Updated: 2 days ago
As someone who makes a living advising businesses on the best Retail Solutions Providers, I cannot think of a topic dearer to my heart than Inventory Management. Those shopping around for a new “Inventory Management System” (IMS), will likely be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options that exist. There. Are. A. Lot. Of. Them. 🙄
It’s worth mentioning that an IMS DOES NOT replace the need for a thoughtful Merchandising Strategy, or calculated buying practices.
These systems can be great for feeding data to your merchandiser(s) to make more informed decisions, but really, you are looking for these systems to ease the pain of keeping up with orders and ensure accurate inventory is reported across channels.
If you are looking for someone to help you with custom ecommerce automations, merchandising strategy, buying, or product styling, then I’ll shamelessly plug in FOMO agency ™ as your go-to-partner. 🙂
We developed this guide as a starting point for those interested in exploring the best software solutions for Inventory Management. We’ll share some of the good, the bad, and provide you with some helpful links to product demos, API documentation, and more.
Before diving into the Top 8 Inventory Management Systems, if you're feeling overwhelmed by the insane volume of options there are to sift through, don't stress. You've got this!
Let’s look at a few ways business owners manage their inventory:
Pen & Paper
Software as a Service (SaaS)
These methods are not created equally. Sparing you the lecture on pen & paper, let’s hop right into…
If this is you, we get it. Spreadsheets are free to create, and let's be honest, they can get pretty complex. If you work hard to write the formulas, Excel can fill the void, though it shouldn't be your long-term solution. If you’re itching to hear it from the spreadsheet-wizard herself, you should give our merchandising guru, Taylor Daniel, a shout.
If budgets are tight, spreadsheets are an acceptable solution, especially if you are automating the data into and out of them. Otherwise, there are better solutions to your workflow problems.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
I once worked for a software company that specialized in accounting-automation - an impressive software that automatically records sales data into your accounting software from all of your sales channels.
Even better, they offer a way to help retailers manage their inventory (if the needs are not too complex).
Because this software has access to most, if not all your sales data, they have easy access to the inventory details of each channel. From there, it’s as simple as selecting a master location to be the source-of-truth for inventory, and mapping the data from each location to the master record-holder. In most cases, this master location was the accounting system, which may or may not be right for your business.
For those unfamiliar with mapping, you can think of it as "translating data" from one system to a format/language that is understood by another system.
A great example of this would be for those who sell products on Amazon and other channels. In Amazon, each item you sell is assigned an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). Because this number is unique to Amazon, you need to map the ASIN to the proper SKU number associated with that product in whatever other systems you use.
Many software systems that interact with your sales have the ability to help with inventory syncing. As I mentioned, these systems are not all created equal.
Some are more advanced in their ability to handle unique inventory needs. Others act as a middle man for your data automating from one place to another. Some handle the inventory directly in their own system. Others will integrate with all your systems out-of-the-box, and some won’t.
Why are there are so many different software solutions for inventory management? And why is it so complicated to find the right one?
The main reason is because MANAGING INVENTORY IS COMPLICATED. Additionally, software companies have done a great job of becoming closely embedded with your other systems, and sometimes it is necessary for them to interact with your inventory to maintain a strong value proposition for their service offering.
Why is inventory management so CRITICAL to a business’s survival?
When starting a business, it’s easy to think about the customer, product offering, and sales. But it’s usually the operational processes between that fall lower down the totem pole of priorities. I’d say most businesses learn this the hard way.
How many times have you sold something only to realize you don’t have it in stock (overselling)? How many times have you purchased too much of a product that you didn’t sell enough of (underselling)?
Managing your inventory, especially across a multi-channel brand, can certainly be problematic.
When you have a problem with inventory, you also have a problem with profitability, customer satisfaction, and probably your sanity. 😖 When it comes to Merchandise Planning, it is VITAL to the business to lean on quality data to develop a profitable strategy for your assortment and the level of investment you put into each product.
I came across a pretty great article in the Shopify Blog discussing inventory management techniques. In the article, they advocate for removing as much human error as possible (I totally agree). They also provide retailers with some basic methods for keeping your inventory in line. They also highlight the importance of forecasting your inventory in this article. We’ll touch more on this at the end of this post!
Time for the fun stuff! As a general note, we have not been contracted to write this, nor are we getting paid for mentioning any brands called out in this article, except FOMO agency, but we barely pay ourselves. 😅 We reviewed ten different websites, all of which are cited at the end of this post. Across those ten sources we came across 56 different “Inventory Management Systems.”
🚨 In order to make this list, the IMS had to be ranked on at least three of the websites, with an average rating of 4.0 or better. We took the average rating across the different websites and drilled it down to a top 8. There are a ton of great solutions out there, but we hope this will act as a guide to get your research going. Enjoy!
The Best Inventory Management Systems
Finale Integrations include everything from accounting solutions and sales channels, to logistics providers and shopping carts. Using Finale's API Documentation or EDI Connectors, developers can easily build out integrations and apps to enhance your experience. Check out this quick 1-minute Video Tour. Here’s what people have to say about Finale:
The good: 🙂
Karen (new user less than 6 months), gave Finale a solid 5-stars, saying they "are wonderful to deal with." When asked about the pros of the software she said "we have a lot of product kit assembly items and Finale allows you to create those.
When asked about the cons she said:"we had to convert our cases to pieces to make this software work with multiple locations." – 2020
The bad: 😟
We had to dig deep for the bad reviews here. The lowest rating we found on the Software Advice website was only 3-stars! Tariq, a seasoned user says "it does not save data properly." According to him, if it was able to do this properly, it would "be the best inventory system on the market." For Tariq, the pros are that it is "easy to use and...[the] system is adaptable."
When asked about the cons:"if you try to edit an existing order it does not save the change sometimes which causes me to constantly have to edit the same order multiple times and re-sync the scanner so I can pick the order." – 2017
Skubana touts themselves as "the operating system of commerce."From shopping carts and app stores to shipping providers and marketplaces, Skubana Integrations have you covered with some of the most commonly used systems. If you don't see the integrations that you're looking for, your developers can refer to their API Documentation for more info. Check out their complete list of Features, or watch their Video Tour for a walk though of their platform.
The good: 🙂
David, a seasoned Skubana user, gave the app a stellar 5-star rating raving
"Skubana - I can't live without you!"
From a cons perspective, David claims they "like everything about it. Nothing not to like."
When asked about the Pros:"The inventory tracking is airtight, and...they've built a QBO connector, [so] accounting [is] natively integrated." -2020
The bad: 😟
Digging deep, we found a 3-star rating from Monica saying that there are "too many required 'integration partners' and 'connectors' in order to use the software."
When asked about the positives Monica said the rep was"an amazing individual. I cannot say enough positive things about my interactions with this gentleman." - 2019
Note: in regards to Monica's complaint regarding to number of integrations required: this is going to be the case with any IMS system. As a business, you likely have multiple systems you use like your website and other sales channels, to things like your accounting system and order fulfillment. These IMS solutions rely on your existing data to generate reports and insights that help you manage new and recurring product buys &/or customer orders.
ZOHO offers a suite of software solutions designed to help you run your business. Everything from CRM, Accounting, Inventory Management, and more. ZOHO works with popular platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, Etsy, Amazon, and plenty of other neat ZOHO integrations. Don’t give up if you cannot find what you need ready-made; developers can easily work with the ZOHO API documentation. Interested in a walk through, without having to hop on a demo call? Check out this 30-min ZOHO overview webinar. Here’s what people have to say about ZOHO:
The good: 🙂
According to Ann (a 2+ year ZOHO user) on the Software Advice website, ZOHO is “A Must Have for Business,” blessing the tool with a nice five-star rating! Specifically, they had high remarks for the customer service ZOHO offers saying:
“OUTSTANDING customer service…nothing their customer service can't handle.” – 2019
The bad: 😟
According to Binyamin (a new ZOHO user) on the Software Advice website, ZOHO was “clumsy, awkward, and anything but user friendly…[but,] the best inventory platform on the market” providing the tool with a lackluster two-star rating. It is worth noting that the reviewer took a little ownership saying:
“if I were to devote the time to learning how to use it… it would be worth the time spent.” -2019
TradeGecko claims that you can “organize your products, orders, payments, customers and insights, all in one secure system.” There are 14 features TradeGecko focuses on:
TradeGecko integrates with QuickBooks, Xero, Shopify, Amazon, and a few others. Looking for a different integration? Check out the TradeGecko API documentation. We were not able to find a demo walk through. However, they offer free trials on their site, and there is a ton of information on YouTube! Here’s what people have to say about TradeGecko:
The good: 🙂
According to Rene (a newer Fishbowl user) on Capterra, TradeGecko provides her with “full control of the products,” granting the tool with a stellar five-star rating! For Rene, the pros are “multiple integrations, omnichannel sales, easy to configure, [and] a lot of documentation.”
As for Rene’s cons, “I can’t configure my dashboard, report styles.” – 2019
The bad: 😟
According to Shima (a newish TradeGecko user) on the Capterra website, “we didn’t get the advice we needed at the initial set-up time… mess[ing] up our inventory [creating a] bigger problem over time.” Shima gave the tool a two-star rating. The reviewer went on to say that the “system was not worth our time and money at all” and that:
“the idea of the software is amazing, the customer service could have been better and more hands on rather than just sending links.” -2019
Cin7 offers a cloud-based inventory management system for what “fast-growing businesses need, out of the box.” Cin7 features include:
Cin7 integrations include everything from QuickBooks & Xero to popular sales channels like Shopify, Amazon, and even some shipping, 3PL, CRM, and other critical systems. Using Cin7’s API documentation, developers can easily build out integrations and apps to enhance the experience if they do not currently support something you need. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate a solid video overview; you’ll have to reach out to them directly for a demo. Here’s what people have to say about Cin7:
The good: 🙂
Anthony, a newer Cin7 user, on the Capterra website said this was a, “company-wide transformation,” giving the software a solid four-star rating! Specifically, Anthony loved that:
“Cin7 centralized, consolidated and automated [their] business processes and procedures, [providing] transparency throughout all business units and supply chain.” –2020
The bad: 😟
An apparel brand who only kept the software for four months said Cin7 “scrambled our data when importing then pushed scrambled data to Shopify.” The reviewer goes on to explain the software idea is great, the sales pitch and “promises” were great, but:
“the on-boarding team could not do the job and messed up our data then left me with the mess.” – 2019
Want to know if it will work with your other tech? Check out the inFlow integrations page. Unfortunately, inFlow does not currently offer any APIs for custom development. We found this sweet 3-min overview of inFlow on their YouTube channel. Here’s what people have to say about inFlow:
The good: 🙂
According to Taylor (a newer inFlow user) on the Capterra website, “inFLow has a great pricing structure with no gotchas,” giving the tool a solid four-star rating! Taylor also said, “the web app is a little bit limited,” but:
“the customer service is excellent. Highly recommended.” – 2020
I had to dig hard to find negative reviews, Capterra has over 400 inFlow reviews, which says a lot about the positives for the software. The cons seem to surround API access, and a few complaints about server down time. I’d recommend reaching out to them directly to get an idea of what their server uptime looks like; ideally, they are somewhere around 99%.
Fishbowl touts themselves as “the #1 manufacturing and inventory management software for QuickBooks.” They bucket their features into three main categories: manufacturing, warehouse, and asset tracking. Fishbowl works with popular platforms like Avalara, QuickBooks, Xero, Shopify, Amazon, and plenty of other useful Fishbowl integrations. Looking for a different integration? Check out the Fishbowl API documentation. Unfortunately, we did not find a great demo walk through. However, they offer free demos in many of the CTA links on their site, and tons of information on their YouTube channel! Here’s what people have to say about Fishbowl:
The good: 🙂
According to Nathan (a 2+ year Fishbowl user) on the Software Advice website, Fishbowl “is a highly functioning software service,” blessing the tool with a stellar five-star rating! Specifically, they had high remarks for the customer service Fishbowl offers saying:
“The support team is always ready to dive into your database file and find the root cause of issues in your environment.” – 2020
The bad: 😟
According to Scott (a newish ZOHO user) on the Software Advice website, Fishbowl “integrations [do not] work as advertised.” Scott gave the tool a single-star rating. Scott mentioned “it does a great job of keeping inventory and an OK job of creating orders.” Digging into the cons, Scott also said:
“There is basically no support…and their integrations for Shopify and Avalara specifically, are incomplete.” -2019
Stitch Labs -- ⚠ July 2021 update ⚠
Stitch Labs claims that you can "manage your operations all in one place" and that with their solution, managing "things will be easier." Some of their Integrations include a variety of marketplaces, logistics partners, shopping carts, and more. Check out their full list of Features. Unfortunately, they do not have an open API, but you can contact them to learn more about their Private API. Check out this Video Tour (~12min from 2016, reach out to Stitch Labs for an updated demo). Here's what customers have to say:
The good: 🙂
Nils, a seasoned user gave Stitch Labs a solid 4-star rating saying they "have had a good experience with it!" According to Nils the software "does take a while to sync sometimes and this can cause inventory issues."
When asked about the pros:"we use this for a couple of eBay stores and our Shopify stores and it works pretty well!" -2019
The bad: 😟
A seasoned anonymous user who gave the app a single star saying "CS takes no accountability and always blames a third party," going on to say "this APP has cost me countless hours of time and money to fix and it still does not work."
When asked about the positives:"I loved the way the screen was visible with images."
I previously mentioned the idea of forecasting your inventory. While this topic warrants its own post, it makes sense to touch on. When it comes to Merchandise Planning, projecting your inventory needs isn’t easy, even for those who make a living doing this job alone. This is so vital to the business that nearly all major brands have teams of people dedicated to getting this right. Our in-house Merchandising expert, Taylor, has a background in large, omni-channel retail planning, and a track-record of achieving double digit comps for some big names in retail. I thought it made sense to ask her a few questions:
When it comes to Inventory Planning and Sales Forecasting, what is the most important thing that needs to be considered?
“It is critical that any retail business has one source of truth for their inventory and sales data. We need to be able to dissect the data to understand the rate-of-sale per product, per channel, in order to accurately forecast the number of units needed to satisfy consumer demand for a specific period of time.”
How do industry trends play a role in forecasting your unit sales?
“While it is important to understand your sales history to make informed decisions, it is also key to look outside your brand and understand what’s happening on a macro-level. If you have an item that sold well last Q1, but you see the trend in decline societally, then planning those styles to sell fewer units is important, if you want to continue carrying them at all. You must constantly monitor culture and society to understand what consumers want and find ways to create brand-right expressions. Competitive analysis, pop culture analysis, celebrity fashion, and runway shows are great ways to stay abreast of current trends you should consider adopting or phasing out.”
What are common mistakes you see when retailers are forecasting their sales?
“Many business owners are doing a lot of guesswork when it comes to forecasting their unit sales. Granted, when trying to forecast sales for a totally new product, there is some guessing involved. But in most cases, we have SOME data to analyze to make the most EDUCATED guess we can.
A seasoned merchandise planner will look at your sales history to understand some key metrics –
Total $ Sales
Total Unit Sales
Avg $ Per Transaction
Avg Units per Transaction
Avg Initial Retail (A.I.R., or ticket price)
Avg Unit Retail Price (A.U.R., or selling price including discounts taken)
Rate Of Sale (R.O.S., sometimes shown as Weeks On Hand, W.O.H.)
Style $ Productivity
Style Unit Productivity
$ Contribution by Style/Class/Department/Channel
Unit Contribution by Style/Class/Department/Channel
and so much more...
Analyzing these metrics will unveil a myriad of insights that help produce strategies backed by data, allowing us to most accurately predict the number of units we need of any given product in your assortment.”
It goes without saying that having an inventory management strategy is critical, and has the potential to cripple a business if not handled correctly. We hope you find this guide helpful in your journey to create a more manageable, and profitable assortment.
It is our mission to to empower retailers and vendors to connect and collaborate more efficiently, by simplifying the process of FINDING, VETTING, and SELECTING the best vendors for their business-needs.
It’s time you took control of your inventory – give us a shout!
From automations and integrations, to merchandising and inventory planning, FOMO agency™ will help solve all your ecommerce problems.
Contact us today! [email protected]
About the Author:
Dustin D. Thede has spent over a decade in retail with a foundation on the front lines as a sales leader and has been helping retail businesses adopt new software and pursue custom development projects since 2016.
Today, Dustin focuses his efforts on helping small to medium businesses (SMB’s) make more informed business decisions in the age of Digital Transformation.
“There is a lot of opportunity online and in stores for retailers. The ability to develop creative, data-driven strategies is key to success in an ever-evolving retail world. A plan today is a vision for tomorrow.”
Dustin D. Thede
President | FOMO agency™