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Everything you need to know about physical inventory counts

April 2, 2020
Inventory Counts

Merchants always ask us how they can make inventory less time consuming.
It’s hard, especially when there are hundreds of other tasks that need your attention (and let’s be honest, other tasks that you would be better off taking care of).
So in this article, we are telling you everything. 

We are going to tell you:

  • Our cycle counting secrets.
  • What you should know before taking your next inventory count.
  • How to take physical inventory counts 3 times faster than with pen and paper.
  • What reports you should use to reach all your inventory goals.
  • And more...

Read on if you want to off-load the weight of a once tedious and time consuming process.

Taking a physical inventory count? Consider cycle counting.

Full inventory counts can be a daunting task, and for good reasons.

It usually takes full staff, a whole night or weekend scheduled and a well organized setup. Not mentioning reconciling, analyzing and updating the quantities to your POS system and accounting platforms.

It can all be done much easily with cycle counting, when done right.

Cycle counting is often mistaken as a more complicated way to do inventory.

Merchants are mislead to think that if it is already painful to do an inventory count once a year, there is no way they can do it every month, let alone every week.

The reality is, cycle counting simply means: "counting inventory, little by little, consistently”.

No, it is not that time consuming, and yes, it is very simple. 

Cycle counting means you don’t have to count everything, all the time.

This is how, in our experience, cycle counting works best:

  1. Count your most “valuable” items weekly (in terms of cost, turnover, or both). We are talking here about only 20% of the items your store holds.
  1. Split the rest of your inventory in 2 to 4 groups, that you will rotate counting monthly.

Swift Tip: Don’t overthink it. Finding a rhythm that works for you, is all that matters to stay consistent overtime.

There you have it, a tight handle on your inventory. That is all your store needs to reach top inventory management goals like:

  • Always having the right quantities in stock; not too much, but always enough.
  • Placing reorder quantities confidently and cost effectively.
  • Choosing the right products for your next promotion.
  • Getting rid of your ’non-performing' inventory.

Use inventory scanners.

Merchants who give up on the best stock management practice, give up because “inventory counts take too much time”.

That is true if you make it harder than it has to be.

By using the right inventory management software nowadays, you can:

  • Create and print barcodes for your products in just a few clicks (your office printer will do just fine).
  • Count using inventory scanners.

Inventory management software like SwiftCount have designed their app to let you scan and count your products using your mobile device. Your phone is now your "counting buddy”.

You will get the pay off in saved hours paid and decreased inventory cost.

Choose your cycle counting team wisely.

You probably know that your best resources are your employees. That doesn’t mean they should know everything or be as detailed oriented as you are with the business that you own. Choosing your team for cycle counting is the same as choosing your team for your store in general.

Armed with the right expectations and simple enough processes and tools, they will become your dream team.

Swift tip: When it comes to cycle counting, we like to think of it as a routine.

Make inventory duties part of your job description.

Schedule physical inventory counts in advance.

Take out the heavy and stressful “last-minute” counts by planning in advance, or simply have cycle counting in place. 

Here are a few things you should know before taking a physical inventory count:

  1. Know exactly which items you are going to count. If you are not using an inventory management software, then print a “count sheet” of those products.
  2. Know exactly where those products are. The best way to do this is to keep an updated and clean floor plan map of your store.
  3. Know who is going to perform the count.
  4. Know when the inventory count needs to happen. A good way to do this is to keep an “inventory calendar” visible to your staff.

Swift tip: Documenting everything like your store floor plan map is important as you onboard new staff members regularly. It will help them perform at the level you want them to, and help you make the onboarding process easier on you and your management team.

When is physical inventory usually taken?

The golden rule: Count your merchandise once and only once.

Depending on your industry, you have down time or slow time during the day, and you might be wanting to schedule the counts during those down times.

Just keep in mind, merchandise moved by a visitor in your store can throw your count’s result off. 

The best way to deal with this is to schedule the physical count for either after closing your store or before opening in the morning.

How to count inventory.

Inventory management tools 

Inventory counts used to be hard because merchants only had 2 options:

  1. Using no technology at all.
  2. Using complicated and expensive technology built for warehouses, not retailers.

With that said, here are different ways you can go about counting your inventory:

  • Using pen and paper
  • Using spreadsheet on tablets (like Google spreadsheets)
  • Using SwiftCount

Using an inventory management tool like SwiftCount will allow you or your staff to: 

  • Create and schedule recurring counts
  • Count anywhere in your store, from your mobile device
  • Track progress and results in real time
  • Assign recounts on the spot
  • Analyze and print reports
  • Update your POS quantities in just one click

Step #1: “Create" the inventory count 

Your first step is to create a list of all the products you want to be part of the count.

If you are doing a full inventory count, or just a large inventory count, you might want to create multiple counts, and assign them to different staff members.

Swift tip: If you are using SwiftCount, you can easily create counts by locations or categories, or select a custom list of products within seconds. It will load the information in your counters’ app. (That includes barcode information if you are scanning). No extra workneeded.

If you are taking the count manually or using spreadsheets, you will need to create a “count sheet” that includes:

  • The item number
  • The description of the product
  • An empty “quantity” column

Step #2: let the count begin! 

It’s count time! Here are a few tips: 

  • Make sure the store is well organized. Re-arrange anything that isn’t in the right spot.
  • Make sure to only count everything once.

If you are doing a full inventory count, these following points are going to be important:

  • Pre-count items that will not move weeks in advance of inventory to facilitate day of.
  • Plan for a day where no activities (inbound or outbound) of inventory will be performed.
  • The day of the count; divide and conquer.
  • Make sure to have team specific and bright colour labels to identify what has been counted on the shelves.

Swift Tip: If you have received inventory that day, you might wonder if you should take it in the count or not? Here is the answer: If the receiving is entered into your POS system already, then make it part of the count. If the receiving is not entered in your POS, then leave it out of the count!

Did you know?
SwiftCount integrates with POS systems, Online stores and Accounting packages. You can count inventory in minutes as opposed to hours or days with the SwiftCount app, and instantly update your third party accounts. To see if we support your app, just schedule a time to chat with us!

Inventory reconciliation: address your discrepancies.

Discrepancies are most often due to stock-taking errors, shop-lifiting, employee theft or even supplier fraud.

By compiling your new count data and comparing it to your current on-hand quantities, you will be able to clearly identify where you have discrepancies.

It is good practice to do a “recount” for the products you find have surprisingly low or high discrepancy.

Here are some ways to prevent discrepancies from happening: 

  • Ensure you have been counting with the right units of measure. 
  • Ensure more products are not hidden in a different location.

Swift tip: Using an inventory management software like SwiftCount, will let you: 

  • Generate discrepancy reports.
  • Assign recounts to different staff members.
  • See your product quantities per store or sub-location.
  • Count with different units of measure.

Post inventory count: how to keep your inventory under control.

So you have an inventory management process in place, it’s simple, it’s quick and you now have accurate inventory levels at all times in your POS system.

What are your next steps going to be?

Use inventory reports

The key to good inventory management is to keep an eye on your data and be able to transform that data into useful information.

Use inventory reports like the ones below to help you.

  • Discrepancy report

Use the discrepancy report to easily spot discrepancies in your on-hand quantities, after a count. 

  • On hand / stock status report

Watch daily or weekly, at a glance to see what your on-hands quantities are, per location or category.

It will help you become familiar with your numbers, and will give you peace of mind. 

  • “Below reorder point” report

At the end of the day, what is most important is to make sure you are ordering what you need at the right time.

Swift tip: By setting up the perfect “reorder point” for each of your items and keeping an eye on your “below reorder point” report, you will stay aware of what you need to re-order. 

By using a tool like SwiftCount, you can print below reorder point reports, place purchase orders and “receive” that new inventory in your system, from the app. Maintaining your inventory levels within your POS system, accounting package or online store is effortless.

Conclusion: Taking physical inventory counts - The bottom line. 

In conclusion: your next inventory count does not have to be time consuming and complicated.

It can be much quicker and simpler than you imagine.

Here are a few things to remember:

  • To manage inventory on a regular basis, have you considered cycle counting?
  • Are you making it easy by using barcodes and inventory scanners/SwiftCount app?
  • Schedule your next inventory count in advance. Choosing to cycle count will make this easier.
  • Your inventory process is as easy as your inventory management tools allow it to be.
  • Inventory reconciliation does not have to be manual and there are ways to minimize discrepancy.

You can easily integrate with other third party platforms like Lightspeed POS, Shopify or even accounting packages like Quickbooks Online, making all your inventory counts quicker and easier for your employees, your management team and yourself. 

Author avatar

Albert Amar

Albert is a business management specialist with over 25 years of experience in inventory management strategy and software development, for both small and large enterprises. He is a graduate of the École polytechnique de Montréal with a degree in mechanical engineering, along with a diploma from McGill University in business management.

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