Managing inventory is hard enough at any time within a normal business cycle. It becomes increasingly challenging over the holiday season when most retailers experience major peaks in demand for many goods and services.
The holiday season is not only busy but often unpredictable and can really mess with your stock control. Unseasonable weather patterns can make it difficult to foresee the direction of consumer demand and natural or man-made disasters can even flip demand trends on their head.
Holiday inventory must be managed holistically across all channels. Stock control should be overseen everywhere an order can be placed, or a sales transaction occurs; from point-of-sale purchasing at brick and mortar stores, to sales teams, website and telephone orders.
The worst possible scenario during the holiday season is to run out of popular items while having surplus quantities of others. Most businesses will probably have a relatively good idea of what products are their best sellers. It’s reasonable to imagine that popular items will continue to perform well leading into the holiday period.
It’s also important to look at historical data for the same period as it will provide valuable insights into seasonal trends. External scanning can indicate potential demand for new products, styles and fad. Online inventory management tools will help to determine what will sell, how much stock is needed and what seasonal sales targets should be set.
Effective online inventory management systems help organisations to avoid knee-jerk responses and be proactive in meeting seasonal holiday demand. Predictive analysis software will assist businesses in improving their forecast accuracy, and can help to optimise inventory replenishment and distribution across all locations.
Implementing automated, online inventory management software will provide you with real-time information that tracks your inventory and alerts you when stocks are running low. Advanced systems will automatically place orders to replenish stock when inventory drops below a specified level, enabling you to provide exceptional customer service by avoiding stock-outs in peak demand.
Optimise warehouse operations
The time to organise your warehouse is before the holiday season begins. A well-maintained warehouse is vital to managing the avalanche of orders you will receive during this busy sales period. Having a place for everything, and everything in its place will make a big difference in warehouse efficiency and staff productivity.
Streamline your processes so that orders can be efficiently picked, packed and shipped. By integrating stock control systems across all areas, from the sales floor or e-commerce sites through to warehouse shipping and dispatch, staff will all be working with the same real-time information.
Do you have a robust returns policy? Has it been reviewed ahead of time to determine if improvements can be made? Returns can’t be avoided and are likely to increase over the holiday season as customers return unwanted gifts, exchange products or swap sizes. Having an efficient returns policy can simplify the process for both customers and employees.
Clearly communicate the returns policy to all staff making it easier for them to competently process returns, maintain customer service satisfaction and have the returned merchandise quickly back in stock for resale.
Finally, but crucially, have mutually beneficial relationships in place with suppliers. Without them, none of the above will matter.
Who are your B2B partners? Have you negotiated expected order quantities and timelines? Ensure that you have an established reorder point and be clear on stock availability and delivery schedules. Work with suppliers to determine if there are adequate substitutes available in case product become unavailable.
Vendor management is an important aspect of stock control. It is particularly important to have exceptional supplier relationships when reordering and replenishing in this time-critical holiday season.
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.