Managing an accurate inventory is one of the biggest challenges for any medium to larger size ecommerce business. Well, even if you're small and have 10 products, managing an accurate inventory will take some effort.
When you get larger, this will get harder and harder, however it's absolutely essential you'll do your best to keep your inventory as accurate as possible.
Fully automated warehousing and inventory management, even for largest, most advanced and highly effective businesses is a challenge, mostly because at some point, human input in one form or another is required. Humans are not machines (thanks for that) and we make mistakes, inconsistencies, forget to scan things, hit that update button and so on.
When you have a large warehouse with hundreds or even thousands of products, you'd have to invest to inventory system early on, otherwise you're looking into a trouble. A proper numbering system with logical item numbers (sku) is absolutely essential. A flowing, real-time database solution with 'as less human input as possible' is also needed. Scanners instead of manual updates, real-time changes possibility, regular updates to your vendors are just barebone features you should invest in.
It's very hard to manage accurate inventory for multiple warehouses
When it comes to a single warehouse, it's challenging, but doable - a great inventory approach is normal and expected. Things start to get more complicated when you're dealing with multiple inventory sources, and especially, when you're dealing with multiple brands / warehouse systems that are not connected to each other in any way.
At the moment, on comfyco.com, we're working with approximately 40 different brands. From the very beginning of our work, we did understand a fully working automated inventory will never be possible. However, lately we took some huge steps for automating some of our brand lineups to a certain degree.
In the month of July of 2022 we've implemented a great feature we've always wanted: for some of our brands you can now see some nice labels that will help to understand if you need to check stock or when something is not available we'll display some estimated dates when provided. For in stock product you'll see a green label with same message.
Even something as simple as that doesn't appear easily, mostly because every brand uses different methods on delivering that data.
First of all, less than half furniture companies provide accurate inventory. For a lot of places, you'd still need to reach warehouse customer service by phone / email to check their current stock for a certain product. In cases like this, of course, no inventory management is possible.
Some of the brands send daily / weekly / updates in a form of pre-generated database files. Those files are typically in different formats (most of the time either excel or csv files) that need some conversion before those can be used. Database fields are obviously different for each datafeed that require some specific tweaks for each feed in order for it to work.
Some of larger companies do provide an access to API that requires specific module programming that will work only for specific company. This is most accurate method, but most time-consuming to setup initially.
With all that data provided can still be inaccurate since ... as we explained before - human factor. So, while inventory display is great and valuable addition to any ecommerce website, it's still possible something will be sold out even after you check out and it will appear 'available' before then.
Data may arrive a day later than it's generated, some office person forgot to update a quantity for a day or skipped an invoice, somebody didn't scan a box in time, etc. - are the main reasons for those inconsistencies. These can be frustrating for an end consumer, but we here are just trying to explain what exactly goes beyond those inventory numbers we rely on.
We, however, think in most cases inventory display and management is surely a nice addition that ultimately provides better customer experience overall and we'll do whatever possible to display as accurate information as possible.
This is again, very hard with our 40+ manufacturers, but we'll try our best. We're happy with what we have now and it will be even better as time passes on ;)