Inventory control is a complex process with multiple moving parts, quite literally. Any business that deals in physical products needs to maintain its inventory, whether that means transporting or selling products, or assembling them into a different product. In each case, it's essential to always have the right amount of necessary goods on hand.
Selecting the right inventory control software to help you with this process can make your job a lot easier, but choosing that software can be a challenge. The subtle differences between "inventory control" and "inventory management" can also be confusing.
This article will help guide you through this process, so you can choose the inventory control system that best fits your business needs.
Here's what we'll cover:
What Is Inventory Control Software?
Inventory Control Software vs. Inventory Management Software
Common Features of Inventory Control Systems
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Benefits and Potential Issues
Market Trends to Understand
Inventory control (sometimes also called "stock control," a term used synonymously) means monitoring a company's inventory of products to ensure that slow-selling or little-used items are not overstocked. This way, the business can save money, time and warehouse space by not acquiring products or materials that are unnecessary. The ultimate goal of inventory control is to create maximum profit from the least investment in inventory, without negatively impacting customer satisfaction.
Inventory control systems can automate the monitoring and tracking of your products via their inventory codes, eliminating the need for time-consuming pen and paper logs or Excel spreadsheets. The software relies upon tracking items via barcodes (which you can create and customize) as products move in and out of your warehouse. It can provide automated alerts and reports as those items are checked in or out by various parties.
Whereas inventory control is the process of ensuring that you have the ideal amount of stock, inventory management is focused on most efficiently organizing and managing stock, so that reorders happen at the exact right moment.
According to major inventory control and inventory management vendor Fishbowl Inventory, the difference can be stated as follows:
The two processes clearly complement one another, and thus many vendors will offer both inventory control and inventory management features, either in a shared package or divided up into separate offerings that can be integrated together.
The "materials module" found in Fishbowl Inventory's software
This buyer's guide will focus on the features that are specifically a part of inventory control systems, but we recommend you also check out our inventory management software buyer's guide.
The most typical inventory control system features are explained in the following table:
|Inventory tracking||Enables you to track your entire inventory. This feature allows you to track your products by site, location, serial number, lot, date and/or pallet.|
|Barcoding||Create an inventory system that fits your needs, with flexibility in creating your own inventory and shipping labels.|
|Check-in/out||Track items as they move through the warehouse to employees, vendors or customers, preventing them from getting lost along the way.|
|Automated alerts||Receive automated notifications about low inventory levels, expiring items, overstocked items and reorder points to help you better keep track of inventory levels.|
|Audits/reports||Run periodic audits of your inventory and generate reports so you can track your stock and recognize problems before they develop.|
When considering inventory control software, you should take the following factors about your organization into account:
Industry. Your inventory control needs will vary greatly depending upon the type of industry you're buying for. Retailers will have very different needs from manufacturers, who will in turn have very different needs from distributors. Specific inventory control systems address the unique needs of different industries and may even have functionality that is directly suited to specialty niches within larger industries.
Company size. You should consider whether your company is a small business with one location; a midsize business with multiple locations within a relatively small geographical area or a large, enterprise-level business, with multiple lots located across a wide area. You will need an inventory control system that fits the needs of your particular business segment and the levels of complexity that come with any increases in size.
Be wary of overpaying for robust systems that have more capabilities than you need, but also be sure not to underestimate your needs.
Software needs. Consider carefully whether you are just looking for inventory control, or if you have greater automation, tracking and reporting needs. You may be looking to combine inventory control with inventory management, for example, or you may need an inventory control system that is part of a larger suite that includes other essential features such as supply chain management, warehouse management and/or business intelligence.
The obvious benefit of inventory control software is that it allows you to automate the process of tracking your company's inventory. It helps you figure out how much of a certain product you need to have in stock, without overages that mean you're stocking extra product with no attendant extra profit. Automation lets you take control of your inventory in a way that would prove exceedingly complex and complicated using spreadsheets or pen and paper.
Through inventory control, you can keep the right amount of raw materials and finished goods on hand and automatically place reorders at the right moment to maximize profit while minimizing stock overage.
However, because inventory control systems rely heavily upon barcode scanning, it does come with certain hardware requirements. Many vendors have mobile apps that can scan barcodes via smartphones or other mobile devices, while others may provide the necessary scanning hardware, potentially at an additional cost.
Here are some market trends you should consider as you select a product:
Mobile functionality. Largely provided by apps for phones and tablets, mobile functionality is a significant technological shift across most industries, and inventory control software is no different. In these contexts, apps connected to the inventory database can enable employees to scan barcodes throughout the warehouse without having to refer to a desktop computer.
Cloud-based software. Cloud-based systems, which are increasingly popular, require less hardware than on-premises software. They also require less IT knowledge (ideal for small businesses without an IT department), have lower upfront costs and are more quickly implemented, making them a good choice for smaller businesses in particular.
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