Many small retailers, however – including those that ring up lots of sales online – have experienced inventory problems in the past. Surging holiday sales and uncertainty over which items will move fastest and when can wreak havoc and make it difficult for you to support demand.
One solution is to streamline and automate your inventory management. When you manually track inventory and rely on stitched-together systems you can miss opportunities to maximize sales.
Inventory management experts at Stitch Labs, for example, note that managing inventory gets even more difficult if you are using disparate systems to handle stock quantities, purchase orders, invoices and more. This leaves your small business more vulnerable to error, overselling and poor customer service – none of which you want at such a critical time of year.
Tips to Avoid Overselling
Stitch Labs, which sells inventory management systems, suggests these tips to avoid overselling during the holidays:
- Assign an internal inventory champion. This might be you. Or if you are bringing on hew hires for the holidays, consider assigning one of them to be in charge of monitoring stock quantities across the board. Having one “go-to” person for inventory information can prove highly valuable.
- Adapt your marketing approach. Keep daily tabs on which products are selling fastest. With this information, you can adjust your inventory and also promote less popular items to “even the load” until you can get more in stock of the best sellers.
- Anticipate needs in the market. Spend some time researching trends ahead of the heavy selling season. This can give you a better sense of what might fly off the shelves most quickly. Investigate what’s trending in your particular area, what competitors are doing and what your most popular items have been year-to-date. But don’t necessarily rely on what sold best last year as things can change.
- Implement an order management system. Having an automated system that provides low stock alerts will save you from missed sales opportunities – and disappointed customers. You’ll have a real-time view into what’s selling fastest and can even send automated resupply orders to your vendors.
Transform Returns into Opportunities
Many small retailers dread returns. But smart business owners also anticipate returns and look for ways to transform them into upsell and customer retention opportunities. Here are three pieces that should be part of every return process:
- Set clear expectations and a streamlined process: Customers want an easy system for returns. But make sure it also works for your internal operations. Provide clear guidelines on how, when and where returns can be made. Make sure all “final sale” items are clearly noted.
- Offer alternatives: Use returns as an opportunity to interact with customers and offer them something that might better fit their needs. Ask questions to make sure you understand why they are returning the item so you can make the most relevant suggestions about what might work better. They might even thank you for offering a better solution.
- Make it convenient: After the holidays, no one wants to navigate a maze in order to make a return or exchange. Customers appreciate a “stupid simple” return process and will likely reward you with future business.
Hire the Right Help
If you plan to add extra hands for the holidays, here are three things to keep in mind:
- Start early: By starting to look early you’ll have the pick of the best prospects – fast learners with flexibility. Look for those who fit with your culture and expectations.
- Offer training: Training doesn’t need to be lengthy or elaborate. But the more you help to educate your help up front, the better they’ll perform for your business.
- Manage as usual: Manage temps with care and leadership just as you do other employees. Encourage them to take greater responsibility and be an advocate for their own success.
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