How to conduct a pain-free inventory count


Rolling swiftly from the peak of Christmas and New Year into the slow-down that comes with January retailing, many in the industry will now be turning their attention to the annual (or perhaps bi-annual) stock-take.

Often time-consuming and laborious, it’s a task that few would list among their favourite things to do. But, taking a physical count of inventory is the best way for any retailer to keep control of merchandise, identify reasons for shrinkage and avoid problems that can seriously affect profitability such as out-of-stocks or over-ordering.

Here at the Good Till, we may not have the answer to making the process ‘fun’, but we do have a few pointers that could help it run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Here are our top tips on what to do before, during and directly after the count:

Before the day

Carrying out a stock-take requires a lot of planning so our first recommendation is to plan well-ahead and follow a comprehensive checklist:

Decide on the date/time – Customers rarely expect to find their favourite store closed, so wherever possible, schedule the count outside of your normal trading hours. If that’s really not an option, be sure to inform people in advance (put signs up, tell them at the till etc).

Choose your staff – Stocktaking may seem like one of those ‘anyone could do it’ jobs but actually, there are real benefits to including a good mix of seasoned and newer staff. Those with experience will know the location of products better but those who are newer may be able to spot the small things that familiarity can overlook! Decide on your team, double check they are available on the date you’ve decided and be sure to let them know how important this job is.

Make a map – Creating a visual aid, showing the layout and location of products in your store, has multiple benefits. First of all, it will help you to identify if and where anything is currently out-of-place (so you can tidy and re-organise in advance of the count). Secondly, it will make it easier to plan the stock-take itself, identifying natural starting points and transitions around the store. And finally, the map can be used during the count to mark off which areas have been completed (ensuring no duplication).

Label things – Clear labelling of produce out on the shop floor or in the stockroom obviously helps to improve efficiency but there are always times when things get mislabelled or misplaced. Run a final check to correct these issues prior to the counting process.

Eliminate anomalies – Outstanding orders from suppliers, products that have been returned by customers, items awaiting customer collections and faulty goods – all have the potential to cause glitches in the stock-take so decide on a policy for processing and dealing with these before you begin.

On the day

Not so long ago, conducting a physical stock-take relied on a pen/paper method where staff had to tally up the quantities on an inventory sheet and then transfer that data onto the business systems.
Thankfully, if you’re using a POS with in-built inventory management software, those double-entry days are over. The Good Till’s Advanced Stock Management module, for instance, allows retailers to use multiple devices to carry out full or partial counts and produces detailed stock variance reports that enable quick comparisons to be made between the physical count and the system’s record.

Once you’ve got the right tech behind you, the next step is to make sure your staff are too. Show them the store map you created; explain the labelling system that’s been used and tell them whether anything has recently changed location; and walk with them through the store as you allocate counting positions, being ready to answer any queries. Finally, remember this is not the most exciting task so a bit of extra motivation wouldn’t hurt – perhaps a good supply of drinks and snacks during breaks.

After the count

Once the stock-take is finished and you’ve thanked everyone for their hard work, it’s time for some key follow-up activity:

Audit – Make sure the process was carried out properly by running some checks/ audits of the numbers.

Study time – Use your smart POS system to pull off the stock audit and variance reports, take some time to study the data and gain a more thorough insight as to how products are moving in and out of your business.

Set new strategies – By looking at variance reports and comparisons between stock-takes over a period of time, you should gain a better understanding of why losses or discrepancies are occurring. Are there high-risk product areas within your store? Are deliveries being checked in with accuracy? Once you know the problem, you’ll be better equipped to deal with it!

Streamline purchasing – Synchronising the inventory data with your POS sales reports will ultimately lead to smarter, better-informed purchasing decisions. Not only will this help you decide what to keep or cull from the merchandise list, but it will also assist with decisions about minimum stock-levels, buffering zones and re-stocking schedules.

Consider cycle counting – Otherwise known as a partial stock-take, cycle counting can be one of the most efficient methods of monitoring merchandise. Often carried out daily or weekly, this can involve taking stock of a small section of the store or focusing on a particular product type. Working through the entire inventory via a continual rolling process, cycle counting removes the need for a full inventory and helps retailers to catch issues at the earliest opportunity.


The upshot

Stock-taking may not be a laugh-a-minute kind of job but it’s an absolutely critical part of running a retail business.

Plan your count well in advance, prepare your people for what’s expected of them, deploy the tech that helps the count to be pain-free, and enact the necessary follow-ups that result in improvements for your business.

Following the advice above should help but, if you’ve got other tips for conducting a physical stock-take, share them with us now. Let us know over on Twitter @TheGoodTillco