Does the very thought of migrating your entire inventory make your head spin? You’re not alone. Inventory migration is often seen as a highly complex, costly and time-consuming process that most successful online retailers will try to avoid if they can.
Yet, the decision to switch inventory management systems is often taken to ensure the long-term profitability and sustainability of a business. A necessary evil, if you will.
In this article, we shine a spotlight on inventory migration so that you can have complete confidence in your move to a new solution.
When to consider inventory migration
As your business evolves, so too must your software and the way you use it.
Problem is, many online retailers don’t plan for the long-term when choosing inventory management software. And for good reason too. The costs tied to advanced systems are often perceived as too high in terms of the features online sellers need when starting out.
Here are a handful of reasons retail brands consider inventory migration:
Reaching a ceiling in terms of growth
As we talked about earlier, it’s common for new online retailers to choose cheaper, less robust inventory management solutions to keep business costs to a minimum.
Inevitably, these businesses end up outgrowing their systems. Quite quickly. Especially in cases where an online retailer’s rate of growth has far exceeded its expectations.
A lack of scalable functionality will only get you so far. After you start running into limitations with your inventory management software, you have two choices:
- Start seeking out your alternatives
- Become stagnant and risk going bust
Your system should have the capacity to grow with you, all the way from starting out as a bedroom seller to an established business, right through to a global eCommerce empire.
Streamline selling processes
You may also come to the decision of inventory migration due to needing to bring even more efficiency into your business in order to streamline your selling processes.
This often happens as a result of a lack of research into your current solution.
For example, some inventory management software solutions still don’t perform basic functions such as bulk label printing or bulk listing.
Others aren’t fully equipped to deal with unforeseen issues, resulting in a steady stream of errors and downtime and ultimately affecting your sales and overall growth.
Unfortunately, these are issues that you’ll have likely overlooked until you start using the software on a daily basis. Problems such as these negatively impact your rate of growth and will eventually need to be rectified with a more robust, reliable system.
Require bespoke customisation
In a similar vein to reaching a ceiling in terms of growth, perhaps over time you’ve realised that your business would benefit substantially from bespoke customisation.
However, outsourcing or hiring your own in-house developers can be extremely costly.
Not to mention, any developers you do hire will need to spend time learning an entire inventory management system before being able to customise it to any extent.
Another issue may be that your solution doesn’t provide open API architecture, meaning that the software is not able to be customised by anyone other than the software provider.
While small changes here and there don’t warrant switching inventory management systems, if your customisation requirements are large in scope then you may benefit from considering your opportunities with alternative solutions.
For example, some modern software providers will have a whole department of customisation specialists that are dedicated to creating custom scripts to tailor your system to exactly how your business and team needs it.
Value for money
On the flip side, you may find yourself in a situation where you’ve forked out too much money on your chosen solution and you aren’t getting maximum value from it.
Contrary to popular belief, an expensive price tag doesn’t always mean you’re going to be getting the best product available. There are a number of different elements you’ll need to consider in order to make the right decision for your business.
If this sounds like the position that you’re in, then you need to reassess whether or not the solution is the best fit for your business.
Talk to your software provider and don’t make any rash decisions to do with inventory migration until you are certain it’s the right move.
How to prepare for inventory migration
When moving to a new inventory management solution, there are a couple of things that you can do to put your business in an optimum position for an effective inventory migration.
Complete a manual stock count
In order to ensure that you that you set your new system up correctly right from the outset, it’s good practice to complete a manual stock count prior to inventory migration.
Although the thought of a manual stock count may cause you to shudder with dread, physical inventory counts make sure that there’s complete parity and accuracy between:
- The actual stock levels within your warehouse
- The recorded stock quantities in your current inventory management software
In other words, a manual stock count guarantees that your new system will show your true inventory levels – which is essential if you want to run a successful online business.
To do this, you’ll need to put your warehouse activities on pause while your team goes through the seemingly endless process of counting, re-counting and correcting. No stock should be moving in or out at any time to ensure 100% accuracy.
For this reason, it makes sense to schedule your inventory count both in advance and at a time of the year where your sales slow down, such as in January.
That way, you’re not missing out on a huge amount of profit for your business.
If you don’t already have a warehouse layout to work from, sketch out a map of each location to make the process much easier to manage.
You’ll want to consider:
- Display units
- Work areas
This also helps with the labelling of your warehouse. You can number each rack, shelf and bin location and then tick these off on your inventory counting sheet as you go.
Depending on how fast you need to move to a new system, you may find it easier to complete cycle stock counts as you won’t need to shut down warehousing activity.
To engage with cycle stock counts, assign your team partial stock takes to complete on a continuous basis, so that your entire inventory gets counted in a specific timeframe.
Discuss the migration process with your new software provider
Perhaps the best way to prepare your business for inventory migration is to talk directly with your new software provider.
Ask them to tell you precisely what’s involved in the process and look out for case studies specific to migration to act as an extra layer of trust.
You could even see if it’s possible to talk to some of their customers who went through the process of inventory migration to hear their thoughts.
It’s highly likely that the inventory management software company you’re switching to will have a variety of onboarding options to ensure that your experience is as smooth and seamless as possible.
For example, Linnworks provides new customers with a variety of onboarding packages that include the following and more – perfect for those seeking a seamless migration:
- A full assessment of your individual requirements
- Project scope day (implementation specialist spends the day at your warehouse)
- A customised build specification for the agreed project
- Walkthrough of each feature set required for the build
- Training of each required module in Linnworks (recorded for playback)
The project scope day is an ideal service for retailers seeking inventory migration.
It involves research, analysis and an on-site visit. One of our implementation specialists spend a day with you and your team at your primary warehouse, which helps us to understand your processes and identify other areas Linnworks can support you.
Regardless of the inventory management solution you’re looking to move to, you should feel completely confident in your choice and understand exactly what you’re getting in exchange for your money – otherwise your migration experience may not be so seamless.
The steps involved in inventory migration
After you’ve outlined your migration project in full with your new software provider (such as through project scoping and over the course of several meetings) then it’s time to bring your plan to life.
So, what are the steps involved?
While we can’t speak for every inventory management system out there, there are general processes that will need to be followed. We have outlined the major steps below, but keep in mind that these don’t necessarily have to follow a stringent order:
1. Exporting your data
To kick start the process, you’ll need to export all your data from your existing solutions and selling channels. In effect, you’ll need to create a central repository to store all your product information in one location (i.e. a primary source of data).
2. Data manipulation
Depending on which inventory management software solution you choose, you may need to assess how clean your data is for the new system that you’re migrating to.
If it needs to be tidied up, then this aspect generally falls on your shoulders. Of course, a good software provider will give you all the necessary details for you to perform this action.
Some systems may have their own tools to help sanitise your data quickly if you’re coming from a particular competitor of theirs.
3. Importing your data
Once your data is ready to go, it can be imported into your new system.
4. Inventory mapping
Inventory mapping is the process that links stock items to a specific product listing on a selling channel, so that you’ll be able to tell which products have been ordered from where.
It’s this link that enables information about the item to flow between your inventory management system and your selling channels so that your stock levels update and synchronise in automatically and in real-time.
5. Integrating couriers and other delivery services
Depending on where you’re migrating your inventory to, it’s likely that you’ll also need to integrate your couriers and delivery services during the migration process.
These companies can take a few days to give their approval, so it’s worth planning in advance when to add them so that it causes minimal disruption to your business.
6. Customising your business rules engine
A business rules engine is used to develop, store, edit and implement business rules. Often, these are logical statements that define the behaviour and operation of a business.
Within inventory management software, a business rules engine allows you to apply bespoke rules without the need for any prior programming knowledge. These rules run automatically after an order has been made from a sales channel and saved in your system.
While you can create rules to automate elements of the process from the moment an order has been created, most inventory management business rules engines help streamline shipping management.
For example, automatically routing an order to a specific courier if it’s over a certain size or value. Alternatively, routing all your US orders to the same delivery service while assigning your European orders to another courier.
7. Additional customisation
When it comes to successful, seamless inventory migration, it’s likely that you’ll need additional customisation from your new software provider. After all, you want your system to work for you – not the other way around.
This is why it can be beneficial to organise a project scoping day with specialists from your new inventory management software. They can quickly identify other areas the solution can support your processes or be customised to suit your individual requirements.
Training both during and after your inventory migration is fundamental to ensure that your team understand how to get maximum use out of the new solution.
A good software provider who values its customers will not only provide you with training as you go through the migration process, but also after so that you and your employees who will be using it day in and day out know how to use it.
Ideally, you don’t want to keep training your staff on new ways to do things – especially when it comes to something as crucial to your business operations as your inventory management software.
That’s why it’s important to migrate to a solution that is robust and scalable.
Inventory migration best practices
While the process of inventory migration is usually highly specific to the individual retailer, there are a variety of best practices to make your experience as smooth as possible.
Here are a few of them:
Inventory migration is a two-way street. Your software provider can’t do it without you and vice versa. Migrating the inventory of a business is a collaborative process that requires regular communication between both parties.
What’s more, how quickly you respond and how ready you are to get stuck in and learn the new system will affect how long the inventory migration process takes. This can impact your retail company substantially as it affects how quickly you can go back to business as usual.
Transparency of processes
There is no point in hiding your processes from your new inventory management software provider. If you want your solution to work the best it possibly can for your business, then you need to be completely transparent about your processes.
Even if you do something backwards due to a lack of knowledge (or maybe for convenience) being open and honest will help you to find ways to progress your operations and scale up.
Evaluate and understand your existing inventory and data
Spend some time thinking about all the types of data you have currently and that you’d appreciate having in your system. Consider elements such as reports, historical sales data and on-screen inquiries.
It’s also worth reviewing the quality of your existing data. Try to treat your inventory migration as turning over a new leaf for your business… are you satisfied with your existing product codes? What about your accounting?
If you want to make changes - big or small - now is the time to do so.
Clearly define who is responsible for what
Although a contract will iron out any discrepancies over who is responsible for what, it can be beneficial for you to clearly define who will be involved in the process on your side.
Think not only about the short-term inventory migration, but also the long-term future.
Are there any warehouse employees who will need daily access to the system who haven’t been considered? What about those on your team responsible for reporting and analytics?
The most successful migrations happen when there are members of staff involved from all areas of a retail business – from leadership to customer support to pickers and packers.
At the same time, remember to read the fine print in your contract and the services that you’re using as inventory migration costs can quickly add up.
Some companies will charge you an hourly rate, so be sure to get details of precisely what they propose and pre-agree a set number of hours as well as a process to limit costs and to review process in advance of any changes to the project scope (i.e. scope creep).
Understand when data needs to be migrated
In business, timing is always of the essence.
Products can be migrated at any point ahead of the date you plan to go-live, with new items being added in manually. However, this data could also be migrated on the same day.
In comparison, your current orders and any open transactions will need to be migrated on the day. As such, some retailers consider this to be a bottleneck.
Conversely, elements such as your historical sales data have more flexibility in terms of when the information needs to be migrated. In fact, you could import your sales history at any time after you’re already live with your new inventory management software.
Of course, it makes sense to migrate everything together in a short timeframe, but if you were to run into issues then there are ways you can stagger your inventory migration.
Plan ahead to plan for success
While the process of inventory migration will differ for each retailer and software provider, you should now have a better understanding of the elements involved.
Regardless of which inventory management software you’ve switching over to, you should have complete confidence in them to support you and your team in your migration journey.
After all, your inventory management system sits at the crux of your entire business.
Looking for more ways to streamline your operations? Find out how to manage your inventory effectively and avoid human error, save time and reduce costs, with our inventory management techniques guide below.