Coronavirus series part 3 – Improving inventory planning during the Covid-19 pandemic

In this four-part blog series we look at the impact Covid-19 is having on supply chains and how inventory optimisation software can help. So far we’ve discussed how to overcome demand forecasting challenges due to the coronavirus. In this post we focus on inventory planning and how to optimise stock levels despite erratic customer behaviour and supply restrictions.

Countries across the globe are responding to Covid-19 in different ways, causing the demand and supply of goods to fluctuate up and down. As lockdown measures are eased and re-imposed at varying rates, customer demand for many items will continue to rise and fall respectively. At the same time, the supply of raw materials and finished items will remain disrupted.Covid 19 and inventory management

For inventory management teams to effectively plan and secure their stock requirements during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond, they need to overcome a number of fundamental challenges:

  • How to regularly review demand forecasts and understand demand patterns for each of their inventory items.
  • How to identify stock items that are critical to their business. For manufacturers this is items that are critical to prevent production stoppages. Whilst suppliers, distributors and retailers need to prevent running out of their best-selling products.
  • How to prevent excess stock piling up in the warehouse.
  • How to monitor stock levels at each stage of the supply chain and ensure every item is put to best use.
  • How to keep stock investment as low as possible without a negative impact on service levels (stock availability) and customer satisfaction.

Finally, with many businesses facing cashflow issues, it’s important to free-up working capital. However, no business wants to do this at the expense of and failing to fulfil customer orders.

Here’s a number of ways you can do that, utilising inventory optimisation:

Forecasting demand

In our second post of this series we take an in-depth look at how to forecast demand during the coronavirus pandemic. With customer’s buying patterns so erratic, producing accurate forecasts is challenging, we therefore also look at ways to overcome this, with a number of ‘safety nets’ that inventory opitmisation software can provide.

Identifying and managing critical stock during Covid-19

When supply is restricted or lead times are unreliable, it’s important to identify stock items that are critical to your business and build an inventory plan to alleviate the risks. Manufacturers need to analyse their bill of materials (BOM) and highlight components that could cause production delays or stoppages. Suppliers, distributors and retailers should identify products that they need in stock to keep customers happy and revenue flowing into the business. You can then prioritise these items over others, for example, checking demand, stock levels and reviewing lead times more frequently, to help ensure availability at all times.Planning inventory requirements during Covid 19

Doing this manually, however, takes time and resource. However, with an inventory optimisation tool like EazyStock, this becomes a straightforward task. You simply load your list of critical items into the system so you can easily monitor them more closely and set individual replenishment parameters.

Investing in the right inventory

With cashflow tight, inventory teams need to invest in stock that’s going to generate revenue, not sit in the warehouse. Having a detailed understanding of your inventory will help this happen.

Many inventory planning teams will use a simple stock classification model, such as ABC inventory analysis, to categorise inventory, based on each item’s value to the business. Using the pareto principle, 80% of sales will come from 20% of your inventory, so it makes sense to identify items that make up that 20% and set stocking policies to help secure their supply!

However, ABC inventory analysis is quickly out-of-date. It also takes time, and right now your team may be far too busy to do the maths.

In comparison, inventory optimisation software will analyse every stock item in your business and automatically classify it, based on a much wider range of criteria, to segment your inventory much more precisely. This criteria includes the cost of goods sold, how often an item is picked, an item’s demand volume and it’s demand volatility. This is a much more advanced, multi-dimensional classification model than ABC analysis, that allows you to optimise stock levels to ensure high service levels e.g stock availability.

With stock categorised into over 200 segments (if required), EazyStock then applies stocking rules – configured during implementation and manually adjustable based on what’s happening in your market. These rules, or inventory policies, help achieve your target service levels. As a general rule, items with consistent demand and a low cost to sell will have high service levels, whilst those that are expensive to stock and sell very inconsistently will have lower service levels. However, if these latter items are also critical to your business, you can flag them in a critical items list (as above) and assign appropriate stocking rules.

Everyday EazyStock dynamically updates your ‘inventory matrix’, moving items between categories and automatically updating inventory policies, when required.

The result is that your inventory levels are automatically optimised, allowing your business to invest in the right stock items, keep stockouts to a minimum and reduce the risk of excess inventory.

Understanding the impact of inventory investment on order fulfilment

A common challenge for many inventory planning teams is looking for ways to reduce investment tied up in inventory without a reduction in order fulfilment rates or service levels.Inventory replenishment and Covid 19

EazyStock’s target service level simulation tool helps you understand the relationship between your inventory investment and service levels. It allows you to simulate investment adjustments, so you can see the potential impact on your service levels. And, in reverse, you can understand how increases or decreases in service levels will deliver savings or inflate costs. This helps you utilise your cash wisely, understand business implications and plan for change.

Redistributing ‘useful’ inventory

Identifying and utilising surplus stock along your supply chain is one way to help alleviate the pressure on supply and could be the difference between business continuity and grinding to a standstill.

Many companies will have surplus stock. This could be in the form of finished goods reserved for customers who no longer need them, excess stock sat in satellite warehouses, obsolete goods superseded by newer models, spare parts, or items being held by suppliers / stores that are not currently trading. Global distributors may also find that they have excess stock in some countries, due to lockdown, whilst other locations are booming.

A good warehouse management system (WMS) or perhaps your enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform will tell you how much of every stock item you hold in your warehouse. EazyStock can take this one step further and identify which of this stock is needed to satisfy upcoming demand, and what is excess. You can then move stock about to help prevent stockouts.

EazyStock can also redistribute stock automatically. For example, when confirming an order, it can recommend stock redistribution instead of ordering from a supplier, as this is often a more economical choice.

Smart inventory planning

At a time when cash is a precious commodity for most businesses, optimising stock levels is an important way to release working capital. But trying to do this manually with spreadsheets, or using your WMS or ERP system, is challenging at the best of times. Right now, with supply and demand so unpredictable and internal resources pushed to their limits, it’s almost impossible.

Using an inventory optimisation tool, such as EazyStock will help you lower your stock levels without compromising stock availability. If you’d like to see a demo to find out how, please contact us today.

Originally published June 2020. Updated January, 09, 2021.

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