Inventory Management Challenges and Solutions for SMBs

For SMB owners and operators, effective inventory management is the critical component to your company’s success. Inventory issues can impact everything from fulfilling customer orders to managing cash flow effectively. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common inventory challenges faced by SMBs and provide practical solutions to help you overcome them. Let’s get to it!

Inconsistent Tracking

NO surprise, one of the biggest challenges SMBs often face is inconsistent inventory tracking methods. Many businesses still rely on manual processes like spreadsheets or paper-based systems, which are prone to errors, redundancies, and wasted time. These inconsistencies can lead to inaccurate data, stockouts, and dissatisfied customers.

To address this challenge, SMBs should consider implementing a centralized, inventory management system. Such a system automates tracking across all locations, providing real-time visibility into stock levels and movements. This not only improves accuracy but also saves time and reduces the risk of human error. Our number one recommendation is Fishbowl for its ability to be customized to the needs of a wide range of industries and businesses.

Warehouse Inefficiencies

For SMBs with physical warehouses, managing processes like receiving, putaway, picking, packing, and shipping can be labor-intensive and inefficient without the right systems in place. Disorganized warehouse operations can lead to delayed shipments, incorrect orders, and increased labor costs.

To streamline warehouse operations, SMBs should leverage the Mobile Warehouse Management tool within their inventory management software. These tools allow you to optimize warehouse layout, automate workflows, and maximize space utilization. This tool will also allow a business to properly implement 2D barcode scanning that will further improve accuracy and efficiency during tasks like putaway, order picking, and even pallet management.

Inaccurate Data

Accurate inventory data is essential for SMBs to make informed decisions about purchasing, production, and sales, because without a clear understanding of what inventory you have on hand, it’s nearly impossible to effectively manage stock levels and meet customer demand.

Regular cycle counting, where you audit a portion of your inventory on a predetermined schedule, is a critical process for maintaining accurate data. Many inventory management systems include cycle counting features to simplify this task. Frequent cycle counts, combined with real-time updates from your software, ensure you have a reliable picture of your inventory at all times.

For businesses that need a digital storefront or Sales Portal, a proper solution will not only provide customers with online order access, but also integrate with your inventory solution to keep counts accurate and cut back on time lost to manual data entry.

Changing Demand

Customer demand is constantly fluctuating, making it challenging for SMBs to maintain optimal stock levels. Overstocking can tie up valuable capital and lead to obsolete inventory, while understocking can result in lost sales and dissatisfied customers.

To address this challenge, SMBs should take advantage of the demand forecasting tools offered by many inventory management systems. These tools analyze sales data and trends to predict future demand, allowing you to adjust stock levels accordingly. Additionally, setting appropriate reorder points and safety stock levels can help ensure you have enough inventory to meet customer needs without overstocking.

An additional–and oft overlooked–resource is utilizing your historical data to generate reports to fit your industry and business specific needs. These reports can range from customer histories, stock level reports, or even Custom Third-Party Reports.

Limited Visibility

When inventory is difficult to locate within a warehouse, it can cause delays, incomplete shipments, and poor customer experiences. Limited visibility into inventory locations and movements is a common issue for SMBs, particularly those with larger or multiple warehouse facilities.

Implementing a robust inventory management system with multi-location tracking capabilities is essential for SMBs in this situation, hence our Fishbowl recommendation. These systems allow you to track inventory down to the bin or shelf level, providing real-time visibility into stock locations and movements. Additionally, this is where your Mobile Warehouse toolset can provide barcode scanning to further improve visibility and accuracy during warehouse operations.

Preventive Control for Special Inventory

Some types of inventory, such as perishable goods, fragile equipment, or high-value items, require special handling and storage conditions. Without proper preventive control measures in place, SMBs risk inventory loss, damage, or obsolescence.

To manage these types of inventory, SMBs should implement stock control systems within their inventory management software. These systems allow you to categorize and track special inventory, set alerts for expiration dates or maintenance schedules, and implement specific storage and handling procedures. Additionally, regular audits and cycle counts are essential for monitoring and preventing issues with these inventory types.

Supply Chain Disruptions

We all operate in a global economy, and supply chain disruptions are becoming increasingly common. Factors such as natural disasters, geopolitical events, or material shortages can impact the availability and lead times of inventory for SMBs.

To mitigate the impact of supply chain disruptions, SMBs should closely monitor supplier performance metrics like shipment errors, damaged goods, and missed delivery appointments. This data can help identify potential issues and inform decisions about diversifying suppliers, adjusting safety stock levels, or implementing contingency plans.

Multi-Location Inventory Management

As SMBs grow and expand, managing inventory across multiple warehouses or locations becomes increasingly challenging. Without a centralized system, it’s easy for stock levels and movements to become disjointed, leading to inefficiencies and potential stockouts.

Implementing an inventory management system with robust multi-location tracking capabilities is essential for SMBs in this situation. These systems provide a centralized view of inventory across all locations, allowing you to easily transfer stock, manage replenishment, and maintain accurate data. Additionally, many systems offer advanced features like warehouse transfer management and inter-branch logistics support.

Outsourcing Expertise

Implementing and maintaining an effective inventory management system can be a complex undertaking, particularly for SMBs with limited resources or technical expertise. Attempting to navigate these systems without proper training or support can lead to frustration, inefficiencies, and underutilization of critical features.

To address this challenge, SMBs should consider outsourcing to an Inventory Management Expert. These professionals can guide your implementation, provide hands-on training for staff, and offer ongoing support to ensure you’re following best practices and fully leveraging your system’s capabilities.

Takeaway

By addressing these common inventory management challenges, SMBs can improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, and ultimately provide better service to their customers. Investing in the right inventory management strategies and technology solutions is essential for staying competitive and positioning your business for long-term success.

Integrating B2B E-Commerce: Overcoming Operational Challenges

As ecommerce continues to transform the way businesses purchase products and services, B2B companies are increasingly recognizing the need to integrate their offerings into online sales channels. However, transitioning a traditional B2B business model to an operational e-commerce platform comes with its own unique set of operational complexities. 

From managing complex pricing structures to handling bulk orders and optimizing logistics, B2B e-commerce introduces a new layer of challenges that companies must address to achieve scalable success. In this article, we’ll explore key operational hurdles and provide practical strategies to help your B2B business seamlessly integrate its products into an e-commerce offering.

Handling Bulk Orders and Large Transaction Volumes

Another hallmark of B2B sales is the tendency for customers to place larger, less frequent orders. This poses unique challenges when it comes to order processing, inventory management, and fulfillment. Imagine a scenario where a major manufacturing client places a $50,000 order for specialty tools – your e-commerce platform needs to be able to handle that level of transaction volume seamlessly.

To tackle this, B2B companies should leverage enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that can seamlessly integrate with their e-commerce platform. ERP solutions like SAP, Oracle, and Fishbowl offer robust order management capabilities that can automate everything from credit checks to shipping logistics. By synchronizing inventory data, order details, and customer information across your ERP and e-commerce systems, you can ensure a frictionless purchasing experience for your B2B buyers.

Uline, a leading distributor of shipping, industrial, and packaging supplies, has seen great success with this approach. By integrating its ERP system with its Magento-powered e-commerce store, Uline was able to streamline the order fulfillment process, reducing errors and processing times. As a result, the company has experienced a 20% increase in online sales and a 12% improvement in customer satisfaction scores.

How can your business follow a similar model? Incorporating the order management capabilities of Fishbowl with a dedicated B2B Sales Portal not only provides constant access for your customers, it’s tied directly to your inventory to keep orders and counts accurate.

Managing Complex Pricing Structures

One of the hallmarks of the B2B sales landscape is the intricate nature of pricing models. Volume discounts, negotiated contract terms, and highly customized pricing structures are common in the B2B world – but they can create headaches when trying to translate these nuances to an e-commerce platform.

To overcome this challenge, B2B companies need flexible, rules-based pricing engines that can dynamically adjust prices based on factors like order quantities, customer-specific agreements, and even real-time market conditions. Advanced e-commerce platforms like Magento and Salesforce Commerce Cloud offer robust pricing capabilities that can help you map your complex B2B pricing models into a user-friendly online shopping experience.

Take the example of Grainger, a leading distributor of MRO (maintenance, repair, and operations) products. By implementing a sophisticated pricing engine, Grainger was able to offer its B2B customers personalized discounts, tiered pricing tiers, and even real-time quotes – all within its e-commerce storefront. This level of pricing flexibility and transparency helped Grainger increase online conversions by 28% and achieve a 15% boost in average order value.

How can your business copy this success? Make use of pricing rules and terms within your Fishbowl ERP. It provides similar feature sets and significant savings when compared to other pricing engines.

Streamlining Logistics and Inventory Management

The complexities of B2B product offerings also extend to the realm of logistics and inventory management. Unlike consumer products, many B2B items have longer lead times, specialized packaging requirements, or unique shipping needs. Keeping track of these variables across multiple sales channels can quickly become an operational nightmare.

To combat this, B2B companies should invest in integrated logistics and transportation management systems that provide real-time visibility into inventory levels, delivery statuses, and shipping costs. For large enterprises, solutions like HighJump, BluJay, and Manhattan Associates can help you maintain a single, accurate view of your product availability and fulfill orders with speed and precision.

For Small and Medium-sized businesses, integrating with the available shipping plugins from ShipStation, Shippo, or even directly with FedEx and UPS can provide similar functionality.

By incorporating these types of solutions with your centralized inventory management system, your organization can ensure its e-commerce platform always displays accurate product quantities, even for items with lengthy production cycles. This, coupled with automated shipping integrations, allow on-time delivery rate for its online orders – a critical metric for its demanding B2B customers.

Maintaining Strong Customer Support and Communication

While optimizing operational efficiency is crucial, B2B e-commerce also requires a strong focus on customer experience. B2B buyers often have unique needs, from custom order requirements to post-purchase support. Ensuring seamless communication and dedicated support is key to building long-term relationships and driving repeat business.

Leading B2B e-commerce platforms like Salesforce Commerce Cloud and BigCommerce offer integrated customer service tools that allow you to provide a high-touch experience. Features like self-service portals, chatbots, and order status updates can empower your customers to easily track deliveries, manage their accounts, and get the assistance they need – all without taxing your support team.

Additionally, new Multi-Cart integrations allow your B2B business to incorporate many online carts to both widen sales channels and keep order management streamlined, providing opportunities to reach more customers and keep their orders accurate.

Overcoming the Challenges, Unlocking the Opportunities

The road to successful B2B e-commerce is paved with operational challenges, but the potential rewards are well worth the effort. By addressing complexities around pricing, order management, logistics, and customer support, B2B companies can unlock the power of online sales channels and deliver a frictionless purchasing experience for their clients.

Through a combination of advanced technologies, streamlined processes, and a relentless focus on customer experience, your B2B business can scale its e-commerce operations and achieve sustainable growth. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to take your B2B offering to the digital forefront.

How to Automate Your Inventory

Given the pace of our society’s rapid technological advancement, the idea behind “business automation” often feels more akin to robots and AI than basic inventory processes, but the intent really is that simple: Automate those operational and oft-repeated tasks as much as possible. Think of how many repetitive steps your business takes on any given day in dealing with inventory, orders, and shippings. How much time–and money–could you save if you removed the human element from those tasks? These repetitive, manual efforts not only drain your resources but also introduce the risk of costly mistakes.

Automate… with what?

Automation sounds like a daunting prospect, but in the context of inventory management and order fulfillment, it can be more simple than you might imagine and it starts with integrating inventory management software. These straightforward solutions provide the starting point for your business’ inventory automation, from generating sales orders, providing stock alerts, or monitoring outbound shipments. But that’s only the beginning…

Your inventory management software provides your business the ability to integrate with e-commerce platforms, shipping carriers, and other fulfillment solutions, to streamline these critical functions and free up your team to focus on more strategic initiatives. Imagine the boost in efficiency and productivity when your systems automatically import orders, update inventory, generate shipping labels, and provide real-time tracking updates to your customers. It’s a win-win scenario that can transform your supply chain operations.

But the benefits of automation go far beyond just increased efficiency. By eliminating manual data entry and reducing the risk of human error, you’ll enjoy improved inventory accuracy and visibility, leading to better decision-making and reduced carrying costs. And as your customers receive their orders faster and with greater transparency, you’ll see a direct impact on their satisfaction and loyalty – a crucial competitive advantage in today’s crowded marketplace.

Automate… how?

So, where do you begin? Let’s walk through a step-by-step approach to automating your fulfillment and shipping processes:

1. Assess your current processes: The first step is to take a close look at your existing order fulfillment and shipping workflows. Identify the pain points and bottlenecks – where are your team members spending the most time and effort? What are the common sources of errors or delays? Understanding these pain points will help you prioritize the areas that would benefit most from automation.

2. Prioritize and start small: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same goes for your automation journey. Rather than trying to overhaul everything at once, start by automating the most time-consuming or error-prone tasks. This could include automating order processing, shipping label generation, or inventory updates. Implement these initial automations, measure the impact, and then gradually expand your efforts.

3. Integrate your systems: The key to unlocking the full potential of automation lies in implementing your inventory management software with other critical business systems. Connect it with your e-commerce platform to enable seamless order import and inventory synchronization. Integrate with your preferred shipping carriers to automate label creation and provide customers with real-time tracking updates. And don’t forget to explore integrations with warehouse management systems or third-party logistics providers to streamline your entire fulfillment workflow.

4. Optimize and expand: As you implement and refine your automated processes, continue to monitor their performance and identify areas for further optimization. Are there additional manual tasks you can eliminate? Can you leverage advanced analytics to gain deeper insights into your supply chain operations? Stay agile and be prepared to scale your automation efforts as your business grows and your needs evolve.

Automate… with who?

Now, let’s look into some of the specific integrations that can help you unlock the power of automation in your fulfillment and shipping operations:

E-commerce platform integrations: If you sell through online channels, integrating your inventory management software with platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, or Magento can be a game-changer. These integrations enable automatic order import, real-time inventory updates, and seamless order processing and fulfillment. Say goodbye to manual data entry and hello to a frictionless, automated e-commerce experience.

Shipping carrier integrations: Coordinating with shipping carriers like FedEx, UPS, and USPS can be a tedious, time-consuming task. But with the right integrations, you can automate the entire process. Your inventory management software can automatically generate shipping labels, provide customers with tracking information, and even handle returns and exchanges – all without your team having to lift a finger.

Warehouse management and 3PL integrations: For businesses with more complex fulfillment operations, integrating your inventory management system with Mobile Warehouse Technology software (WMT) or third-party logistics (3PL) providers can be a game-changer. These integrations enable seamless inventory management, streamlined order processing, and optimized warehouse efficiency – freeing you up to focus on other critical aspects of your business.

By embracing these integrations and automating your fulfillment and shipping processes, you’ll not only improve efficiency and productivity but also enhance the overall customer experience. Imagine the delight of your customers when they receive their orders faster, with accurate tracking information and minimal hassle. This level of service can be a true differentiator in today’s competitive landscape, helping you stand out and build lasting loyalty.

Takeaway

Of course, the journey towards a fully automated supply chain doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process of assessment, prioritization, and continuous optimization. But by taking that first step and implementing even a few targeted automations, you’ll quickly see the transformative impact on your business.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to start embracing automation and leveraging the power of integrations to optimize your fulfillment and shipping operations. Your customers will thank you, your team will thank you, and your bottom line will thank you. Let’s get started!

Scaling with Inventory: Fishbowl for Growing Businesses

The journey of a small business is often marked by exciting growth opportunities and expanding horizons. However, as a company grows, so do the challenges of managing inventory, warehousing, and distribution operations. Inefficient inventory management can quickly become a bottleneck, hindering a business’s ability to meet increasing demand and capitalize on newfound success. This is where Fishbowl Inventory shines, providing a scalable and flexible solution that empowers growing businesses to scale with confidence.

The Scalability of Fishbowl Inventory:

Fishbowl Inventory is designed to accommodate the evolving needs of growing businesses. Its robust architecture allows for seamless expansion, enabling companies to handle increasing product lines, multiple locations, and expanded distribution channels with ease. Whether you’re adding new warehouses, suppliers, or customers, Fishbowl Inventory simplifies the process, ensuring that your inventory management system grows alongside your business.

Flexible Inventory Management:

As businesses grow, their inventory requirements often change. Fishbowl Inventory provides the flexibility to adapt to these changing needs. With customizable product categories, units of measure, and inventory tracking methods, businesses can tailor the software to their specific requirements. Additionally, reorder points, safety stock levels, and inventory policies can be easily adjusted, ensuring optimal inventory levels and minimizing stockouts or overstocking as demand fluctuates.

Multi-Location and Multi-Channel Support:

For businesses with multiple warehouses or retail locations, Fishbowl Inventory offers robust multi-location and multi-channel support. With real-time visibility and synchronization of inventory levels across all locations and channels, businesses can ensure accurate inventory tracking and avoid costly overselling or underselling situations. Whether you’re selling through brick-and-mortar stores, e-commerce platforms, or wholesale distribution channels, Fishbowl Inventory provides a centralized solution for managing inventory across your entire operation.

Scalable Architecture and Performance:

At the core of Fishbowl Inventory’s scalability lies its robust and flexible architecture, designed to handle the demands of growing businesses without compromising on performance. The software is built on a powerful relational database management system, ensuring fast data retrieval and processing, even as the volume of inventory and transaction data grows exponentially.

Fishbowl Inventory’s server-based architecture allows for seamless scalability, enabling businesses to easily add more users, warehouses, or locations without experiencing performance bottlenecks. This architecture also facilitates efficient data sharing and collaboration across multiple departments, ensuring that all stakeholders have access to real-time inventory information.

Furthermore, Fishbowl Inventory’s modular design allows businesses to scale their system gradually, adding new functionalities and integrations as their needs evolve. This approach ensures that businesses only pay for the features they require, avoiding unnecessary complexity and costs associated with bloated software solutions.

Harnessing the Power of Third-Party Integrations:

As businesses grow and their operations become more complex, the need for seamless integration between various software systems and applications becomes increasingly important. Fishbowl recognizes this need and offers a robust ecosystem of third-party integrations, enabling businesses to extend the functionality of their inventory management solution and streamline their workflows.

One of the key advantages of Fishbowl Inventory is its open architecture, which allows for easy integration with a wide range of third-party solutions. Whether it’s accounting software, e-commerce platforms, shipping carriers, or manufacturing systems, Fishbowl Inventory can be seamlessly integrated, ensuring a smooth flow of data and eliminating the need for manual data entry.

For instance, businesses can integrate Mobile Warehouse Software to further improve their warehouse operation processes, speeding up the most common tasks like order management, picking, even barcode generation. This not only saves time but also reduces the risk of errors associated with manual data entry, improving overall accuracy and efficiency.

Similarly, businesses can leverage integrations with e-commerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, or Magento to ensure real-time inventory updates across all sales channels. As orders are placed online, inventory levels are automatically adjusted in Fishbowl, preventing overselling and enhancing customer satisfaction.

Fishbowl also offers integrations with shipping carriers like FedEx, UPS, and USPS, allowing businesses to streamline their shipping and fulfillment processes. Orders can be automatically transmitted to the appropriate carrier, and tracking information can be seamlessly integrated into the inventory management system, providing customers with real-time updates on their shipments.

For businesses engaged in light manufacturing, Fishbowl can be integrated with manufacturing execution systems and other production management tools. This integration enables real-time visibility into production schedules, material requirements, and work-in-progress (WIP) levels, helping businesses optimize their manufacturing processes and maintain tight control over inventory levels.

By leveraging the power of third-party integrations, growing businesses can create a cohesive ecosystem of software solutions that work together seamlessly, eliminating data silos and enabling efficient collaboration across different departments and functions. 

Seamless Integration and Automation:

As a company grows, the need for integrating Fishbowl Inventory with other business systems becomes increasingly important. Fishbowl recognizes this need and offers seamless integration capabilities with accounting software, e-commerce platforms, shipping carriers, and manufacturing systems. 

An example of one possible integration is using a Sales Portal to provide B2B customers an easily accessible platform to place orders 24/7, while the inventory integration allows robust item tracking to better connect your sales with inventory across your entire ecommerce efforts. 

By automating processes such as order fulfillment, shipping, and financial record-keeping, businesses can reduce manual data entry, improve accuracy, and increase overall efficiency.

Takeaway

Business will continue to rapidly evolve, and your ability to scale operations efficiently is crucial for growth and success. Fishbowl Inventory empowers growing businesses with the scalability, flexibility, and integration capabilities needed to manage inventory and warehouse operations with confidence. Whether you’re expanding into new markets, introducing new product lines, or adding distribution channels, Fishbowl adapts to your changing needs, providing a robust and reliable solution that grows alongside your business.

With its seamless integration capabilities, Fishbowl Inventory enables businesses to create a cohesive ecosystem of software solutions, streamlining workflows and eliminating data silos. By harnessing the power of third-party integrations, businesses can automate processes, reduce manual efforts, and improve overall efficiency, gaining a competitive edge in today’s fast-paced business environment.