5 Tips for Performing Accurate Physical Inventory Counts

Dustin Caudell
Wed, May 11, 2016
Manual inventory management process are slow and error prone.
Manual inventory management process are slow and error prone.

It may be time for businesses to rethink their inventory management procedures. Modern customers expect speed and availability when browsing in-store or shopping online. It's essential for every industry to have the inventory answers to any query put forth by consumers and supply goods when customers are ready to buy.

Inefficient inventory management may cut into sales. For example, Auto Remarketing said many car dealerships are slow to push new product acquisitions to the front of their lots. Improper supply chain logistics management could mean it takes more than two weeks for customers to see the latest merchandise.

Businesses need to know what they have ready to go, and what's waiting to be put in front of consumers. To collect this data, businesses have to perform physical inventory counts so they have an accurate picture of available stock. Here are five suggestions for how to audit warehouses quickly and effectively:

1. Use the Appropriate Technology
If an organization still uses pen and paper to perform physical inventory counts, it's time to catch up with the modern world. Counting stock without automated data collection systems is inefficient and provides too many opportunities for human error.

A business should implement scanning and mobility devices. Ideally, these mobile data collection devices should be connected to a central information system so supervisors can observe real-time inventory data as it's captured. The RFgen white paper "8 Signs You Need an Automated Data Collection Solution" detailed advantages of implementing technology with the goal of complete business visibility.

2. Physical Counts are Always Necessary
Mobile data collection devices make it easy to count inventory as warehouse workers perform their daily tasks. Even when inventory employees use solutions and strategies that make accurate inventory tracking part of their normal activities, organizations should still set time aside to perform a full count of a warehouse space. Even with proper data collection during picking and storage, workers may lose track of damaged products or fail to acknowledge when merchandise goes missing due to theft.

Many businesses perform yearly counts, but this may not be frequent enough. Organizations should find the inventory count cycle that works best for them. When a company implements a new software system or launches a new product, these events demand an accurate inventory number to start proper planning.

3. Find the Right Time to do Them
The decision to conduct a full count of inventory shouldn't come out of nowhere. It should be an important project and scheduled when employees have the time and resources to undertake the activities properly. The Vend Blog advised retailers to perform full counts after normal business hours and during slow periods.

If counts are rushed and performed in tandem with other projects, it may cause employees to speed through tasks or ignore possible red flags in order to get things done. Managers must set inventory employees up for success by properly scheduling big projects and communicating how important the final numbers will be for ongoing business.

4. New Eyes Never Hurt
It may be wise to break up routines when trying to obtain a complete accounting of warehouse spaces. If the same people count shelves using the same strategies they do every day, it may be hard to find the merchandise or problems they've overlooked. Managers should walk floors with workers and oversee major inventory projects with guidelines for how to totally inspect the space.

This is another way mobile data collection devices may benefit organizations. Flexible and convenient inventory solutions speed up regular training and offer intuitive automated workflows so new users can get up to speed quickly. When managers want to double check the findings of employees, they can use their equipment to compare data found in the central information system.

5. Have a Plan for Errors
Logistics consultant LP Innovations Inc. said one of the common mistakes companies make with inventory counts is failing to create procedures for discrepancies. When employees find a piece of inventory is missing or numbers exceed expectations, should they stop counts to deal with problems or move on?

Whatever tools businesses use to count inventory should also offer automated warnings and convenient data to advise procedures. Each error can have its own plan; immediate corrections for small discrepancies and data fields to enter the details of larger problems.

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