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4 easy ways to keep track of inventory this holiday season

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Feeling overwhelmed by your inventory this year? Use these three simple tips to keep your stock managed for the end of the year.

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Man scanning inventory with tablet in one hand and a scanner in the other.

2020’s retail holiday season is in full swing. With it comes waves of purchases and shipments, both in stores and online. Though the COVID-19 pandemic is sure to change the way stores interact with consumers, this season is still shaping up to be robust. Holiday inventory management is essential to get the best handle on the continuous rushes.

Organization, strategy, and automation are the 3 main steps to stay on top of inventory this year. Deliberate use of these will create a better setup for the coming months.

1. Organize

Organization takes many forms. In the stockroom, a messy workspace will slow down sales and shipments, making the entire store inefficient. However, with the right classifications, labeling, and management, the stockroom can become the leanest place in the store.

First, stores must have a point-of-sale system that can cleanly organize everything into actionable data, according to Software Advice. When a transaction occurs, the system logs it and, from there, employees can get a better understanding of what inventory is selling fastest.

In the back, employees can change the inventory layout to prioritize items that are selling well. Keeping that area fully staffed at all times may be the best move during the retail holiday season rush. For instance, employees can categorize clothing by material, size, and color.

The store will need to use a full-featured inventory management system. With it, employees can accurately track what goes in and out of the store through scanning barcodes and logging shipments. With a better handle on what consumers need, its location in the stockroom and better tracking, backorders, and sellouts can decrease.

2. Strategize

Retailers must have a clear strategy for holiday inventory. Otherwise, the rushes and high demands and orders can easily overwhelm employees and result in lost revenue. Combined with organization, a plan should involve prioritizing customers’ needs and interests and increasing item accessibility.

Just as employees can organize the stockroom based on what consumers will be buying the most, they can also rearrange the store to put those items toward the front. That way, people can get what they’re looking for right away. This strategy will work online as well — where the site advertises the popular items on the main page.

Then, based on what POS and inventory management systems report, managers can order more sought-after items ahead of time. At home or in person, consumers get what they want without frustration, while retailers know the exact numbers in their inventory.

Another crucial area to focus on is in-store pickup. Some consumers don’t want to pay for shipping. Instead, in-store pickup ships their order to the nearest retail location, where they can quickly claim it. Especially during the holiday rush, designating a separate section for these items will be essential for a strategic inventory.

3. Automate

Automation is a broad topic when it comes to holiday inventory. With this wide scope, though, retailers can integrate countless systems to conquer the rushes more effectively. Helpful gadgets and organization equipment include Internet of Things sensors and big data. They will go a long way in monitoring inventory at all times.

IoT sensors are small and practical. While they can attach to any items in the stockroom, they’ll be invaluable for everyone along the supply chain to use. The sensors show merchandise’s exact location and specifications, which an inventory management system will automatically present in actionable ways.

When retailers use the information from sales and inventory, it falls under the category of big data. With the right analytics and prediction software, employees can use this data to understand coming trends and better understand what they’ll need to order and when.

If businesses — retail and warehouses alike — are looking for an efficient way to find stock without wasting time, they can use robots to retrieve it. These autonomous robots cut down on search times when they know the exact location based on IoT sensors or barcode scanning.

4. Make Post-Holiday Changes

The work continues even after the retail holiday season ends. However, businesses can take steps to optimize their setups for months afterward to keep drawing people in through next year’s holiday season.

The first step is to declutter. Get rid of things that will no longer be a priority to most consumers. A sale or clearance section is an efficient way to profit from obsolete inventory.

Then, it’s time to step back and reevaluate the landscape. What has changed for consumers? What new trends are emerging? Social media will be invaluable to track how customers want to spend their money in the coming year. It’s also a critical place to build an e-commerce presence for the future.

A Lasting Central Inventory

Year-round, but especially during the holiday season, inventory must be a critical factor for any retailer or warehouse. With better organization, strategy and automation, the workplace can run more smoothly. These factors will also improve communication across the supply chain, making the holidays a profitable breeze for all retailers.

Megan Ray Nichols is an editorialist at The American Genius, and is a technical writer who's passionate about technology and the science. She also regularly writes at Smart Data Collective, IoT Times, and ReadWrite. Megan publishes easy to understand articles on her blog, Schooled By Science - subscribe today for weekly updates!

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Business Entrepreneur

What to consider before you pivot your business model

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Many businesses have had to pivot during the global pandemic but maybe yours isn’t one of them. Consider these questions first!

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Two women working at a laptop, no need to pivot business.

When Ross asked Rachel and Chandler (Friends TV show 1994-2004) to move a couch, many of us will never forget his voice inflection and how many times he yelled “PIVOT”! It’s actually a really funny scene and if you’ve never seen it, it might be worth 3.5 minutes of your time. Ross had the best of intentions by starting with a sketch and enlisting help from friends but even that ends up in hilarity as getting his couch in to his apartment doesn’t work and he ends up being offered $4 when he tries to return it (stay for the end of the clip).

The best plans and intentions for your business are often met with what the market and customers demand, where technology grows, and where your ROI is the best. You often know that your original plans will grow and evolve, even in uncertainty and now… a global pandemic.

Many entrepreneurs and small businesses have had to lean on technology to add virtual services (or expand their offerings) to meet our current norm where people are just not out and about like they used to be. Some have seen this work well and others have had to completely re-design their offerings to maintain safe and socially distanced considerations.

The thing is, businesses that have pivoted are being highlighted. But it is also worth looking at what has worked for some businesses that didn’t have to completely shift their strategies in 2020. It is likely that they had to adapt but maybe not a ridiculous Ross-type “pivot” that resulted in a complete failure of the mission.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) shared an incredible article, “You Don’t Have to Pivot in a Crisis” with great insights about what to consider if you think you need to make changes or if you want reassurance you are still on the right track.

HBR shares a powerful thought:

“The lesson here is that when a crisis hits, it pays to resist knee-jerk reactions on how to handle external shocks and ask what is going to work best for your company, based on the particular realities of its business. Ignoring the playbook of rapid cuts plus strategic pivoting can be the smart move… However, staying the course doesn’t mean inaction.”

Here are three thought starters you may want to consider for your business:

  1. What product line or service is best serving your customers right now? Is that one of your strongest and/or could it use some attention?
  2. What product line or service is not quite meeting your needs or customer demands at the moment that had seemingly always worked (not forever! Just right now)? For example, in person gatherings and promotions like events, conferences, trade shows.
  3. Is there something you’ve always wanted to explore? And could now be a great time since people want things more virtually? Examples: Selling branded swag, workbooks, content subscriptions, educational webinars.

These are three simple things but could help point you in the right direction of where to focus your time and energy – at least for now. You may not need a complete re-design or to take a new road, it might be some tweaks and adjustments to hang on to what you’ve worked so hard to build.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to choose the right software for your business

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software products for your up-and-coming company? Use these questions to decide which kind is best for you.

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software products

It’s almost impossible to run a successful modern business without some kind of software to help you stay productive and operate efficiently. There are millions of companies and even more independent developers working hard to produce new software products and services for the businesses of the world, so to say that choosing the right software is intimidating is putting it lightly.

Fortunately, your decisions will become much easier with a handful of decision-making rubrics.

Determining Your Core Needs

First, you need to decide which types of software you really need. For most businesses, these are the most fundamental categories:

  • Proposal software. Customer acquisition starts and ends with effective proposals, which is why you need proposal software that helps you create, send, and track the status of your sales documents.
  • Lead generation and sales. You’ll also want the support of lead generation and sales software, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. These help you identify and track prospects throughout the sales process.
  • Marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising platforms help you plan and implement your campaigns, but even more importantly—they help you track your results.
  • Finance and accounting. With finance and accounting software, you’ll track accounts payable and receivable, and countless variables influencing the financial health of your company.
  • Supply chain and logistics. Certain types of businesses require support when it comes to supply chain management and logistics—and software can help.
  • Productivity and tracking. Some software products, including time trackers and project management platforms, focus on improving productivity and tracking employee actions.
  • Comprehensive analytics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and other “big picture” software products attempt to provide you with comprehensive analytics related to your business’s performance.

Key Factors to Consider

From there, you’ll need to choose a software product in each necessary category—or try to find one that covers all categories simultaneously. When reviewing the thousands (if not millions) of viable options, keep these factors in mind:

    • Core features/functionality. Similar products in a given niche can have radically different sets of features. It’s tempting to go with the most robust product in all cases, but superfluous features and functionality can present their own kind of problem.
    • Integrations. If you use a number of different software products, you’ll need some way to get them to work together. Prioritize products that make it easy to integrate with others—especially ones you’re already using.
    • Intuitiveness/learnability. Software should be intuitive and easy to learn. Not only will this cut down on the amount of training and education you have to provide employees, but it will also reduce the possibilities of platform misuse in the future.
    • Customizability/flexibility. Out-of-the-box software products work well for many customers, but they may not suit your current or future needs precisely. Platforms with greater customizability and flexibility are favorable.
    • Security. If you’re handling sensitive data (and most businesses will be), it’s vital to have a software developed with security in mind. There should be multiple layers of security in place, and ample settings for you to tightly control accessibility.
    • Ongoing developer support. Your chosen software might be impressive today, but how is it going to look in three years? It’s ideal to choose a product that features ongoing developer support, with the potential for more features and better functionality in the near and distant future.
    • Customer support. If you have an issue with the app, will someone be available to help you? Good customer service can elevate the value of otherwise average apps.
    • Price. Finally, you’ll need to consider price. The best apps will often have a price that matches their quality; it’s up to you to decide whether the extra expense is worth it.

Read about each product as you conduct your research, and pay close attention to reviews and testimonials from past customers. Additionally, most software companies are happy to offer free demos and trials, so you can get some firsthand experience before finalizing your decision. Take them up on the offer.

Finding the Balance

It may seem like purchasing or subscribing to new software products will always improve your business fundamentals, but this isn’t always the case. If you become bogged down with too many apps and services, it’s going to make operations more confusing for your staff, decrease consistency, and drain your budget dry at the same time. Instead, try to keep your systems as simplified and straightforward as possible, while still getting all the services you need.

You won’t find or implement the perfect suite of software products for your business overnight. It’s going to take weeks, if not months of research, free trials, and in-house experiments. Remain patient, and don’t be afraid to cut your losses on products that aren’t working the way you originally intended.

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Business Entrepreneur

Simple ways to keep your company’s operations lean

(BUSINESS) Keeping your operations lean means more than saving money, it means accomplishing more in less time.

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keeping operations lean

The past year and a half has been challenging, not just economically but politically, and socially as well. While it would be nice to think that things are looking up, in reality, the problems never end. Taking a minimalist approach to your business, AKA keeping it lean, can help you weather the future to be more successful.

Here are some tips to help you trim the fat without putting profits above people.

Automate processes

Artificial intelligence frees up human resources. AI can manage many routine elements of your business, giving your team time to focus on important tasks that can’t be delegated to machines. This challenges your top performers to function at higher levels, which can only benefit your business.

Consider remote working

Whether you rent or own your property, it’s expensive to keep an office open. As we learned in the pandemic, many jobs can be done just as effectively from home as the workplace. Going remote can save you money, even if you help your team outfit their home office for safety and efficiency.

In today’s world, many are opting to completely shutter office doors, but you may be able to save money by using less space or renting out some of your office space.

Review your systems to find the fat

As your business grows (or downsizes), your systems need to change to fit how you work. Are there places where you can save money? If you’re ordering more, you may be able to ask vendors for discounts. Look for ways to bring down costs.

Talk to your team about where their workflow suffers and find solutions. An annual review through your budget with an eye on saving money can help you find those wasted dollars.

Find the balance

Operating lean doesn’t mean just saving money. It can also mean that you look at your time when deciding to pay for services. The point is to be as efficient as possible with your resources and systems, while maintaining customer service and safety. When you operate in a lean way, it sets your business up for success.

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