6 inventory control techniques to optimise your stock management

Inventory control techniques that help optimise your stock management

There are hundreds of inventory control blog posts on how to organise warehouses, track goods, and pick and pack efficiently. So we thought we’d focus on the best inventory control methods to manage your inventory well and ensure stock availability. Effective inventory control techniques are at the heart of efficient supply chains, ensuring products are in the right place at the right time to fulfil demand.

Firstly, let’s get a few definitions:

What is inventory control?

Inventory control is the process of managing and regulating the supply, storage and distribution of stock. Inventory control is a key function of supply chain management that maintains appropriate quantities of stock to meet customer demand.

What is stock optimisation?

The objective of stock optimisation is to have the right products in the right place at the right time – as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Stock optimisation (also known as inventory optimisation) is key in ensuring inventory control techniques can be carried out effectively. It’s the art of achieving stock availability while reducing inventory costs and minimising the risk of excess items. This is done by forecasting demand and managing supply variables while dynamically adjusting stock rules and inventory parameters.

We all know that inventory takes up valuable warehouse space and ties up capital. It’s, therefore, important to invest money in products that will sell so that you can optimise inventory turnover and warehouse space.

In this post, we’ll look at six inventory control techniques that will specifically show you how to control your stock levels, help you optimise your inventory and maximise profits.

Six inventory control techniques to optimise stock levels

1. Understand your demand

Our first inventory control technique is all about demand forecasting. Knowing what products to carry to satisfy market demand is key to controlling your stock levels. It’s critical to invest time (and money if required) in setting up advanced inventory forecasting models that produce accurate demand forecasts. It’s not enough to look at last year’s sales figures and expect this year’s to follow the same pattern. Effective forecasting should consider:

Product lifecycles: every item in your warehouse is sitting at a specific stage in its product life cycle. Each life cycle stage will affect the item’s demand pattern and so needs to be considered when forecasts are being calculated. Read our blog on demand forecasting accuracy for more details.

Seasonality: identify any products in your portfolio that have seasonal demand variations. It’s best practice to keep seasonal demand factors separate from your base demand calculations. This keeps the data clean and easier to use for forecasting going forward.

Trends: Product demand is influenced by fashion, technology, social, economic and legal factors. Look out for such trends in your historical demand data and adjust your forecasts accordingly.

Qualitative factors: Add any qualitative forecasting factors into your data, such as sales promotions, competitor activity or external market events.

Many factors cause demand variability – read our eGuide for the lowdown:

2. Know your star products!

ABC inventory analysis is an excellent technique to segment your warehouse stock based on the value it brings to the company. Every item in your warehouse has a different value regarding how much money it makes the business. There are many ways to define ‘value’, including segmenting based on sales revenue, profitability, sales volume or annual consumption value. Choose one that works for you. Then split your stock into categories – A, B, and C. ‘A’ are the items that are critical to your business’s success, and ‘C’ are those that are least important.

ABC classification is a simple way to identify your most important products so that you can focus your tons of stock control and management. In addition, it can help you set out more focused stock control parameters (see next point!)

It is, however, a very simplistic framework and fails to account for supply and demand variables. For more complex inventory classification, utilise inventory optimisation software, which carries out multi-dimensional item categorisation. By segmenting SKUs based on their demand, inventory turnover and profitability, you can get a much greater insight into controlling your stock levels.

3. Set stock level control policies

Inventory policies ensure you’re stocking the right goods in the right quantities – a must for good inventory control in the warehouse. Make sure you have a set of ‘rules’ for every SKU you carry. Inventory classification, such as ABC analysis, will help with this. For example, you should consider setting different service levels, safety stock levels and reordering parameters for each category.

Don’t forget to have a policy for reducing excess stock and removing obsolete items. While excess stock negatively impacts stock turnover and eats into working capital, it’ll also gnaw away at your profit margins if it becomes obsolete!

We’ve only six points to this post, so here’s point 3b – set useful inventory KPIs! Whilst this might sound obvious, it’s worth reviewing your current KPIs to ensure they’re helping to add value to your operations in terms of meeting business objectives and improving efficiency, customer service and profitability.

4. Introduce service level targets to optimise stock

A target service level measures the probability of having the correct quantity of an item in stock when it’s requested for delivery, leading to a completely fulfilled order.

When setting target service levels, consider your customers’ expectations regarding availability and delivery times. For example, suppose a seven-day lead time is acceptable to your customers. You might be able to lower your inventory levels and rely on smaller purchase quantities, reducing tied-up capital, or you could place on-demand orders with your suppliers if they have short lead times for you.

Remember – providing higher service levels than required costs your company money. However, failing to meet customer expectations can lead to lost sales and a damaged reputation. So you need to find a balance.

Service levels will also influence your stock turnover rate – aim for higher service levels on faster-moving items and lower them for those with less demand, so you can keep your turnover rate high and avoid tying up capital unnecessarily.

5. Fine-tune your stock replenishment strategies

You can only optimise stock levels when you have informed inventory purchasing practices.

Most businesses will reorder when they hit a fixed date or when stock drops to a specified level – the defined reorder point. The amount they reorder is usually either a fixed amount or variable to meet a minimum or maximum stock capacity. Many ERP and WMS systems will use one of these approaches. However, if these methods are leading to stockouts or excess stock scenarios, you need to look for a smarter way to carry out replenishment. A more ‘informed’ or dynamic approach is to factor in the following variables:

  • Demand forecasts
  • Supplier lead times
  • Cost-effective order quantities

Introducing supply and demand variables into your stock replenishment planning will help the accuracy of your ordering and prevent stock build-up.

6. Carry safety stock to reduce the risk of stockouts

Safety stock, also called buffer stock, is the layer of inventory kept to prevent stockouts and back orders in situations where the forecast is exceeded, or supply is delayed. Safety stock minimises disruptions caused by demand, supply chain or fulfilment disruptions – while investing the lowest possible amount of capital in inventory.

Many businesses (WMS and ERP systems) still use a basic stock days model to calculate safety stock, e.g. they work out the number of days (or weeks) of demand and add enough buffer stock to cover any variance – for example, four weeks of cycle stock and two weeks of safety stock.

But – this “one size fits all” approach assumes that all goods in the warehouse have similar demand patterns and behave the same. As we’ve already discussed, this is most certainly not the case. The more accurate you can make safety stock calculations, the less likely you will experience out-of-stock or overstocking situations. When calculating safety stock, the most important factors to consider are:

  • The desired service level
  • Forecasting accuracy
  • Lead time (or delivery variation)

For more information on calculating safety stock, download our eGuide below. Or, to find out how EazyStock stock optimisation software can calculate accurate safety stock levels automatically, request a demo from one of our experts.

It’s time to review your inventory control methods

Optimising your stock levels is impossible without considering supply and demand variables. Effective inventory control techniques, therefore, rely on stock optimisation tactics.

Many businesses use standard ERP or WMS systems to execute their stock control procedures, whilst others still resort to spreadsheets. Both approaches, however, have their limitations in terms of functionality. Therefore, more and more businesses are turning to inventory optimisation software to automate their processes and improve efficiency. Inventory optimisation tools utilise advanced algorithms unavailable elsewhere to bring accuracy and speed to inventory management calculations.

This may sound expensive, and it’s true that enterprise-level inventory software systems are way beyond the budgetary reach of many smaller businesses. However, EazyStock is a best-in-class solution – born from one of these larger platforms – specifically designed for businesses of all sizes. It is affordable and still delivers sophisticated, dynamic functionality.

As an ERP plug-in, EazyStock is easy to set up and offers actionable inventory cost reductions and service level improvements within weeks of implementation.

Originally published 03/08/2015, updated July 2020

Close up of a tablet in someone's hand showing inventory data with a warehouse in the background managing inventory in a growing business

How to manage inventory effectively in a growing business

Inventory management, business growth and expanding product ranges There are several reasons you could be expanding your product portfolios. Whether...

A blue background with three white circles on the right-hand side of slightly different sizes with cut-out question marks showing the blue background

Why is inventory optimisation better than inventory management?

Inventory optimisation is an often-misunderstood term. It isn’t just a fancy way of saying inventory management; it’s a way to...

A puzzle made up of different coloured wooden pieces in different shapes put together to form a square on a blue background to show challenges in inventory planning

4 inventory management challenges to overcome for success

Any organisation that holds stock is up against a multitude of inventory management challenges. For starters, the international trading landscape...

Sign up to our newsletter!

Get EazyStock's Inventory Insights directly in your inbox

Sign up