Small business inventory control is not what it used to be. Gone are the days where store owners and merchants would count their stock at the end of each day or use the punch card system introduced in the 1930s.
Inventory management has come a long way, products no longer need to be tracked down individually or orders and shipments written down on paper. But there is still room for small business to improve their processes and optimise inventory control.
So, what are the trends and technologies that are the future of small business inventory control?
Cloud software systems
Cloud software solutions are already common-place, most inventory systems are now cloud-based and can be integrated with other online products, allowing data to flow seamlessly between each system. Combining different cloud-based software can be a versatile and cost-effective solution for small business.
Cloud software is scalable which means it can expand to meet your needs as your business grows. With your data in the cloud, you can access it from any place, at any time via a mobile app on your smartphone.
Many software applications also offer customisation to make the entire process more efficient. They can integrate with eCommerce platforms, automate shipping activities and provide detailed data reports about your inventory stock.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) has gained ground in small business inventory control and has been regularly used in warehouses, factories and retail stores for the past 15 years.
Using RFID all product inventory and SKUs are tagged with microchips which when scanned, will automatically transmit information about product type, style, manufacturer and serial number to a central data collection platform. Meaning businesses no longer need to input data by hand because barcode readers scan the products and update databases instantaneously.
RFID tags can transmit information independently, allowing a much greater degree of automation, facilitating better monitoring of stock levels, reducing the risk of theft and providing greater inventory control.
As technology improved the barcode system became an efficient, affordable and widely adopted tool to replace tracking inventory by hand, with barcode scanners.
With this help from scanners, manual counting is replaced with a simplified, automated process that counts and keeps track of your inventory stock. Providing real-time updates every time a product is moved or sold.
Point of Sale systems
Point of Sale (POS) systems are big business for small business and can replace time-consuming manual billing systems. POS inventory management allows business owners to operate from more than one location, effectively keeping track of inventory at each store without the need to be on site.
Technology such as barcodes, scanners, touch screen payment portals and electronic payment options all help to provide an accurate and immediate record of sales as they are made. These tools at the point of sale allow managers real-time visibility of inventory stock to facilitate effective inventory control.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the integration of every electronic device or appliance through the internet and creates great potential regarding small business inventory control.
IoT can be combined with RFID to improve its functionality and change the way small businesses manage inventory. A future of smart stores is likely, where shelves in the store or warehouse are equipped with sensors and cameras, allowing managers to monitor product movement from a central location.
IoT makes robotic carts are a very real possibility. Controlled by a smartphone app, the carts could move around the store autonomously to collect products for a customer.
Effective inventory control is all about having the right product and quantities in the right place, at the right time. It is crucial to keep track of your inventory at various stages from when it has been purchased to when it is sold.
By implementing any of these tools you will get a unique insight into every aspect of your inventory stock, making it easier to maintain optimum inventory control.
Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.