With 2022 coming to a close, eCommerce businesses are looking to review the most effective operational strategies to manage inventory in the new year.
This guide will share 8 best practices for managing inventory for multi-channel eCommerce businesses interested in using the latest technology to streamline processes to efficiently avoid errors and maximize profits.
But first, what is inventory management?
Inventory management tracks the operations of products in your inventory from suppliers to warehouses, to your customers in the supply chain to ensure that your product levels are healthy enough to keep the business running smoothly.
The goal of inventory management is to create an efficient process across all products sold in your store starting with the suppliers to your warehouses to your customers is done with accuracy and on time.
There are multiple areas of operations that should be considered in the process of inventory management as technology strengthens and our need for efficiency and accuracy becomes even more vital. Let’s dive in.
1. Implement an Inventory Management System
Inventory management systems are automated software solutions designed to track, organize, and store information about products and raw materials in an eCommerce organization’s inventory. By implementing an inventory management system in the workplace, companies can save time, improve accuracy, and reduce losses due to inventory mismanagement. Furthermore, this system will allow for more accurate forecasting and decision-making processes moving forward.
2. Automate Resource Allocation
Through the use of automation and AI, inventory allocation can be
made more efficient. Automation systems can provide reliable and accurate data used to intelligently forecast demand and allocate resources accordingly. By eliminating the need for manual labor, companies can save time, reduce costs, and decrease the likelihood of errors.
3. Integrate with eCommerce Platforms
Inventory should be integrated with eCommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce to provide real-time updates on stock levels, pricing, and customer demand. When integrated properly, this information can improve the customer experience, while streamlining order management.
4. Embrace IoT Technology
The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly becoming an invaluable asset to any business with an extensive inventory network. Utilizing these IoT devices will enable companies to track inventory levels, monitor stock movements, and gather valuable data to monitor demand and improve accuracy.
5. Implement Replenishment Processes
To ensure inventory always remains at a healthy level, companies should implement automated replenishment processes. This will help to ensure demand is always met while avoiding costly overstocks or stockouts. Tools such as SKULab’s Velocity Reporting can give insight into past sales and suggest reordering targets.
6. Utilize Blockchain Technology
Blockchain technology can provide supply chain traceability and improved asset management. This can be used to monitor inventory throughout its various stages while ensuring data accuracy, security, and transparency.
7. Utilize Cloud-Based Solutions
Cloud-based solutions can provide a secure, centralized platform to store and manage inventory data. This can help ensure data accuracy and reduce the manual labor required for data entry. Furthermore, a cloud-based system will provide flexibility for businesses to scale as needed.
8. Increase Collaboration with Suppliers
Businesses should strive to cultivate meaningful relationships with their suppliers. By maintaining a close connection with suppliers, companies can ensure supplies are available on time, quality remains consistent, and unexpected disruptions are minimized.
With the advancements happening in technology, the ability to better manage inventory in 2023 will be improved by following any or all of these steps. Implementing these 8 steps can help to reduce manual labor, increase accuracy, and allow for better forecasting, decision-making processes, and resource allocation.
SKULabs is a multi-channel inventory and shipping management solution for some of the largest brands in eCommerce and is available on Shopify and BigCommerce. Pricing starts at $499 a month.
Maintaining the highest standards of efficiency and effectiveness in product and service delivery is essential. But this can be easier said than done, even after you’ve built your brand and created a consistent stream of consumers.
Every company, no matter how large, will inevitably experience problems in its day-to-day operations. Shipping is a pain point for many e-commerce retailers, and supply chains can be difficult to manage. You want to know where your product is, which warehouse has the stock needed to fulfill specific orders and a real-time view of how much inventory you have at all times. For large companies that sell tens of thousands of SKUs, the challenge is even more daunting. It’s also a huge cost of doing business.
Thankfully, we’re here to help! We’ve assembled a bevy of tips to help ensure that you minimize errors in picking, packing, and shipping, particularly for multi-location warehouses and multi-channel shipping.
What is Multi-channel Shipping?
Before we get started, we should note that this article can be applied to many forms of eCommerce shipping. However, we’ll be offering advice through the lens of multi-channel shipping and fulfillment. Popularized by sites like Amazon, multi-channel shipping is a form of eCommerce shipping in which orders are fulfilled from a variety of locations and warehouses beyond the primary one.
The eCommerce giant Amazon handles the distribution of third-party products to customers from all over the world. Whenever a third party is involved, mistakes are bound to happen because there are simply more variables in play. The more people and steps in the process, the more failure points there can be. A robust system, powered by equally robust software, is key to the streamlining and protection of the picking, packing, and shipping processes.
What Types of Errors Can Occur in Multi-Channel Shipping?
There are quite a few. Here are some of the major ones:
Late items – Customers expect a certain level of service when they order items especially if they are needed by an expected date. If the order doesn’t arrive at the promised or expected date, merchants will experience order cancellations, and some customers may even want compensation for the inconvenience.
Errors in Item Type, Item Quantity, or Delivery Location – These are pretty self-explanatory and shockingly common in eCommerce shipping, especially when there isn’t a real-time view into the best warehouse to ship from based on inventory levels. All of these will frustrate the customer and slow down the process.
Warehouse Quantity Errors – If your site advertises an item as in stock but it is not available due to quantities not updating in your inventory in real-time, then you have effectively misled the customer. This can lead to delays or cancellations and cause the customer to question your reliability.
The Steep Cost of Picking and Shipping Errors in eCommerce Shipping
In short, the cost of picking, packing, and shipping errors in eCommerce Shipping – and particularly multi-channel shipping – can be steep. Couple this with any administrative or operational overhead due to complexity or recurring problems and attempting to fix them, this can have a massive impact on the bottom line.
Cost-per-error: Your business may have an even larger (or smaller!) amount of errors, but how would you determine this? The best way is to calculate your cost-per-error. You can do this by quantifying the actual cost of several actions, such as losing customers, picking up wrong deliveries, write-offs, re-shipments, etcetera. Each of these has a specific impact on the profitability of your business. By identifying problems in this manner, you can take the appropriate level of action to control costs.
Customer Service: One study indicated that customers are likely to tell people about a negative experience rather than a positive one. Most of us have probably experienced this firsthand, whether it’s an order from an eCommerce store or something as simple as a bad meal. One bad experience may convince us, the customer, to take our business elsewhere! Every bad experience can result in negative consequences to your profit margins. Mitigating these errors and ensuring the overall customer experience is stellar can be as simple as sending the correct orders on time at the onset.
Reputation: As common sense dictates, most businesses will not want to partner with a company that is error-prone with order handling and fulfillment. This could be devastating if you are attempting to launch a bundle deal or be featured on a wider variety of storefronts and applications.
This is particularly true in running an eCommerce business, where there are multiple variables at play in ensuring success. You are relying on another company for a service (or are sourcing businesses for products in the supply chain). The better your reputation and the more reliable your processes, the less likely they will look to establish partnerships with other companies.
How to Prevent Errors in Multi-Channel Shipping
Warehouse shipping management doesn’t have to be difficult. There are ways you can mitigate problems in the picking, packing, and shipping processes!
1. Double-check everything: It may seem obvious, but nobody has perfect eyesight. It can be easy to mix up numbers on an address or quantity. Typos are common, and no system is perfect. Addresses may have to be verified as well. Double-checking is also true in fulfillment: Try to have consistency in your fulfillment processes.
2. Employ a barcode scanner: These items are fast and reliable. The financial risk of not having these tools in place as your business outgrows manual processes far outweighs the initial investment. The benefits include saving time, money, and costly mistakes. You will also save on payroll by eliminating some of the tedium of updating inventory and inputting numbers.
3. Hire qualified individuals: Warehouse management is one of the most important aspects of running your business efficiently. Finding the right stakeholders to manage one or more warehouses will shore up whether you are operating with accuracy and efficiency, especially as you bring on more and more locations.
4. Implement an automation process with powerful software: This is perhaps the most comprehensive way to mitigate mistakes in picking and shipping in the multi-channel warehouse shipping management field. For example, the software suites provided by companies like SKULabs offer exceptional solutions for warehouse management. SKULabs offers a robust all-in-one solution for multi-channel picking and multi-channel shipping needs. SKULabs offers highly accurate software focusing on powerful label creation services, item comparison tools, and real-time inventory control.
Fitness Avenue even lauded SKULabs as a “Great warehouse management software!” SKULabs is available to install on the Shopify and BigCommerce eCommerce platforms and will provide your company with an excellent foundation as you work toward mitigating errors in multi-channel warehouse shipping management. For a more comprehensive list of eCommerce partners, you can review here!
Ecommerce is often touted as an effortless way to start a business with minimal startup costs and potential for exploration.
However, seller fees can quickly eat into your profits when you factor in marketplace fees, advertising costs, delivery charges, and ecommerce platforms into the equation—especially during the holidays.
The most innovative online retailers use various processes, techniques, and tools to maximize profits while reducing online selling costs. The more informed you are about online seller fees, the more you can lower them.
Keep reading to learn more about online selling costs and how to reduce your holiday seller fees before the peak shopping season.
Online Seller Fees Explained
Before you can identify and lower high or unnecessary costs, you must know precisely how much you’re paying to sell online.
Most ecommerce platforms and online marketplaces charge similar fees for listing items for sale. You’re paying for the platform, tools, and services they provide—plus their captive audience.
No matter the platform, third-party sellers will have expenses that fit into the following categories:
Additional expenses (such as advertising costs)
Your first cost is the account fee. This cost will vary according to the platform, but let’s use Amazon as an example.
Amazon’s account fee is a monthly cost for selling on Amazon. Amazon has two different seller accounts with two fee structures:
Amazon Account Fee
40 per month
20 (with access to an additional 10)
As you can see from the table above, Amazon’s Individual plan comes with no monthly fee. Still, you are limited to only 40 listings per month and 20 categories.
The Professional plan is $39.99 a month, but you get unlimited listings and can list items in more categories (including applying to list in restricted categories).
Next up is the sales fee. Most platforms have a per-item fee with the option to upgrade to a monthly plan that includes more (or unlimited) sales.
Using Amazon again as an example, you are charged per item sold—in addition to a referral percentage and a high-volume listing fee (if applicable). Amazon also charges a closing fee for media items.
Amazon Sales Fee
6-45% of the selling price
6-45% of the selling price
High-volume listing fee
$0.005/item when listing over 100,000 items
$0.005/item when listing over 100,000 items
Closing fee (media items only)
The next considerable expense to consider is your fulfillment costs.
Most retailers fulfill ecommerce orders in one of three ways: self-fulfillment, outsourced fulfillment, or—if selling on Amazon—Fulfillment by Amazon.
Self-fulfillment means that you fulfill orders yourself. This includes picking, packing, and shipping items to your customers. Associated self-fulfillment costs include:
When budgeting for self-fulfillment, don’t forget about the additional costs associated with operating a warehouse, such as receiving freight and insurance. Investing in warehouse management software can ease many of the headaches associated with in-house fulfillment.
You can use a third-party fulfillment (3PL) partner if you’re not ready to take on fulfillment in-house. There are several fees to consider with outsourced fulfillment, including initial setup fees, intake fees, storage fees, fulfillment fees, and shipping fees.
Fortunately, you only need to pay a setup fee one time. Your fulfillment partner will use this fee to set up your account. The higher your sales volume, the higher this initial fee will be.
When the 3PL receives goods from your suppliers, they will add them to your inventory and organize them appropriately. That’s why you will be charged an intake fee every time new stock arrives at the warehouse.
Next, you’ll pay storage fees for your fulfillment partner to hold all your inventory before it ships to your customer. Often, these fees are based on how much space your stock takes up in your partner’s warehouse.
Other outsourced fulfillment fees include pick and pack fees, which cover the costs associated with staff browsing the warehouse, picking out specific products, and packaging them for shipment. Fulfillment fees are typically a flat per-item fee or a percentage of the product’s retail value.
You’ll also have to budget for shipping the products to your customers. If you’re shipping many products, your 3PL may offer a shipping volume discount.
Finally, there are fees associated with returns—which are inevitable in ecommerce. When your customers return products, your 3PL partner much re-process the inventory or figure out how to dispose of it. Most logistics companies will charge an hourly rate for processing returns.
Fulfillment by Amazon
Another fulfillment option is Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA).
FBA is a service offered that allows you to outsource order fulfillment to Amazon. When you sign up, you send your products to Amazon’s fulfillment centers. Amazon employees pick, pack, and ship your order when you receive an order. They’ll also handle customer service needs and process returns.
Costs associated with FBA include:
Shipping products to Amazon’s warehouse
Per-item fulfillment fee determined by item size
Monthly storage fee (varies by season)
You can ship all products to Amazon’s warehouse, including items listed on other marketplaces, but you’ll pay an additional multi-channel fee to ship non-Amazon orders.
Other costs for online sellers include cost-per-click advertising, competing for buy boxes, selling via other services like Amazon Prime, and external marketing spending.
How to Reduce Holiday Seller Fees
Despite high seller fees, being on certain platforms can bring you more exposure, leading to more customers and sales. By reducing your seller fees as much as you can, it’s possible to increase your ecommerce profits.
Opt for Premium Seller Accounts
Many platforms and marketplaces offer free plans, but if you’re listing hundreds or thousands—or hundreds of thousands—of items, you can save money by upgrading your plan.
Switch to a premium account to tap into benefits like zero per-item fees and unlimited listings. Not only will you save money, but you’ll be able to access additional perks to increase conversions, such as the ability to run promotions and access the buy box.
Reduce Referral Fees
You can’t reduce your referral fees specifically, but you can be more strategic about your listings. On Amazon, for example, you can list products with a lower referral fee and save items with higher referral fees for other marketplaces (such as eBay or Walmart).
Lower Shipping Costs
Shipping can be expensive, especially if you’re fulfilling in-house or through FBA. You can reduce shipping costs by:
Using unbranded packing materials
Partnering with an outsourced fulfillment provider to decrease shipping carrier and extra handling costs (and also benefit from their inventory management technology)
Using a fulfillment calculator to determine whether outsourced fulfillment is cheaper than in-house fulfillment
Optimize Your Inventory
To plan holiday inventory this year, consider potential sales volumes, where your products come from, and their current quality.
By carefully considering the inventory you buy, you end up with less inventory waste. This equates to lower costs associated with dead stock. If you’re more efficient with inventory, you can buy fewer items overall to fulfill holiday demands and reduce waste simultaneously.
Increase Your Visibility
When competing with millions of merchants, it’s vital to be seen. You can improve the visibility of your ecommerce listings by:
Optimizing your product listings, including product titles, descriptions, and photos
Offering fast and free shipping options to appear in filtered search results
Providing excellent service, including providing accurate tracking information and responding to issues quickly to get five-star customer ratings
Increase Your ROI
The truth is that, in many cases, seller fees are out of your control. However, you can combat the cost by increasing your ROI, so the fees make less of a dent in your profits.
You can increase your ecommerce ROI by:
Offering premium customer service to outperform your competitors (and win loyal customers)
Selling on Amazon Prime to improve your conversion rates (targeted to online shoppers who prioritize speed)