Inventory is a key concept at the heart of any business: it's what you, as a business owner, use to make money. In simple terms, inventory refers to all the items, goods, merchandise and materials held at hand for the on-selling stage that generates your cash flow.
As a major asset for any manufacturing or trading business, it's important for business owners to understand what inventory is really about and why it's so important to keep track of it.
First thing to know: the definition of inventory changes slightly depending on the industry. Inventory can be either tangible or intangible (such as in service industries), but it always represents that which can be used for revenue generation or that which has a dollar value when sold. It can also be an asset that is presently in processing but which will be sold later.
What is an inventory tracking system?
Firstly, 'tracking system' means a set of tools and processes used to track goods across the supply chain. They ensure you can monitor trends and identify where you can improve. This often begins with ordering items from suppliers and vendors and concludes when delivering your products to end consumers. You can see how having more awareness of inventory across the supply chain would help you make smarter business decisions.
Depending on what sector you're in, the kind of inventory you need to track will differ. It makes sense then that different inventory tracking systems work better for some industries than others. As with anything, there are pros, cons and trade-offs.
What is the best way to manage inventory?
While it is important to track your inventory, there is no single 'best way'. You may want a system that gives you more data collection and analysis. This would help you monitor trends. You may need the most competent real-time tracking, so staff at remote locations can all be 'on the same page'. Or you may be looking for the easiest system for your workforce to use.
Finding the right system that works for your business can help you continuously improve. The more data you can track and manage, the better informed your decision making will be.
Following are five of the best inventory apps available. They all offer different benefits at different price points.
All of the options on this list include the features most commonly used by inventory managers on the go, but Sortly goes a step further to offer features no other apps have.
For starters, Sortly includes an offline mode that allows you to scan incoming and outgoing items all the time. This is useful when your smartphone can't find a signal. When you eventually do reconnect, all your offline activity then syncs with your account for seamless inventory tracking company-wide.
Also, more than just barcode scanning, Sortly supports QR codes too. This gives you more flexibility to choose the scanning method that works best for your business.
- Inventory Now
If you run a mobile business (like a food truck or pop-up store) or attend a lot of trade shows, Inventory Now may be the inventory app you need.
How it works is that Inventory Now pairs with PayPal Here, essentially replacing your business's point-of-sale (POS) system. This gives you the ability to generate sales orders as you make your sale, as well as process payments for the order. You can then set the order fulfillment process in motion straight away. All of this can be achieved from your Android or iOS mobile device. You can also use this system to process customer payments without investing in an expensive POS register.
Inventory Now software also supports item kitting (which allows you to group items together for bundles) and built-in barcode scanning. You can even generate UPC and SKU numbers within the app and then use these in barcode generation.
- On Shelf
On Shelf's biggest selling point is its ability to analyse and report efficiently. It offers perpetual inventory tracking, so the stock displayed in your app reflects your real-time inventory levels, not what they were at the end of the previous day's trade. This up-to-the-minute reporting makes it easier to make the right decisions on the go.
What's more, On Shelf displays your inventory list with colour coding to indicate your business's most and least profitable items. This means you can quickly identify your highest priority items. You can also access graphs showing sales trends for each product. On Shelf will even recommend correct inventory levels for each item so you never have to worry about ordering excess inventory again.
The biggest downside? On Shelf is only available on iOS devices, so any employees using an Android smartphone will need to be provided with an iPhone or iPad to access your inventory tracking system.
- Stock Control
Have you ever tried to find a single item in a crowded back room or a huge warehouse? Stock Control makes it a lot easier to find that needle in a haystack.
With the Stock Control inventory app, you can attach detailed, custom location info to each item. So if an item's stored in your back room, you can specify that it is, for example, on 'the fourth shelf from the top along the back wall'. Or, for items in a warehouse, you can attach the bin, row and zone numbers. This level of detail makes asset tracking, order picking and warehousing a lot faster and easier.
Stock Control also lets you generate PDF catalogues of your items based on your current inventory levels. You can then share these catalogues, ensuring that your customers only order items that are currently in stock.
Be advised, though: the Stock Control app is also only available on iOS devices.
- inFlow Inventory
If you need inventory management software with a little more oomph that can still offer easy-to-use mobile functions, inFlow Inventory may be the best pick for your business.
With inFlow Inventory, you get the desktop features of a complete inventory management platform. This includes team management, vendor tracking, customer tracking and order management. In addition, inFlow's mobile app allows you to use a built-in barcode reader to scan items, adjust stock levels, create new sales orders and generate purchase orders - and do all this on the go.
Making the right choice
It's true: you know your business best, yet not even you could be expected to always know where every single item is held within your business. Using inventory management tools to track your supply chain ensures you can always have the right products, in the right quantity, at the right time.
When these systems are implemented effectively, you can reduce the costs of carrying excess inventory while maximising your sales. Good inventory management helps you track your inventory in real time to streamline this process.
These facts hold true whether you're running a mobile food truck, a home-based service provider, a multi-site retail business or a warehousing and logistics operation. Whatever your enterprise, there's an inventory tracking management system that's right for you.
So, take some time to look deeper into all the options out there. You may be amazed at what the available apps can offer.