“Of course we have that part for you! We’ll grab it from the back.” Five minutes later: “So it looks like we’re all out.” Sound familiar? Chances are you’ve been in this situation, either as a customer or a shop owner. You know that it can cause setbacks in customer loyalty and sales. If you’re tracking inventory manually or through Excel, mistakes are bound to happen and could get worse as you expand. Upgrading to an inventory management system makes keeping track of your inventory easier, putting less strain on you and your employees. These systems electronically keep track of all the items you sell, allowing you to locate items quickly and restock before you run out.
There are plenty of options, so how do you choose the best inventory system for small businesses? A good fit should have these key features:
Automatic Inventory Restocking
If a key part or product is running low, you don’t want to wait until it’s out of stock to order more. Missing out on a customer because you’re out of stock not only loses the immediate sale, but can erode customer trust for your business. They might think that you’re unlikely to have other parts or items they need and choose a competitor the next time they’re shopping in your industry.
Some inventory management system software features include the ability to set up automatic restock of products. You set a limit on how many of each item you need to have in stock. Once a product falls below the limit, your inventory management system places an order with your supplier to restock the low items.
For example, you run an automotive parts store. You want to keep at least 30 of a specific type of headlight bulb in stock at all times. You can set your inventory system to place an order for more bulbs once the number in stock reaches 29. This feature removes the guesswork and sets an automatic re-order so you can focus on running your business.
Compatibility with Existing Software
Most businesses use multiple types of software at once. Ideally, your inventory management software will be able to integrate with your existing business software. This allows your two software systems to share information, sync and generally “play well” together. Compatibility is necessary because it’s a huge time-saver – why spend time transferring data between systems when you can avoid it altogether?
For example, if you use accounting software like QuickBooks, look for an inventory management system that can update your tax information after buying or selling products. Online merchants should consider a system that works with their e-commerce platform so the website stays up to date with current inventory. Alternatively, a brick-and-mortar shop that uses a POS system needs an inventory system that automatically updates registers with in-stock products.
Once you’re managing inventory electronically, it’s important that your software programs work together. Even a simple inventory system for small business owners should have the ability to connect to current software. Having an inventory program that doesn’t move data to your other systems could end up causing more hassle, rather than less.
Does the inventory system offer mobile access, or does it only work on a desktop? For online or retail shops with one location, this may not be as important. On the other hand, you probably need mobile access if you run multiple locations or work primarily from work sites.
For example, let’s say you run a plumbing company. One of your plumbers is at a customer’s home and needs a particular part to fix an issue. They can use a mobile app to access the inventory list and make sure the parts are available, either on their work truck or back at the office.
Inventory Trend Analysis
One of the biggest features of an inventory management system for small businesses is the ability to tell you how much you have left of each product. However, some systems can also help you predict future inventory needs. Data analysis uses information from your inventory cycle to help you make better business decisions. For example, it can track your historic sales to predict when you will get a surge of purchases, so you can buy extra inventory and prepare better for your peak season.
A user-friendly inventory management system should be easy to navigate, load information quickly and be simplistic, i.e. it’s not overloaded with features you don’t need.
The system should also include new user training. If you’ve never used an inventory management system, getting started can be intimidating. Explore the training features before you purchase a system. Do they offer videos and directions for new users? Can you reach out to a live person for help?
Of course, the term “user-friendly” is different for each person. The only way to know for sure whether you like a program is to try it out. The good news is many programs offer a free trial so you can experiment for the right fit.
Will Grow With Your Business
When you first sign up for an inventory system, you might be able to get by with a simple, low-cost option. But as you expand, your tech has to keep up with business growth. Will you be able to upgrade the system? If not, you and your staff will have to relearn a whole new system in the future.
Common needs for growing businesses include the ability to add multiple locations, new product lines or allow for more users in the system. It’s worth checking to see what upgrades the inventory system offers to meet your expanding needs.
The amount you spend depends on how many features you need. As you can probably guess, the more advanced inventory systems are also the most expensive. Capterra offers a list of free inventory systems, which might be a good place to start.
A less expensive inventory system for small business will run you about $100 a month. However, you can expect to pay more as you add users, product lines and other features. A small business loan could be a financing option if you’re not in a position to disrupt your cash flow.
With a quality inventory management system, you’ll never have to worry about being out-of-stock when a customer needs your products. Consider an inventory system with these seven features and you’ll be on your way to a better business.