The holidays are right around the corner, which means online shopping is once again set to spike, reminding eCommerce brands of the importance of inventory management.
Keeping customers happy during peak season is essential for long term success, and inventory management has quickly become a major hurdle standing in the way of that goal. Over-stocking unsold items, unexpected supply shortages and surging online orders can easily set you back and leave potential customers with no choice but to shop elsewhere.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of inventory frustration during peak season and what strategies can help make Q4 a little easier to navigate.
Limited Warehouse Space
One of the root causes of inventory shortage is the scarcity of actual shelving space. Before peak season comes around, it’s important to understand your existing warehouse capacity and how an increase in orders could impact your product’s availability. Warehouse space is in high demand. Even during the slower shipping season, eCommerce brands have struggled to find adequate storage space for their products.
As this demand increases, so will the cost of reserving space. Even if you end up selling more during peak season, those gains could be offset by rising operational costs.
Difficulty Forecasting Orders
One of the toughest challenges of peak season is the ability to accurately forecast the amount of stock you’ll need to keep orders flowing. Due to the recent spike in online shopping, brands can generally anticipate an increase in warehouse output. Predicting exactly how much additional stock will be needed, however, can be much more difficult.
Accurate demand forecasting can be a major advantage during peak season. When it comes to inventory management, a clear idea of storage needs can help avoid problems like overstock and depletion. Before this year’s peak shipping season arrives, it’s a good idea to have a system in place that leverages data from previous years and gauges the amount of stock you’ll need to keep customers satisfied.
One solution that has worked for some brands with inventory management issues has been on-demand warehousing. On-demand warehousing allows companies to temporarily rent excess inventory space to store products as needed.
While this strategy can help secure additional storage space, you might sacrifice some degree of visibility and control over how your products are shipped. The companies that provide the additional inventory space usually don’t complete the fulfillment process themselves. That step is outsourced to a 3PL, which could potentially leave you in the dark about the status of your orders.
On-demand warehousing 3PLs negotiate on your behalf with warehouses in their network to find the most efficient and cost effective storage solution for your brand. With the supply chain continuing to cause unexpected shipping interruptions, this gives you a flexible and customized inventory management strategy.
Just In Time Inventory Management
Rather than expand their inventory storage space, some brands have opted to leverage their existing warehouse by employing just in time inventory management.
Just in time inventory management, or JIT, is a strategy that involves importing goods to the warehouse as they are needed, minimizing some of the constraints of limited storage space. If an order is canceled, or certain products don’t meet the expected demand, those unwanted products won’t sit around the warehouse taking up valuable shelf space.
JIT can help make shipping more efficient, but it does open you up to some amount of risk if the day-to-day fulfillment process runs off track. A successful JIT strategy relies on accurate order forecasting, reliable suppliers and adequate staff training to keep the fulfillment cycle running smoothly. If a supplier falls behind and can’t get your products to the warehouse on time, you’ll be out of stock and unable to fulfill orders.
One of the most important tools to have on hand when peak season rolls around is data. Finding new efficiency opportunities and storage solutions is much easier with the ability to track all the facets of how your warehouse operates. The right warehouse management software can recommend slotting strategies and anticipate inventory shortages long before they impact the customer.
If you’re outsourcing your fulfillment with a 3PL, visibility is key. Traditional warehouses might not be equipped to provide real-time updates on inventory levels, so you’ll need a fulfillment partner that’s up to the task.
With the assurance of automatic updates from your fulfillment service provider, you can head into Q4 with full knowledge of when to replenish your stock.
Inventory management might be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it has to hold back your eCommerce brand. With the right strategy, warehouse tools and 3PLs on your side, peak shipping season can be a profitable success.
If you’re looking for a shipping partner to help optimize your approach to inventory management, contact the Fulfillment Experts at ShipHero today.
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Ryan Bennet Vice President Sales, Fulfillment
About the author: Ryan Bennett is the Vice President of Fulfillment Sales at ShipHero. He is responsible for the overall growth of ShipHero Fulfillment by managing the fulfillment sales team. Bennett’s strengths come from being able to relate to anyone and embracing new challenges, as well as an unrelenting sense of determination and the ability to resist rejection. As a leader at ShipHero, he believes that an outstanding leader should be the #1 cheerleader for their team and try to highlight each team members’ unique skills. Plus, he believes in leading by example and being involved on the ground floor. Ryan’s passion for business comes from solving logistical problems, learning about clients’ unique businesses and meeting new and interesting people. Other areas of interest include start-ups, equality, the environment and painting.