E-commerce is taking a bigger share of the traditional retail market as every year goes by. Covid saw a surge in digital sales as restrictions made it difficult for consumers to visit stores and retail outlets.
One UNCTAD report shows the huge leaps made in the E-commerce market between 2018 and 2020. Although this report only covers selected economies, it reflects the changes that happened across the world during Covid. The UK, China, and the US, in particular, experienced huge growth in online sales during the first year of the pandemic.
The US E-commerce sector grew from $598 billion in 2019 to nearly $792 billion one year later. This growth is continuing as E-commerce takes an ever bigger slice of the total retail market. Global investment firm CBRE expects digital retail to grow and take a 23.4% share of all retail sales by 2023.
Simply being online isn’t enough to run a successful E-commerce operation though. Just as traditional retailers need to manage all the different aspects of their businesses to be successful, so do online vendors. One major part of having a successful E-commerce site is knowing how to manage inventory properly.
What does E-commerce inventory management involve?
Inventory management isn’t simply knowing how many of each product you have in stock. There are many aspects to controlling inventory properly.
At its basic level, inventory management is being able to track how much stock you hold, the different types, the prices, and the location of each product. However, it is also the flow of goods that come from your suppliers through your businesses and on their way to customers.
It can involve raw materials as well as finished products, and there are several similar processes to consider. Warehouse management, stock control, and supply chain management are all connected to inventory management.
You are likely making mistakes with your inventory without realizing it. Knowing how to fix inventory mistakes is key to successfully managing these processes.
How can you effectively manage your E-commerce inventory?
Successful inventory management increases profits and improves customer satisfaction. It also ensures that stock never runs too low, or is too high. Customer demands change, and holding high levels of a product that goes out of style can be costly. Holding too little can mean failing to meet customer demand, and lower sales.
If you are involved in E-commerce then you are already embracing digital transformation and looking to the future. You will therefore be no stranger to apps and different systems to help businesses run smoother. And, inventory management is just one more area that can benefit from good tools.
Trying to manage inventory by hand is impractical and a waste of time. It is prone to human error, and costly. Today, there are dozens of smart automated tools to help manage inventory for digital retailers.
What are the best E-commerce inventory management tools in 2022?
There are plenty of must-have features for E-commerce sites to make them consumer-friendly. Several features should be behind the scenes too to help the business run smoothly including inventory management.
In no particular order, here are some of the best E-commerce inventory management tools you can use for your business today.
Netsuite is one of the most popular and respected ERP systems available. It is a cloud-based E-commerce system for integrating all areas of a business. SuitCommerce comes integrated into the ERP and can help control inventory for any sized E-commerce enterprise.
Pros – Real-time reporting allows problems with inventory and supply to be fixed quickly
Cons – Can be expensive for small businesses, and complicated to learn
This tool lets any digital retailer connect all their sales channels and export all the inventory, marketing, and shipping data directly into Google Sheets. Synchronize.com lets anyone see current inventory levels, and historical sales, and also track advertising campaigns to analyze profit and loss.
A useful tool for those businesses not yet ready to move to complex ERPs such as Netsuite.
Pros – Eliminates human error from data entry. Connects multiple sales channels and integrates up-to-date inventory data with Google Sheets.
Cons – Requires knowledge of Google Sheets and its accompanying script although this is easy to pick up.
Another cloud-based inventory management solution. This one is aimed at small to medium businesses and helps with reporting and analysis of inventory levels.
Pros – Good customer support, easy to use.
Cons – Basic reporting. Some customers complain of integration issues with Shopify and Amazon.
Designed to provide an all-in-one solution to E-commerce business concerns. Allows auto-syncing of inventory levels across different sales channels. Also has product linking for when different descriptions are used on various sales channels for the same item.
Can issue manufacturing orders, bills of materials, and purchase orders when restocking is necessary.
Pros – Auto-syncs across all third-party selling channels to keep up-to-date stock levels.
Cons – The interface could be better. Customers have reported delayed syncing causing stock level problems.
Another tool aimed at the SMEs of the E-commerce sector. This tool can organize products through descriptions and SKUs, or stock keeping units. It tracks stock as would be expected, and allows the process from production through to sales and shipping to be managed.
Pros – Praised for its ease of use and constant updates.
Cons – Year-to-date reporting is lacking. Software lags.
Like all good inventory management tools, this one helps to link multiple sales channels and does so in real-time. It helps to manage bulk shipping and automate many processes.
Pros – Easy to use, and simplifies and speeds up all aspects of shipping.
Cons – Consumers complain that customer service can be lacking.
Although this is in itself a sales channel, it also has good inventory features. For a very small business owner only wanting one sales channel, Shopify could represent a good option.
It also allows a number of these other tools to be integrated and linked with the platform. Shopify estimates that the global E-commerce market will be worth $5.5 trillion by end of 2022. As a point of interest, there are currently more than 1 million businesses operating through Shopify.
Pros – Integrated storefront and inventory management in one platform.
Cons – Limits the vendor to one sales channel or multiple channels that are not linked.
This tool is an MRP, which is a materials requirements planning system. It helps to calculate what components and materials are required for the production of different items.
It assists with inventory management, manufacturing, and customer fulfillment. It also integrates very well with Shopify.
Pros – Aimed at small businesses but is scalable. Gives real-time information on production and inventory.
Cons – Time-consuming and laborious to set up.
What criteria should you have for an E-commerce inventory management tool?
Many features can make or break an inventory management tool. Here are some to look for when comparing these types of tools
- Real-time reporting
- Able to dump data to Google Sheets or Excel
- Real-time inventory tracking
- Linking of multiple sales channels
- Auto-syncing of inventory across sales channels
- Alerts for low levels of stock
- Automation of repetitive tasks
- Bulk shipping
- Mobile compatible
- Ease of use
- Scalable for business growth
- Unlimited SKUs
- Lot tracking
- Barcode scanning
There are far more features that inventory management tools can include, and ERPs tend to be packed with features. The key though is perhaps finding the balance between ease of use and the features you require the most. Some ERPs are far more beneficial to larger businesses than smaller ones.
Without proper inventory management, it will be difficult to control stock levels adequately. This can lead to being unable to fulfill orders, or having too much cash tied up in stock.
Choosing the right tool for this job can mean you save time, avoid human error, save money, increase profits, and improve customer satisfaction and delivery times.
No E-commerce business can be successful without putting in place a proper system for managing their inventory.