How To Manage Your Online Inventory

Golden retriever dog puppy playing with toy while lying on mat

This article was written by Michelle Weger.

“Can you check in the back?”

If you’ve ever worked retail, those words might have made you shiver.

Maybe they brought back memories of smiling and nodding, then taking a short break in the empty warehouse at the back of the store to “check” for something you knew was out of stock.

And if you were handling a particularly insistent customer, they might have argued with you when you returned to say you were sold out.

“But I saw online that it was in stock! The computer says there’s some left!”

Computers are only as good as the humans behind them, and humans make mistakes.

Inventory goes missing – it might be scanned under the wrong barcode or break before it can be sold.

When you shop in a brick-and-mortar store, you can’t buy what isn’t there… even if the computer thinks the product is there.

But what about when you sell your products online?

When you have an ecommerce business, your customers don’t see a physical product. They might see a number that represents how many you should have in stock, but many websites don’t even have that.

And if that number is wrong, you’ve got a customer who can buy something that doesn’t exist.

This exact situation happened to one of our team members recently. A week after placing an order online, she reached out to the company asking why it hadn’t shipped and received this response:

I am very sorry for the delay and the inconvenience. Unfortunately the dog collar on your order is out of stock. This is why we have delayed the shipment.

You have a bag of dog treats on your order too. Do you want this item refunded or would you like us to ship it to you?

We have generated a 10% discount code for you as an apology gift. You can use it on any product without any time limit.

As nice as getting 10% off is, it didn’t change the fact that she didn’t have the item she needed. Not only that, her other item was delayed by a week because of it, and she had to follow up with the company to find out why.

Mistakes happen. This company could have mitigated her frustration by proactively letting her know they’d oversold an item and asking if she wanted to wait for it to come back in stock or to get a refund.

But how do you avoid those mistakes in the first place?

Managing your online inventory is complicated, but there are certain things you can do to make mistakes far less likely.

Keep Your Inventory Updated

If you sell products that have infinite inventory – for example, if you can make more of your product at any given time – it seems easier to just post the products online and make more stock as needed.

But your products will still require supplies of some kind.

What happens if you get a rush of orders, only to find out that a key ingredient or product that you need to make the item is out of stock, delayed, or broken?

What about if that same rush of orders is more than you can process in your usual timeline?

Keeping track of your inventory means you can better predict when you’ll run out, when you should reorder, and if you have the resources to process your orders.

Bundle Your Inventory

Bundling products helps increase your order size by using suggestive selling, but you should also make sure you’re doing it right.

If you sell an item both on its own and in a bundle, use a bundling app or plug-in to manage your inventory rather than trying to manually keep track of how many items you have in stock.

For example, if I sold dog toys, I might have an option to sell each toy on its own, or I could sell a bundle that features three different products. Using a bundling app, I could set it up so that whenever the bundle of three sold, the inventory would update for each of the single toys as well.

That way, my inventory would stay updated and I wouldn’t be at risk of overselling.

Our clients who use this type of software see less refunds, more customer satisfaction, and – as an added bonus – an increase in order value.

Invest In Ecommerce Management

You have enough on your plate without trying to constantly track your inventory.

Good ecommerce management can set you apart from your competitors, increase your customers’ satisfaction, and give you more time to focus on the parts of the business you love.

So what’s included with ecommerce management?

We can’t speak for other companies, but for our team, the answer to that varies based on what your needs are. This can include:

  • Writing stellar product descriptions
  • Updating and tracking your inventory
  • Tracking and interpreting your analytics
  • Entering new product orders on your website
  • Setting up sales, promotions, and new products
  • Integrating apps and plug-ins to make your website work for you.

Are you ready to get your inventory under control and elevate your online store?

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Michelle Weger - RBC Women of Influence Nominee