One of the major fear factors for real world retailers, when they are stepping into ecommerce, is the challenge of managing stock. If most retailers are honest they will confess that their real-world stock management is patchy and are terrified at the thought of selling something they don’t have in stock.
This is one of the most common roadblocks we help retailers overcome and we have seen all sorts of solutions. Here are my top 5 from the lowest cost and complexity to the highest. They will give you some insight into the best way forward for you.
1. No stock management
Believe it or not a staggering number of retailers select this option. They rely on there products being easy to source from suppliers to cover them. If you have strong ties with suppliers, this can be a low-cost way to get started as your website does not need to carry out any stock checking, it is either available or not, black or white.
2. Basic Stock management
As retailers put more and more stock online and the order volumes start to increase it can be harder to keep customers product moving. Alternatively, you might not have steady supply chain, and this means you need to operate a more flexible stock file. The low budget option for this is to use a stock file update within your website. Usually this consists of a CSV file upload option that lets you update product lines in bulk. You need to be sure the uploader can handle complex product variants if you are using options like size, colour or type on your website.
This can be a blunt but effective instrument for manging stock but needs manual intervention on a regular basis to work well.
3. Epos feed – one way
Almost any Epos in operation today can create and send reports to servers. With this option you can send an automatically generated stock file with stock volume and price for each product to the website. The website will generally run an update check one to two times a day looking for a fresh file and update the website from there.
It is very much a one-way street with product data only going from the EPOS to the website and no return website order data. Your Epos provider may charge for enabling this solution but as it is relatively low tech it should not be to excessive.
4. Epos feed – Two way
Now we are really getting into automated stock. This solution allows both the product feed from epos to web but also pulls down web order data from the website to the Epos. This will give you a very high percentage of accuracy on your stock and pricing data and has the added benefit of not needing day to day management. Two things to keep in mind;
a) this is still not live stock as the website will only update on a fixed time schedule.
b) unless your epos has all ready got web service functions in place, retrieving order data from the web may have large costs attached or may not be possible at all
5. Live-stock management (API)
This is usually the higher end of the available options but is worth a look if you have the budget. More and more modern epos systems offer an API environment. This lets your website developers used pre-set calls between website and epos to check stock volumes on the fly (when a user browsing your site for example) or mark stock as reserved at the point of order confirmation. It is truly live stock management. It requires a good Epos system and good stock management policies with staff involved but if you can afford it you have a much better satisfaction rating with customers and much lower refund rate.
To sum up there is more than one way to handle stock and if you are just getting started you can manage without for at least a while. If you are trying to decide on a good epos, make sure you ask the vendor about the web service options available and get a feel for what they cost.
As always if this has left you with more questions than answers get in touch and we are happy to help…