First, what is a stockout?
In today’s fast-moving marketplace, supply shortages can be caused by any number of factors within the supply chain. A stockout, however, refers specifically to a product being unavailable at the point of retail (whether in-store or online). No matter where in the supply chain the shortage happens, the customer experience is the same.
Cause of a Stockout
Stockouts can occur when there are unexpected supply shortages due to foul weather, a backup at a major port, or a sudden spike in demand. While businesses and merchants may have very little control over these types supply chain interruptions, there are several other factors that you can control, such as:
- Discrepancies in inventory cycle counts
- Inaccurate data at receiving
- Poor demand forecasting
- Lack of communication within tech stack
Effects of a Stockout
The consequence of a stockout is a missed sales opportunity. This can be especially harmful to your business if the shopper is a first-time customer. In this case, you’ve not only lost a single sale, but you’ve lost the opportunity to acquire a new customer, and if your competitors have the same or similar products in stock, they now have an opportunity to gain more visibility and market share.
How to Manage a Stockout: 3 Tips
1. Prioritize Inventory Visibility
Inventory visibility is primarily achieved through your Warehouse Management System (WMS), which should directly integrate with your shopping cart or Order Management System (OMS). A fully integrated WMS and OMS will give you real-time inventory data including:
- Every sku level in every location
- How many items are available to be sold
- How many items are allocated to an order
- How much inventory is on its way
Seeing this level of information about each sku and warehouse location will help you catch stockouts before they happen. When inventory reporting indicates that a stockout could be imminent at any location you have to decide what course of action to take. Ultimately, how you handle low inventory levels depends on your risk tolerance and product margin.
2. Know Your Supply and Know Your Demand
Demand forecasting can sometimes feel out of reach for small to mid-sized businesses. The level of reporting and data analysis required to understand average demand against a product and how demand is affected by seasonality and promotional cycles is time and labor intensive. Often this type of reporting is an enterprise-level function, managed by a procurement specialist, but ultimately, businesses of all sizes need access to demand forecasting capabilities.
This is where a tech-enabled fulfillment provider can step in as a true partner for your business with data analysis that helps you make smart decisions around inventory management. Select providers offer inventory technology that leverages machine learning to automate the process of demand forecasting, giving you a full picture of:
- What your current demand looks like
- How demand will change over time
- When and how much inventory you should re-order
- If a stockout is imminent and how (or if) you should avoid it
Beyond automating complex processes, machine learning becomes smarter and more accurate over time. When leveraging this kind of fulfillment technology, your demand forecasting will become more accurate each season, increasing your level control over you inventory management and further decreasing your risk of stockouts.
3. Balance Stockout Costs with Fulfillment Costs
This may seem counterintuitive. While stockouts do ultimately add up to lost opportunities, it’s important to know how the cost of a stockout compares to the cost of avoiding it. A deep level understanding of the true cost implications of a stockout start with visibility and the technology to automate data analysis. Good fulfillment data will help you understand:
- If inventory is low at a single warehouse, is it more costly to have a stockout for shoppers in that region or to incur the extra cost of a long-zone shipment from another facility?
- Is the cost of missed sales opportunities greater than the cost of moving inventory from one facility to another or placing a rush order with your supplier?
- Which products in your catalogue are most profitable and therefore highest priority to keep in stock?
At the end of the day, the cost of a stockout will be unique to your business and will even vary on a sku by sku basis. Having a fulfillment partner that prioritizes data and technology will help you become more strategic in your inventory management, balancing profitability with customer experience.