Easy E-Commerce Inventory Management

Three veteran small business e-tailers share their best tips for keeping your shelves stocked and your online customers happy.
October 23, 2012 Consumers are clearly comfortable shopping online. Internet Retailer reports that global e-commerce sales will top $1.25 trillion by 2013. 

The vast Internet shopping mall is loaded with small-business owners running their own stores. But veterans in the trenches say there is more to running a successful e-commerce site than loading a website with pretty pictures and interesting descriptions while hoping someone shows up with a credit card. 

Here is advice from three e-tailers on managing online inventory and sales.

Stay organized. One of the basic concepts of managing the inventory is to be organized. Know what you have and where to find it.

"Use the obvious," says Katie Hughes who sells Slip On Dancers, an accessory that turns running shoes into dancing shoes. "Lay out inventory in your storage area in a way that is visually easy to queue how many you have of an item."

If you have more inventory than you can easily gauge by eye, you may need a technology-enabled solution.

"Consider implementing a bar-code system to track your inventory," says Layla Colegrove, CEO of Flowering Tree Botanicals, an online store filled with specialty bath products. 

"These systems are becoming more and more affordable and can streamline inventory management for small businesses."

Never be out of stock. If your website says you sell it, make sure it's available. "For customers who receive an 'out of stock' notice on a page, it's a terrible disappointment," Colegrove says. "If you're going to carry a product on your website make sure you never run out of it."

Jason Haeger, founder of the  AJ Coffee Company, says a physical count of the inventory on a regular basis is one way to keep tabs on quantities. He usually recommends a count once a week by the same person.

"Have just one person in charge of inventory count and product ordering," Haeger says." If the business is just one person, set aside scheduled time for this task. It will seem tedious and feel like a waste of time, but it should be done as an essential part of risk management for the business' bottom line."

Select a tailor-made system.  When it comes to managing sales and inventory, your business might only be as good as the software you're running.

"When selecting a shopping cart for your online business, look for a system that integrates with industry standard software for inventory management, bookkeeping and other services," Colegrove says. "As your business grows and your e-commerce needs change, this will allow you to move to a new shopping cart solution while minimizing impact to your business operations."

"We take advantage of PayPal and Amazon for our tracking," Hughes says. "We tell it how many we have and it subtracts one every time we sell it. It sends us reminder e-mails when we get low."

And when they are out at trade shows and not just accepting online orders, Hughes says they are fans of the Square Register iPad app that accepts payments and keeps track of inventory at the same time.

Running a successful commerce site is a job for an entrepreneur who knows what to sell and how to manage sales. Being able to organize the inventory and keep track of what's in stock and what's not, reduces the chances of having excessive back stock or disappointing customers.

There are many software systems available that are designed to keep e-commerce sites running. Choosing the one that meshes best with the business may be the key to increasing sales and profitability.

Carla Turchetti is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who likes to break a topic down and keep her copy tight. That's why this bio is so brief! Carla blogs via Contently.com.

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