Inventory Management Trends to Look for in 2018

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TransForm Solutions

With more people preferring to shop online than visiting brick and mortar stores, the current year is going to witness changes in the way inventory and stock are managed.

Inventory management largely depends on the kind of platform where much of buying and selling takes place, and as omni-channel shopping experience will continue to blur lines between online and offline stores, certain inventory management trends will need to be observed more closely than ever.

The following trends will dominate inventory management in 2018, and implementing them carefully will help you to ensure that orders are fulfilled quickly without delays.

1. Mushrooming of online marketplaces

One of the most important inventory management trends this year will depend on the mushrooming of online marketplaces, and the need for having a well-stocked inventory at all times.

Even smaller boutique stores will adopt online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, and other platforms in order to reach a larger target audience. However, a small minority of these businesses will continue to hesitate to move online simply because they don't understand how to move their inventory-related data online.

Emerging trends in inventory management reveal that businesses will find it hard to upload their catalogs across various platforms, as each comes with its own data specifications.

Last year, Internet Retailer revealed that online marketplace sales crossed the $1 trillion figure in 2016, and the figures are expected to increase exponentially.

2. Automating multi-channel inventory data upload

Smarter businesses will subscribe to multi-channel inventory data upload services offered by third-party vendors.

Data upload services help retailers and sellers to expand their business across various online platforms and comparison engines. Invariably, moving inventory-related data using automated tools will help businesses to reach a large audience, often overwhelming their capacity to manage orders and replenishing inventories.

Data uploading services help businesses to optimize inventory management software by streamlining product data feeds, strategizing pricing of products, and enriching product descriptions on various marketplaces with optimized content.

This research paper published in the Journal of Retailing (PDF available) explains how the move towards multi-channel shopping and an omni-channel experience helps shoppers but creates tricky situations for sellers.

3. Integrating CRM and ERP to sync inventory data in real-time

As stores strive to bring their business online, they will also feel the need to integrate their front-end and back-end tools, so that duplicate copies of data are eliminated.

To do this, more businesses will adopt integration tools that connect ERP and CRM so that inventory-related data is synced in real time. This will ensure that orders are placed and processed in real-time, without causing delays to customers.

Most ERP and CRM integration tools come with an inventory tracker feature, which helps to ensure orders are only placed when inventory is well-stocked, and that inventory is not over-stocked, depending on order placement frequency.

A Miami University-published paper proposed a conceptual framework for optimizing ERP with the help of app integration to help drive sales.

4. Delivering an omni-channel shopping experience to customers

Current trends in inventory management reveal that retail stores will be hard-pressed to deliver an omni-channel shopping experience to customers.

Most customers may end up visiting a store to try products, but order them on their smartphone on a website that offers the best price. Business owners will have to navigate across different pricing standards, discounts, and product availability to ensure a streamlined shopping experience for the customer.

Thus, integrating certain features of an inventory management system into an in-store application may also be one of the niche trends this year.

This paper explains how to enable product recommendation algorithms to boost omni-channel retailing.

5. Order management to take center-stage

Omni-channel shopping experience will also force business owners to manage their orders more efficiently.

Analyzing data within ERP and CRM will help businesses to manage their inventories better, and ensure that orders are handled promptly without delays. In fact, order management will take center-stage when it comes to online shopping, and a lot of this will depend on how streamlined the process of data uploading to e-commerce platforms will be.

6. Avoiding overstocking and under-stocking

Trend analysis in inventory management will help companies to ensure that their inventories are not overstocked or under-stocked.

Most companies that were surveyed in 2017 revealed that overstocking and under-stocking both hurt their bottom-line, and if they had access to business intelligence that gave them clues about purchase trends, they could manage their inventories better.

Thankfully, current BI tools are more than enough to help businesses forecast when inventories need to be replenished or cleared.

Supply Chain 24/7, an online business resource, revealed that the US retail industry loses more than $46 billion annually because of overstocking, while 72% of under-stocking instances were due to faulty ordering and replenishing practices.

7. Big Data analytics and rich insights to help in demand forecasting

Of all the inventory management trends we are likely to see in 2018, the most important will be that of companies using Big Data analytics and rich insights to engage in demand forecasting.

Demand forecasting is usually wrought with errors simply because there are so many unpredictable events that can take place. However, Big Data and its associated predictive analytics will give the much-needed shot in the arm to inventory management professionals and help them to avoid losses and wastages.

A Gartner report shows that Business Intelligence and Analytics market will grow beyond the current $18 billion figure.

Making it all work efficiently

Inventory management in 2018 will largely depend on businesses' ability to bring an omni-channel experience to their customers successfully. This will require businesses to invest in inventory software and integration tools so that they have access to real-time data at all times.

The same data and rich insights will help businesses to engage in demand forecasting and avoid both over-stocking and under-stocking. If there is anything that is most urgent among the emerging trends in inventory management, it is a business's ability to automate inventory data uploading to various platforms so that they can reach a larger target audience without feeling overwhelmed.

Seeking the services of third-party vendors to upload inventory data to various online marketplaces will help businesses to successfully adopt omni-channel marketing.

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