Many businesses—especially larger ones—may need to manage inventory remotely at some point. There are a variety of reasons for this. Perhaps your business has dozens of locations across the country, stores inventory in off-site warehouses all over the globe, relies on a variety of teams embedded within a larger organization, or loans out assets to employees who work from home or at other locations.
Regardless of why your business requires a remote inventory management system, one thing’s for sure: learning how to effectively track inventory remotely can save your business time and money. This guide to remote inventory management will zero in on how to manage inventory remotely, offering a variety of best practices that can help larger businesses streamline and scale their inventory management strategy. We’ll also touch on the benefits of remote inventory management software and offer tips and tricks for handling remote stock.
What is remote inventory management?
Remote inventory management is an inventory management strategy in which inventory stored either off-site or at various locations is tracked using one centralized inventory management system.
If a business manages inventory and assets stored at remote warehouses, loaned out to employees, or spread out across various locations, it has already implemented a remote inventory management strategy. Businesses also manage remote inventory if employees “check out” inventory to store on company vehicles or job sites. This is especially common in industries like construction.
Traditional inventory management implies that the stock a business is tracking is maintained on-site. That means that whoever is tasked with inventory management can physically count all inventory on hand. A remote inventory management strategy is required if your business cannot physically count inventory. Fortunately, the best inventory management solutions—including inventory apps like Sortly—allow businesses to track inventory no matter where stock is located.
Related: How Aardvark Mobile Tours Uses Sortly to Manage Complex, Multi-Location Inventory
How can inventory management software help you track stock remotely?
Inventory management software simplifies remote inventory and remote warehouse management by enabling collaboration between your business’s teams and locations.
If your business has remote inventory, you already rely on off-site teams to keep inventory records accurate. This means that everything from ordering to organizing to auditing inventory must be completed by those off-site employees, then recorded on a centralized inventory management system. The simplest way to ensure proper remote inventory management is to select remote inventory management software that can help your teams do just that.
With the right inventory app, powerful automation features such as QR code and barcode scanning, customizable reports, and low stock alerts can help your business keep a close eye on inventory—even if it’s stored thousands of miles away.
How to manage stock remotely
When managing stock remotely, implement a scalable, teachable system that your remote teams can learn and adhere to long term. These six best practices, outlined below, can help your business manage remote stock in less time—and with less stress—than ever before.
1. Pick a remote inventory system
Select a remote inventory management system that meets your business’s unique needs. Remember that a simple inventory list is almost certainly insufficient for remote inventory management. A spreadsheet, while shareable, is error-prone and does not offer time-saving features such as barcode and QR code scanning, low stock alerts, inventory reporting, and the ability to display images and attachments.
For most businesses with remote inventory, inventory software is a better option. Select a system that offers the features, flexibility, and customizability your business requires. Keep in mind that some solutions, including Sortly, will work with customers directly to fine-tune the software to meet their needs.
2. Practice perpetual inventory by updating inventory in real time
To get the most out of your remote inventory system, consider practicing perpetual inventory by updating your inventory software whenever an item is bought, sold, or relocated. While such a process might sound tedious, inventory apps with in-app barcode and QR code scanners allow employees to instantly check items in and out using their smartphone or tablet cameras.
Moreover, apps like Sortly allow businesses to create custom barcodes and QR codes for unlabeled stock, so even unique or unlabeled inventory can be counted, audited, and cataloged rapidly. And since Sortly is cloud-based, teams at every location will always have access to the newest, most accurate inventory records.
3. Add visuals to your inventory
Once you’ve settled on an inventory system and committed to keeping it accurate and updated, you’ll want to ensure your inventory list is full of key details—including photos. After all, when you manage inventory remotely, you rely on your inventory system for information about your remote stock. By adding tons of details about your products to your inventory list, you’ll have that much more information about your products at your fingertips.
This is especially true for images. Your remote teams can upload high-resolution images to every item’s profile in Sortly. Whether your business uses these images to understand its inventory better, to keep track of highly-visual assets, or to track assets’ conditions and quality as they change over time, there’s no better way to do this than with a few good pictures.
With Sortly, your remote team can simply snap photos using their camera or tablet and add them to an item’s details.
Related: A Guide to Visual Inventory Control
4. Audit your inventory quantities—and your inventory strategy—regularly
Regardless of how well it practices perpetual inventory management, every business must audit its inventory from time to time. With the right remote inventory management software, you can shave hours—or even days—off your inventory and asset audits. Still, it’s vital to conduct these inventory counts carefully, keeping an eye out for inventory shrinkage, obsolescence, and poor adherence to your business’s inventory management standard operating procedures.
Remember that even the best inventory management strategies need tinkering and that by refining your processes at least once or twice a year, you’ll save yourself stress, time, and money down the road. Plus, these audits offer businesses an excellent opportunity to rethink how they physically organize inventory and assets; whether it’s time to sell, repair, or replace any items; and whether certain asset maintenance schedules should be reconsidered.
To speed up your inventory audits, follow asset audit best practices and use your inventory system’s reporting feature as a baseline. Sortly customers can generate customized, filtered reports that feature select items’ barcodes, QR codes, key details, photos, conditions, and inventory levels. Feel free to tinker with these reports so that they feature the information your remote teams need for a faster audit—and nothing else.
5. Emphasize communication and collaboration between teams
Communication is a cornerstone of successful remote inventory management. Since your business relies on various teams to create an accurate perpetual inventory system, make it a point to facilitate faster, clearer conversations between employees.
Your business might want to consider codifying how employees communicate about inventory. For example, if your teams already communicate about inventory management via Slack, email, phone, and text message, consider defining one standard mode of communication for essential inventory discussions. This could be a Slack channel or even creating a nomenclature for email subject lines—anything that helps your business identify crucial inventory-related conversations.
You’ll also want to ensure that all teams use the same inventory software to manage remote stock. Sortly, for example, was engineered to facilitate collaboration, so teams from all over the globe can work together to keep records organized and up to date.
6. Optimize your re-ordering process
Even businesses that excel at maintaining a centralized, remote inventory management system sometimes need help with ordering. There are a variety of reasons for this disconnect. Some locations order the same products from different vendors, while others handle the reordering for every location. No matter your business’s ordering challenges, optimizing your company’s reordering process can help boost profitability and productivity.
If your team begins practicing better remote inventory management, much of this optimization will happen naturally. After all, your business will already have picked out effective inventory software, trained employees on maintaining perpetual inventory, created a robust and visual remote inventory system, and used that system to foster faster audits, better communication, and swifter collaboration. All these best practices lead to better inventory reporting, and those inventory reports allow your business to better forecast what inventory they need and where and when they’ll need it. Plus, features like low stock alerts—which can be customized on Sortly—can notify your team when it’s time to reorder.
With the help of good inventory management software, your business will enjoy complete visibility at every location. After all, when your teams use remote inventory software properly, scrolling through your visual inventory dashboard should feel like walking into a warehouse—with all the pictures, details, and data you need on display.
Experience the simplest inventory management software.
Sortly is a top-rated inventory management software solution designed to help large businesses optimize inventory management across multiple locations. No matter your business’s unique challenges, Sortly’s flexible, customizable inventory system can help even the most remote teams work together.
Could Sortly help your business manage remote stock? Try a free, two-week trial of our software. If you have 10+ team members doing inventory, you can connect with our Customer Success team about fine-tuning Sortly to meet your large business’s unique needs.