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Buyer's Guide

by Daniel Harris,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: March 15, 2017

Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) Software

The vendor-managed inventory approach refers to a business model where businesses act as the buyers while vendors (who manage manufacturing or the supply chain) are responsible for all stock at the buyer’s location. These vendors, who manufacture products sold at the buyer’s store, agree to replenish the inventory based on the fluctuating demand and supply trends. This sort of a relationship between the buyer and the vendor is a way to ensure that inventory is well-stocked and stores don’t face a shortfall.

In a way, VMI helps avoid overstocking or shortages in vendor warehouses and also helps avoid increased expenses for labor, purchasing and accounting for the buyers. Using VMI, businesses can optimally maintain inventory, which can result in easier access to products, faster processing times and lower labor costs for stocking and replenishing products. Vendors can also employ their own staff at the buyers’ stores to ensure that product promotion is more direct (i.e., from manufacturer to end customer) and streamlined across all locations.

In this model, the primary responsibility of ensuring optimum levels of inventory falls on the vendor. However, both vendors and buyers can choose to involve a third-party logistics (3PL) provider to deliver the products. The vendors and buyers have to be in constant communication to frequently gauge the inventory levels. One way to communicate and manage inventory is by using vendor-managed inventory software.

Here's what we'll cover:

What Is Vendor Managed Inventory Software?
Common Features of Vendor Managed Inventory Software
Evaluating Vendor Managed Inventory Software
Market Trends to Understand

What Is Vendor Managed Inventory Software?

Vendor managed inventory software, or supplier assisted inventory management (SAIM), allows the supplier to assume many of the duties related to maintaining the buyer’s inventory. Rather than place all of the responsibilities of the supply chain planning system on the customer, vendor managed inventory agreements establish a collaborative relationship between vendors and manufacturers or retailers. In this case, the buyer uses the software to keep the supplier aware of how much inventory should be available at the buyer’s location at all times, while the supplier uses the software to monitor that inventory and replenish it when necessary. This makes VMI software a particularly useful addition to any supply chain management system.

Common Features of Vendor Managed Inventory Software

Using VMI software, requests are constantly moving back and forth between buyer and supplier. The buyer can immediately inform the supplier about product activity, sending electronic documents that report inventory, sales and demand data, to name a few. The supplier can then reply with information and suggestions of its own, such as recommended replenishment quantities, advanced shipment notifications and invoices.

Specific features associated with VMI software include:

Supply chain synchronization The most basic feature of a vendor managed inventory system is to synchronize sales with the supply chain to automatically send new materials to buyers without their having to lift a finger.
Customer data acquisition VMI software simplifies and automates the process of getting product activity reports from each customer by automatically acquiring them and verifying the quality.
Product activity reports The software can create an inventory plan and order recommendations that can be adjusted or customized by the buyer and automatically send a purchase order once approved. This dramatically reduces the variability of manually managed inventory plans.
Activity analysis This business intelligence feature helps users identify problem areas, opportunities for growth and other potential VMI improvements.

Evaluating Vendor Managed Inventory Software

VMI software helps suppliers reduce lead times through increased visibility between supplier and buyer. It plays a crucial role in alerting the supplier when the customer is out of stock, so that if buyers historically put in last-minute, rush or disorganized orders, these systems can be particularly supportive in smoothing out that ordering and delivery process.

When purchasing vendor managed inventory software, consider the following criteria:

  • What format/software do your customers use for their product activity reports?
  • Is the VMI software customized/customizable to your industry’s product/inventory needs?
  • Are you looking for business intelligence capabilities that will improve the SAIM process over time?
  • Do you want a locally installed program, or a web-based software as a service system?

Market Trends to Understand

The basic trends of the market are edging toward a “less is more” ideology. This implies lower product wastages, lower costs and fewer instances of stock mismanagement. The usage of VMI solutions ensures that real-time data improves sales and fixes any issues that may arise.

Here are some market trends that can help buyers in their decision while purchasing a VMI software for their business and their vendors:

Shared risk: This is an important aspect of the VMI approach. Both vendors and buyers face risk as they are equally responsible for a smooth-functioning inventory management process. For example, sometimes when vendors fail to meet the sales targets, they repurchase the goods from buyers. In addition, the buyer is sometimes acting as only the host of the product and does not have ownership of the product. They earn commissions from the sale, but only after a sale is done. This does not give them much control over the stock in their stores.

Buyers, therefore, have to be certain about taking this risk and complying with contracts set with the vendors.

High market benchmark to cover:The VMI industry is dominated by retail giant Wal-Mart, which is now a master of it. Therefore, companies that opt for this business model and deploy VMI software solutions should look at Wal-Mart’s model of gaining profits in partnerships with its vendors. Constant innovations in the VMI software market will help companies further lower their inventory management costs. One way to go would be to automate warehouse management with robots, the way Amazon manages its warehouses and keeps a tight control over stock.

Stepping stone to innovation: The next step in VMI is jointly managed inventory (JMI), which aims for the buyer and vendor to have a highly collaborative relationship. JMI is essentially like VMI regarding goals and premise, but expands further on these categories. While developing JMI, buyers and vendors have to boost their tactical planning, which involves integrating the vendor into the buyer’s point-of-sale (POS) system. This way, vendors get a detailed and real-time insight into sales data; these analytics can help them make their manufacturing and delivery schedules more accurate.

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