costs as a result of inefficient labour use and a reliance on manual systems, it’s likely time to invest in inventory management software. Doing so will inevitably save on costs as the automated systems minimise any over- or under-stocking.
- Learn more: The Ultimate Inventory Accounting Guide
Is your tracking inaccurate?
If you are finding inaccuracies in your data, it will be time to invest in inventory management software. Inaccuracies are common in manual systems and can lead to major problems with stocking levels.
- Learn more: 8 Strategies to Improve Inventory Accuracy