Whether you’re scaling an existing wholesale channel or just starting to accept wholesale orders, inventory management can get tricky — especially as your business grows. Even if you have the most organized system for tracking your retail inventory, wholesale inventory requires deeper insights into customer data and product availability.
When you’re managing your own inventory, you’ll need to think about your buyer’s needs, as well as the needs of their customers, to ensure you’ve got the right amount of products in stock. You’ll also need to react quickly to any supply chain issues or factory closures that might affect the availability of these products, so you can be ahead of the game in offering a substitute.
It’s a lot! But in the end, better insights combined with strategic wholesale inventory planning can help you avoid stockouts on both sides of the business, while saving more time and money.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what it means to have an effective wholesale inventory plan for your unique business.
What we’ll cover:
- What is wholesale inventory planning?
- Wholesale vs. retail order management: What are the key differences?
- Why is wholesale inventory planning important?
- How to use better inventory planning methods to level up your wholesale channel
- Optimize wholesale inventory planning with Flieber
What is wholesale inventory planning?
As you likely know from your retail channels, wholesale inventory planning refers to the operational side of purchasing, storing, tracking, and reordering goods.
This mainly includes:
- Purchase order management
- Receiving and tracking wholesale inventory levels
- Maintaining optimal storage systems
- Auditing your wholesale inventory and knowing when to replenish
A recent study by Modern Distribution Management shows that “the percentage of revenue generated from e-commerce is significant and continues to grow year over year”. And at the same time, “the percentage of distributors reporting little revenue generated from e-commerce is shrinking dramatically”.
This is great news! It means that by offering wholesale purchases, you’re in the right game — you just need to stay ahead of the growing competition.
Wholesale vs. retail order management: The key differences to know
Before continuing on, it’s important to note the difference between wholesale and retail order management, which unfortunately, isn’t as easy as simply replicating your DTC inventory processes.
In essence, it can be boiled down to two main concepts — expenses and the size of the businesses you’ll work with.
Depending on what businesses you serve, wholesale orders might not contribute a significant margin. However, even if they bring in lower profits, wholesale purchases can reduce overall operating costs because bulk orders from suppliers tend to come with discounted rates.
Retail purchases are more likely to come from the supply chain or operations team at small or privately-owned businesses. On the other hand, wholesale orders tend to be placed at scale by the supply chain team at larger operations, chains, or manufacturers.
You might be offering the same products to each type of business, but their goals and ordering habits will vary widely.
Why is wholesale inventory planning important?
To put it simply, proper planning will help streamline your procurement, ensure you fulfill orders in a timely manner, and set your business up for success by building lasting relationships with wholesale customers.
Without a strategic planning system in place, you face the possibility of human error and accidental miscalculations impacting your inventory in a negative way, such as incorrect quantities, poorly managed timing, lost or damaged goods, and more.
This can also result in one of the biggest challenges online brands face — a lack of visibility that could lead to stockouts at locations that serve both retail and wholesale channels.
When a seller serves both retail and wholesale customers from the same location, it can be beneficial to prioritize wholesale orders and replenishment. If there's a sudden surge in retail purchases at the same time that you’re receiving bulk wholesale orders, you run a high risk of stockouts if a significant portion of the inventory isn’t available for wholesale orders.
To meet on-time in-full (OTIF) metrics for your wholesale channels, you may want to adjust your process to forecast the amount of product and the timing of potential orders, then prioritize your inventory for wholesale customers. This can be key in preventing stockouts when the wholesale order actually arrives.
Now, for some good news. Although wholesale inventory management is complex, the solution can be simple.
How better inventory planning can level up your wholesale channel
If you’re taking a manual approach to inventory planning, you’ll want to take extra caution when forecasting the quantity and timing of wholesale orders to avoid stockouts.
Here’s what you’ll need to keep in mind:
Bulk: Plan for your products to be sold in bulk quantities and make sure that those quantities are available. That includes acquiring the proper storage space to hold large amounts of goods.
In-stock awareness: Regular inventory counts can help you reduce stockouts. It’s difficult to stay on top of real-time data, but having ongoing access to your inventory allows you to know how many products you have on-hand, when it’s time to replenish stock, and whether you’ll meet OTIF metrics.
Timing: If you have a manufacturing buyer, they’ll likely purchase wholesale products on a continual basis. If your wholesale customer is a retail chain, you’ll want to stock up in advance of a major shopping season. Knowing what your ideal customer is planning to stock-up on, and when, means you can better anticipate your own inventory needs.
Supply Chain Issues: Especially common in the last few years, supply chain issues can put a major dent in your inventory plans. We’ve also seen a number of factories close in recent years. Wholesale sellers will need to be keenly aware of any ongoing supply chain issues, and what alternatives are available to customers.
A strong inventory planning system can help take on many of these key tasks for you, reducing human error and freeing up your time to focus on other areas of business.
The benefits of using a streamlined system
1. A single place for all your operational needs
By using a unified inventory planning platform, you’ll gain total visibility into inventory and sales across multiple channels in a single dashboard.
With Flieber, our software connects directly to your sales channels and inventory locations, which allows you to view all data in a succinct, easy-to-read dashboard.
2. Awareness of your in-stock inventory at all times and in real-time
Streamlined systems allow you to access real-time tracking on inventory, as well as purchase orders that have been placed and fulfilled.
With a complete view of your supply chain and real-time notifications, you’ll be immediately informed when stock is getting low or if any unexpected delays come up.
3. Easy access to purchase orders
Easily create, store, and share purchase orders so your team is on the same page.
Not only does this create a stronger line of communication within your business, it also allows for more streamlined processing, fulfillment, shipping — and overall cost savings.
4. Automated processes to improve accuracy, including low-stock alerts
The manual process of tracking inventory means checking, double-checking, and some days, triple-checking inventory to get as close to real-time data as possible.
You’ve got better ways to spend your time. Automating this process allows your team to stay in the know, and even improve your replenishment processes for both your retail and wholesale channels.
5. Data-driven forecasting
The best decisions are backed by data, and the best inventory planning systems will help you take the guesswork out of forecasting.
Instead of spending your time building manual reports, you can automatically gather, interpret, and apply data insights to ensure your future inventory decisions are even sharper.
While e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon can provide a unique opportunity for wholesale sellers, the limitations of its inventory and fulfillment services may outweigh the benefits. From inventory limits, to increased costs and complicated tracking systems, multichannel brands need multichannel solutions.
Optimize your inventory planning with Flieber
According to experts like Shopify’s director of product Mani Fazeli, market research shows that the global B2B/wholesale market “is more than double the size of [DTC], meaning billions in untapped revenue.”
The data speaks for itself. Wholesale e-commerce is a huge market that’s growing bigger each year. While a small business or startup might be able to get away with inventory tracking via emailed orders or multiple spreadsheets, you’ll quickly outgrow these tactics as you scale your business.
To keep up, start by flagging a portion of your inventory to be sold for wholesale so the rest can be forecasted without over-forecasting, which could lead to stockouts due to not previously allocating the wholesale inventory.
With a 360⁰ view of sales, inventory, and supply chain data, Flieber makes it easy for brands to master their order fulfillment for both wholesale and retail locations. Let Flieber be the co-pilot for your inventory decisions, delivering better forecasting tools, automated replenishment alerts, and real-time adjustments to help you prevent stockouts for good.
Request access and create a complete inventory plan that keeps you in stock and on track. Ready for better demand planning? Let's start Fliebing!