Tame The Inventory Beast By Going Mobile

The holiday shopping season is chaotic for most retailers. Picking the right merchandise, hiring temporary employees, extended business hours, and servicing hordes of impatient customers are all hallmarks of the season. It’s busy for sure, but there’s also an adrenaline rush to it. This maelstrom of activity is an indicator of big sales, and that’s why you’re in this business. It’s the “Super Bowl of retail.”

But just like the real Super Bowl, once the score is finalized, the crowds go home leaving old cups and napkins behind. Now the grunt work of the post-game clean-up begins, and nobody enjoys that. For retailers, that means physical inventory – the most dreaded part of the year.

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Just as mobile devices have changed the game for consumers by offering instant research and conversion using m-commerce, the mobile revolution helps retailers get through inventory season. In addition to handheld scanners, retailers can download easy-to-use inventory apps from retail technology vendors to conduct full inventory counts on their iPad or iPhone, and even convert their mobile device into a barcode scanner with peripheral hardware.

Sayonara to inventory paper cuts

Many small and mid-sized retailers rely on count sheets to create inventory reports. Physically counting and recording inventory levels is both tedious and introduces large opportunities for human error. All of the analog steps involved — printing out the sheets, marking them up with inventory numbers, transcoding those values into a spreadsheet — are time consuming. The human toll should also not be underestimated: It’s boring, and nobody wants to do it…the dreaded inventory duty.

Paper count sheets are also impractical for retailers that split the inventory task among multiple people. The completed sheets must be aggregated to calculate a final inventory count and this creates opportunities for sheets to get lost, inaccuracies in how numbers are added, and even illegible handwriting can lead to a final report that is way off. Mobile inventory is a 100% digital endeavor that uses scanned barcode information transmitted directly to a database, eliminating the possibility of errors in physically counting SKUs or transcoding data.

Mobile options streamline the process

Retailers that do not use paper count sheets often rely on dedicated handheld computer scanners that tie directly into POS systems. These are popular mobile options at the enterprise level, but each heavy-duty unit typically costs well over $1,000 and requires its own software license to integrate with the retailer’s inventory database. Depending on which software platform is used, this can be quite expensive for the smaller merchant.

These devices also require software installation from platform vendors, which usually means they have to be sent to a remote location to get programmed, a process that can take up to two weeks. For retailers coming out of the busiest shopping time of the year, prepping handheld inventory scanners may not be top of mind. Since some mobile inventory solutions can work on consumer-based Apple mobile devices, the software is available through iTunes and can be easily downloaded on iPods, iPads and iPhones. Retailers can be up and running within minutes of starting the process.

Scale to get the job done quickly

Because the scanning peripherals used to turn iPads or iPhones into inventory devices are quite inexpensive, almost any retailer can equip several mobile units quickly. The app does not require a license to run from the POS vendor and is fully functional as downloaded from iTunes. As with all purchases from the Apple App Store, the apps can be installed on several devices using  the same Apple ID at no additional cost, making it easy to arm several employees with the necessary equipment to conduct a full physical inventory count. This makes the process faster and easier for everybody involved.

The ease of app installation also ensures that every device will stay up and running for the entire inventory count. Compatibility issues and software conflicts are not a problem on iPads or iPhones, and reinstalling the app fixes almost anything that can corrupt the software during use. Mobile inventory is the simplest way to conduct a digital inventory count, requiring no support from IT experts.

Giving employees the power to count merchandise quickly without dealing with cumbersome count sheets improves inventory accuracy, while building an army of devices that can all be used simultaneously makes the process exponentially faster and less painful. Retailers that do not have the resources to use enterprise-level handheld computer solutions no longer need to live in the Stone Age when it comes to annual inventory counts. With mobile inventory solutions, they can keep insurers and accountants happy while generating sales intelligence that can guide better purchase decisions in the future and take home the Super Bowl of the retail game.

Ian Goldman, President and CEO of Celerant Technology

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