Sitting in a warehouse, consumable goods with expiration dates can go wrong, cause unnecessary waste, and cost retailers untold values in lost profits. Consumable inventory tracking helps prevent these issues, avoid the challenges when items are out-of-stock, and help with first-in, first-out fulfillment. The right inventory management strategies help you keep track of just how much inventory you have, analyze when you will need replenishment, and manage upcoming expiration dates. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Consumable Inventory?
Consumable inventory refers to any items with short lifespans. They can be finished products that your customers purchase, raw materials used to make products, or items your business uses to fulfill its day-to-day operations. As the name suggests, these items are meant to be used up or “consumed,” or they will eventually expire and become useless.
Common consumables will vary by industry. In an office or warehouse setting, consumables might include printer ink or toner and highlighters. In a construction company, it might include lumber, sheetrock, insulation, and adhesives. In retail and eCommerce, consumables can include food, beverages, household cleaners, and over-the-counter medicine.
The Benefits of Properly Tracking Consumables
Inventory is a vital part of any business. To serve your customers and keep your business moving forward, it’s critical that you have the right inventory available. But when the items you need are consumables, there’s another variable involved. These items may be frequently used, or they might have fast-approaching expiration dates. Here are some of the benefits of properly tracking your business’s consumables.
1. Nothing Gets Wasted
When you’re dealing with consumables, you want to avoid having items on your shelves expire before they are used or sold. One of the most significant benefits of a proper tracking system is that you can avoid unnecessary waste.
2. Avoid Unnecessary Purchases
It costs money to acquire and store items. Even if you save some cash with bulk purchases, it will be wasteful if you don’t use everything before it goes bad. An inventory tracking system can help you avoid purchasing items you don’t need.
3. Improved Inventory Planning
An inventory tracking system helps businesses make better plans for purchasing and stocking inventory. You can set pre-defined re-order levels, so you never have to worry about running out of your consumables. When the levels hit your threshold, a re-order takes place automatically.
4. Fewer Inventory Problems
Numerous problems can occur when a business isn’t equipped with an automated inventory management system. It can be challenging to balance inventory when the items are time-sensitive, require storage in a controlled environment, or both. When you make inventory management a priority, you can avoid costly errors and problems like overstocking and out-of-stock.
5. More Satisfied Customers
Today’s customers have higher and higher standards. They don’t want to purchase expired products or even ones close to their “use-by” dates. They want fresh, undamaged products that arrive on their doorstep as quickly as possible.
When you use a robust inventory management and tracking solution, you ensure products are available when a customer orders them. Even better, those products will be in the best condition so that you can maximize the customer experience.
6. Make Informed Business Decisions
A good inventory tracking system will provide vital information that helps businesses make more informed and strategic business decisions. For example, you can get reports telling you the most turned over and most damaged items so that you can improve your processes and results.
Best Practices for Tracking Consumables and Inventory Management
If you want to better manage your consumables inventory, you’ll need to figure out a way to track those items efficiently. Here are some best practices for consumables tracking and inventory management.
1. Create a List of Your Consumables
The step in properly tracking your consumables is to document them. You’ll need a detailed list of every time you hold in inventory. If you obtain these products from a business partner, you may be able to get this data with a few clicks of a button. Otherwise, you’ll need to create a list that includes information like:
- Item name
- Item description
- Purchase price
- Storage location
- Item value
- Expiration date
- Other data, like temperature or humidity requirements
2. Develop a Real-Time Inventory System
Unlike a physical checklist that can be error-ridden and costly to maintain, a real-time inventory system is seamless once you set it up. Using identifiers like barcodes or RFID tags, you can store all (or most) of the above information using an online inventory management system.
When an item gets moved from one place to another, it can be scanned, and the data gets recorded in the system in real-time. You’ll always know how much of each consumable you have on hand and will never be in danger of running out of stock.
3. Provide Employees With Management Tools
Instead of asking employees to take periodic inventory counts, you can provide them with the tools they need to integrate inventory management and tracking into their daily activities. For example, if you use RFID tags, your employees can store, pick, and pack consumables, and the tracking data gets recorded immediately. They can even use voice-enabled technology to improve efficiency when performing these activities.
4. Automate Your Re-Ordering System
In addition to tracking your consumables, you can improve your processes by aligning your reordering system with your inventory management. You want to create a safety stock number for each item that also considers the product’s lead time. Then, when it hits the reorder point, the system will place an automatic order, which is a completely hands-off process.
5. Share Data With Partners and Customers
When you improve your tracking, you can share that real-time data with business partners to improve visibility throughout the supply chain. You can share that same information with customers to elevate the customer experience.
6. Leverage Data for Continous Improvements
Finally, you’ll want to use the data you collect to identify any areas that could use improvement and optimize your processes. That same information might also tell you about opportunities to save money or even sell more products, allowing for additional business growth.
Keeping track of inventory is challenging enough. When you are dealing with consumables, you also need to ensure that items are stored in the proper environment and get used before their expiration dates. Using the right processes and technology solutions can help your business manage and track its consumables so it can get the best possible results.