Day 89 of #100daysmarketingcreatives - Juggling Online Vs Physical Stock - how to manage online stock levels to maximise sales
When did you last check your stock levels in your website or Etsy shop? Are you doing this on a regular basis? Do you use physical stock levels or just make to order? Often people will just put a number in to suggest that they have stock of something. Every time someone buys a product the system will reduce that 'number in stock' although you are actually making that item to order. Are you always aware, however, when your online shops gets down to zero stock? When that happens are you stopping people buying it? Do you have items immediately available but your website shows a 4 week lead time? How will that affect sales?
There are many different approaches to managing your online stock levels. Each will have its advantages and disadvantages but often at busy times such as Christmas you can take you eye off the ball and lose out on sales or disappoint customers as a result.
Weekly Stock Level Check
Every week you should set yourself a quick task of checking for low or out of stock items online. When the last item is sold on your website the item will likely then just show 'sold out' and people cannot order it. Check for this and only leave it in that state if you don't want to sell any more at this point. This might be because it is the end of a limited edition for example. If, however, you do want to sell more but are waiting on a delivery from a supplier, for example, put the item back in stock but increase the lead time to match the suppliers lead time plus any additional lead time for you. That way you can still sell the product although there will be fewer sales as many people will prefer not to wait but that is better than none at all!
Weekly Lead Time Check
If you make items to order there is likely to be a longer lead time. These days people expect fast Amazon style shipping times so a longer lead time may put people off buying from you. You should therefore aim to carry stock of your fastest selling lines and have these on very short lead times (ie 1-3 working days). There are, however, many people who are prepared to wait for a quality handmade product by an independent maker so avoid showing out of stock online when you have sold everything you physically have in stock. Simply put more in the online stock but extend the online lead time to allow time for you to make it. Keep this to a minimum though. If you can order frames and other materials from suppliers in advance that you can use to make several different products then make sure you have these stocks so that you can keep your making time to a minimum. When you have made more stock remember to reduce the lead time and adjust stock levels again.
Remember out of stock = no sales, longer lead times = fewer sales, smaller lead times = more sales!
Weekly Synchronisation Check
Many of you will have multiple shops - website, Etsy and other online areas. This can be difficult to manage sometimes. Choose to make one store your master store (use the one that sells the most!) then on a weekly basis check levels in the other stores to ensure you adjust stock levels accordingly.
Low Stock Monitoring By Order
Keep an eye on stock that is running out. If it is an end of line, limited edition etc then keep stocks in other shops in sync with every sale. Do not risk over selling the item on multiple platforms. When it is gone it is gone - avoid disappointing a customer who has placed an order with you already by telling them you cannot supply their order. If you will be restocking it when levels get to 0 restock it immediately in all platforms with a long lead time.
Avoid Showing High Stock Levels
Some platforms such as Etsy allow you to show how many items you have left. If you are working with high volume numbers of low cost products and have just order 200 cards from your printer, for example, you might not want to show 200 available online. This detracts from the small personal independent business perception. Maybe show 10 or 15 then keep restocking the online shop as you sell them. Showing high stock levels can also cause customers to delay their purchase. Showing smaller numbers can create a sense of urgency.
Check Online Stock After Every Show or Exhibition
Hopefully you will sell lots of product at your shows and exhibitions. Remember after each one, however, to do a full online stock check. Make sure you are not showing lots of product with quantity in stock for immediate despatch when you have just sold it all at your show or exhibition.
Maintain Fast Moving Physical Stock Levels
Identify your fastest moving product lines and try to continually keep physical stock available for these lines. There is a monetary, storage and time cost to this, however, once you get into this practice it will increase sales because you can despatch product immediately. It will also mean that if your online stock levels are not 100% accurate then you will alleviate some stress from the process as there will usually be some stock available even if the figures are not exact.
Stock management can seem like another administration task that you don't have time for but it is crucially important if you are going to maximise sales and avoid customer disappointment not to mention managing your own stress levels. Work out a system that works for you then make it part of your weekly routine for most products but an order by order task for low stock products paying particular attention to it at busy holiday periods such as Christmas.
How do you manage your online stock levels?
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