When you’re so focused on your store’s supply chain, it’s hard to focus on anything else. The everyday demands of monitoring inventory, tracking orders and managing order fulfillment, shipping and returns leaves little focus for building customer relationships or finding the next big thing you want to carry in your shop.
Supply chain management (SCM) has taken on greater importance in giving your customers a positive shopping experience, according to this Gartner study. Find out how this software can help you and your business.
What is SCM software and what are its benefits?
SCM software includes a variety of tools to automate, monitor and manage everything in your supply chain from supplier relationships to inventory to shipping. Some software options even provide demand planning and warehouse management tools.
The benefits of SCM software include:
- Reduced costs. SCM can identify the processes or suppliers that are costing you more than they’re benefiting you so you can use that knowledge to make cost-cutting changes.
- Improved customer experience and satisfaction. With features like inventory management, SCM tools can help you view your inventory in real time and help customers get what they’re looking for quickly. And with order fulfillment and shipping tools, you can ensure online orders reach customers quickly and safely. If they don’t, notifications can help you get ahead of the problem and communicate with your customers.
- Improved efficiency. The icing on the SCM cake is that the more information you feed it, the better it gets over time. SCM software uses machine learning tools (algorithms and statistical models) to analyze the data you enter to identify areas of redundancy or inefficiency and help you develop a plan for improved efficiency.
What tools should I look for in SCM software?
Focus on the key features offered by leading SCM software for small retailers:
- Supplier relationship management. Tools that track and analyze a supplier’s reliability, quality of product and timeliness of delivery can help you make decisions about those relationships. If your suppliers are letting you down when business is slow, you don’t want to rely on them during a seasonal rush. Once you enter your suppliers and the inventory they provide and when, you can track and evaluate their performance using the tool’s analytics. This will help you decide if they’re working for you or if it’s time to source new suppliers. Maybe one of your other suppliers can better meet multiple needs.
- Inventory management. Track your inventory in real time from the moment you order it from a supplier to the moment your customer walks out of the shop with it. You can use this tool to know when you need to replenish your stock and when a new shipment is due from the supplier. Use it to ensure you’ve got the right quantities of the right items and that your cost and retail pricing make sense. If you’re using Excel spreadsheets to manage your inventory, an inventory management tool can save you time by automating your inventory processes and allowing you to check availability when working with a customer.
- Demand planning. These tools allow you to forecast product demand and thereby source the products in quantities and timelines that will meet customer needs. You can predict how much inventory to order from suppliers and when, based on statistical forecasting and historical demand. This will help you be prepared so you don’t lose sales or customers because your supply doesn’t meet demand.
- Shipping management. If you do any e-commerce sales or ship your product to customers on a regular basis, having a shipping management tool is a necessity. Simplifying and automating order fulfillment, shipment and returns is vital to your productivity and customer satisfaction. Shipment tools can track online orders from placement to returns so orders don’t fall through the cracks. And some of the shipping software offers discounts on shipping rates for potential cost saving.
How do I make a choice?
Not all SCM software is created equal, and based on your budget, you’ll want to be a savvy shopper and do your research. Some options may be too robust and costly for your needs, while others may not have all the features you’re looking for. And each software suite has specific industries they serve, so you may find what looks like a great option, but doesn’t fit your retail needs.
You may look at a variety of SCM software options and find that none meets your needs perfectly. You don’t want to pay a premium for tools you’ll never use. It may turn out to be more realistic for you to choose individual tools for each process you need to manage and end up with exactly the features you need.
A great resource that takes some of the legwork out of your research is Capterra. It provides a list comparing the top SCM software for small business. You can also find similar lists for inventory management software and shipping software.
It’s important to remember that many of these options are cloud-based, so having up-to-date technology and hardware and a fast, reliable internet connection will greatly improve your overall experience.