Making the step up to cloud inventory management is a monumental moment for your product business. And cloud software provides the most sophisticated technology — at the most affordable price point.

However, some will benefit from cloud inventory management more than others. Follow this section of our cloud software guide to identify whether you need an upgrade now.

If you’re sure that you’ll benefit from a better system, then skip straight to choosing the best inventory software.

What is cloud inventory management software?

Cloud inventory management software is a type of inventory system that utilises the power of cloud computing. It differs from other solutions in two ways:

  • It’s designed specifically for the task of managing products and operations (unlike, for instance, the inventory module in an accounting solution)
  • It’s hosted online. So you can access it from any computer (unlike Excel) and you won’t have to install anything (unlike, say, an ERP)

Who uses inventory management software?

Any business that makes, manages or moves products will need cloud inventory management sooner or later.

But that covers a wide variety of businesses. An artisan bread maker and a lighting parts wholesaler, for example, have little in common — except that both are passionate about their products. And while they’ll both benefit from taking their stock management online, they may do so in different ways.

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Key benefits of cloud inventory management software

The improvements you can make to a product business using cloud inventory management software are varied and numerous. Which is great, but it can make it tough to decide exactly what you want to achieve.

Happily, these improvements can be split into three broad areas: improving efficiency, growing sales revenue and scaling.

Achieving efficiency

Inefficient product management holds businesses back. Growing a company is difficult when stock is going missing, levels are off and suppliers aren’t performing properly.

Here are three ways that the cloud can make you more productive.

1. Seeing where stock is

Upgrading from a periodic system to perpetual inventory management gives you complete clarity over where goods are without relying solely on stocktakes. With Unleashed, you’ll be able to see what’s in each warehouse — and what’s allocated to sales orders — at any time, from any location.

2. Matching levels to demand

Achieving a balance between risking stockouts and overstocking can be tricky. But by looking into past sales data to forecast demand, as well as using low-stock alerts and automatic reordering, you can avoid stockouts without wasting money on excess safety stock.

3. Managing suppliers

Supplier relationships are crucial to any product-based business. With cloud inventory management, you can see who’s delivering on time, and who’s got the most competitive prices. It’s indispensable when negotiating on future contracts.

Growing sales

Sales are the backbone of any business. An effective inventory system is often the key to maximising sales — ensuring that salespeople and channels are performing to their maximum potential and customers want to come back for more.

Here are four ways that cloud inventory can power sales growth.

1. Empowering salespeople

Knowing what’s in stock, and when the customer might get their goods, helps salespeople to close. Cloud inventory systems make that information easy to find.

Unleashed, for example, comes with a Sales App that puts all the data your team needs to sell right at their fingertips, wherever they are. That means no more waiting for a spreadsheet to load, or manually checking the storeroom to see what’s inside.

2. Keeping customers happy

Dedicated inventory management doesn’t just help in bringing new customers on board. By facilitating fast order fulfilment — and giving customers all the information they want before they make a purchase — it’ll help improve customer satisfaction as well.

3. Syncing sales channels

Adding new sales channels is a great way to access new opportunities. Cloud inventory makes selling and managing products across online stores, POS, and B2B much more straightforward.

Unleashed, for instance, comes with managed two-way integrations with leading sales channels including Shopify, Magento, Amazon and Vend — plus its very own B2B eCommerce Store.

4. Optimising everything

Learning from past mistakes and successes is pivotal to ensuring sales growth. Cloud inventory management systems come with comprehensive reporting tools to analyse which products, channels, salespeople and regions are delivering ROI.

Find out more about growing sales with inventory management.

Scaling

Growing operations without increasing costs and wasted time is a challenge for any successful company. Here’s how upgrading your software management can help with adding new locations and SKUs, saving time and keeping staff costs in check.

1. Adding warehouses and SKUs

Adding a new stock location is a key milestone for a product business — but the extra complexity it brings can stretch your system to breaking point. With a dedicated system in place, adding a new stock location, SKU or sales channel takes minutes, not days.

2. Saving time

Cloud inventory enables you to automate the tasks that eat into your day-to-day as the company grows, so you can spend more time on high-value tasks. It’s a great way to deliver sustainable growth that doesn’t burn out employees and owners alike.

3. Staff costs

Improving efficiency means doing more with the resources you have. Unleashed customers have used cloud inventory management to scale their operations without employing a supply chain expert, or eating into their margins with an increased wage bill.

These are some of the headline benefits of a new system, but there are lots of specific improvements you can achieve as well. Read five more benefits of cloud inventory management.

Does my business need cloud inventory management software?

Now you know what cloud inventory management software is capable of, it’s time to assess whether your business will benefit from an upgrade.

How complex are your operations?

Smaller product businesses might be able to get by on spreadsheets — but you’ll encounter issues as you deal with complicated orders, add new SKUs and increase headcount. At some point, you’ll need a system that supports your growth: and cloud inventory does just that.

So how do you know when you’ve outgrown your current system? Here are some warning signs that we see crop up time and time again.

Inventory issues the cloud can solve

‘Where’s my stock?’

New SKUs, sales channels, warehouses, suppliers and staff all bring added complexity. That makes relying on stocktakes and spreadsheets for an accurate idea of what’s on hand — and where it is — increasingly problematic.

If you’re sick of having to physically check the warehouse to find out what’s in stock, then it’s time to look for a better inventory system. Cloud inventory will put accurate stock information in your hands at any time, from any location. It can revolutionise how you run your product business.

The multichannel meltdown

Selling online requires solid inventory management. Let’s take a look at Bob’s Bikes to illustrate why:

  1. Bob decides to sell his bikes across some new online sales channels. He’s done his research and soon sees a surge in sales orders
  2. But he can’t easily see where his stock is, or when he’s going to run out. So to meet the increased demand he has to order in large amounts of safety stock
  3. That damages his margins. But his inventory system doesn’t offer accurate margin reporting, so he can’t see where the problem is
  4. Adding new SKUs is an immense undertaking, as he can’t manage all his channels in one place

To solve these issues — or ensure they never arise — upgrade your inventory system.

Problems with spreadsheet systems

Excel and Google Docs are powerful tools for businesses of all sizes. But that doesn’t mean they are up to the task of managing complicated stock processes:

  • They don’t integrate with accounting systems or sales channels, meaning lots of wasted time manually entering data
  • They don’t give accurate figures in real time, so it’s hard to gauge the value of what’s in stock
  • Often, only one or two employees understand exactly how they work. If that employee resigns, they take that knowledge with them
  • It can be difficult for multiple people to access them at once, or for anyone to access them remotely

Dedicated inventory management is the natural next step for SMEs who have outgrown spreadsheets. Find out more about how spreadsheets can hurt your inventory management.

Accounting software — limited potential

Accounting platforms can be a good option for managing inventory online, but they aren’t designed specifically for the task. One issue we see time and time again is transaction limits.

Many accounting platforms have a soft transaction limit, often at 1000 per month. That’s fine when uploading transactions in bulk, but not when using an accounting system to manage goods.

A dedicated system will fix this issue. Unleashed, for example, has unlimited transactions. It can even batch transactions daily to ensure you stay well within the limits imposed by you accounting system.

Lack of ERP flexibility

ERPs and business management solutions often offer sophisticated functionality. But accessing that functionality can be difficult thanks to hard-to-use systems or high maintenance costs. When Haribo went live with SAP in 2018, for example, the disruption to its supply chain and operations resulted in lower sales revenue.

See how Unleashed and a few cloud apps stack against Sage 200, a popular business management solution, here.

Are you missing any important features?

Perhaps the single biggest reason why businesses leave their current system behind is that it doesn’t offer a feature they need to manage stock efficiently.

If you’re using software that wasn’t designed specifically for the task of inventory management, then there’s a strong chance you won’t be able to:

  • Track stock by batch or serial number
  • Utilise dropshipping
  • Assemble components into products
  • Split shipments
  • Track stock across multiple warehouses
  • See accurate landed costs
  • Sell stock at multiple price points
  • Keep up with auditing requirements

If you’re unsure whether your inventory solution is making you inefficient, there are lots of resources and tools to help you decide. The New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has a useful tool and guide — and we’ve created our very own inventory requirement calculator.

Are you ready to upgrade?

Upgrading to inventory management software is a big step — but it shouldn’t take much to ensure you’re ready. Exactly how much work you’ll have to put in depends on how cloud-ready your business is.

If you’re already using a cloud accounting package such as Xero or QuickBooks Online, then it should be as simple as picking software that integrates with your existing solution and moving your processes over.

If your systems are entirely offline then now’s a great time to consider adopting a few different apps to fully take advantage of the cloud. Unleashed integrates with systems for accounting, CRM, POS, online sales and more. It can function at the heart of your app ecosystem.

What next?

Now you know that your business is ready for cloud inventory management, it’s time to choose the software that best suits your needs. Head over to the next part in our series for a step-by-step guide to comparing inventory management software.

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