Small business inventory management is not what it used to be anymore. Gone is the time where every product needed to be tracked down individually, and orders and shipments wrote down on a piece of paper.
But that doesn’t mean there is not more to be done. We’ve come a long way joining technology and small business inventory management, but this match has not had its final word. The tendency is for both fields to keep evolving, and coming up with ways to make the job of managers easier and more efficient.
After all, this is 2018, the era of Artificial Intelligence and quantum computing. But what are the upcoming trends in inventory management? Some of the technologies we’re going to talk about are already widespread, and others not so much. Which ones will become the true future of small business inventory management?
Radio-frequency identification, RFID for short, has slowly been gaining terrain in small business inventory management, becoming more and more common as years go by. Its use is already widespread in other areas, like athlete tracking, or access control in parking lots and subway stations, but it still has some way to go as far as inventory management is concerned.
The next years could witness a growth in RFID usage, with all products and SKUs in a warehouse being tagged with microchips to monitor their status and location. This could be used to monitor stock levels, reduce the risk of theft, and have greater quality control.
There is also the question of using passive versus active RFID. Passive RFID tags are cheaper and do not spend any energy, but need to be stimulated externally in order to relay information.
On the other hand, active RFID tags can transmit information autonomously, allowing a much greater degree of automation, but they are more expensive and require a power source. We’ll see which of the two types prevails in the future.
2. Internet of Things
Internet of Things, or IoT, has been a trending topic over recent years. It basically refers to the integration of every electronic device or appliance through the Internet. This opens up a lot of possibilities regarding small business inventory management.
IoT can be combined with RFID to improve its functionality and greatly change how small business inventory management is done. For example, a smart store could be created where each shelf in the storefront and warehouse is equipped with sensors, cameras, and smart displays.
This would allow the manager to monitor all product movements and activities from a central location. Also, suppose a customer requests a certain model of a specific product. Its exact location would be relayed to a staff member thanks to the operating cameras and sensors.
Even more types of sensors could be used together with IoT and RFID to give you a greater degree of control over your merchandise. For example, you could monitor the temperature of a shelf in the warehouse or even a specific SKU. This can be extremely important if your goods are easily perishable.
GPS tracking could also be used to precisely track not only warehouse goods, but also ones currently being shipped. This would greatly reduce thefts and disappearances.
IoT could even make it possible to create robotic carts that move around the store autonomously. Each customer could use a smartphone app to control the cart, which would collect all the products for that customer.
As the robot goes through the store, he could notice which shelves are empty and notify the owner accordingly. This seems a really futuristic idea, but considering the technology we have nowadays, it doesn’t seem impossible.
3. Cloud-Based Solutions
This one is already a reality, but we could see even more of it in the near future. Most inventory management systems nowadays are cloud-based, making them versatile and cost-efficient solutions.
There are two great advantages of having data in the cloud. The first one is that you can access it from any place, at any time. All you need is a smartphone and a mobile inventory app. This is convenient because managers frequently go on business trips, so this way they can still access all the data concerning their business.
The other advantage of cloud-based data is reliability. Regardless of whether your business is big or small, you simply can’t afford to lose months, or even years, of product sales and inventory data. If this data were to be stored in a single location, it could easily be lost in an accident like a storm or a small fire.
Thankfully, this can’t happen with a cloud-based solution. Even though you should also save your data locally, a backup is always available thanks to the online servers where the data is kept.