For some reason, the terms inventory management and inventory control have become largely interchangeable over the past few years.
And while the two disciplines have lots of middle ground between them, they are, at their core, different things. Because we see the phrases used interchangeably so often, we wanted to break down the difference between the two terms.
We do this not to be pedantic, but instead to help ensure you better understand inventory management philosophies and find the best software solutions to meet your business’s specific needs.
So, join us today as we break down what inventory control is, how it differs from inventory management, and highlight nine of the best inventory control software tools on the market.
What is Inventory Control?
Before we dive in, this is a good time to explain what inventory control is and how it differs from inventory management.
In the simplest terms, inventory control is responsible for the movement of inventory inside your warehouse. It’s a more focused discipline than inventory management, which handles stock needs from ordering to supply chain to delivery, returns, and beyond.
With inventory control, you track not only the stock in your warehouse, but the quantities and condition of that stock. You can also track materials.
In many ways, inventory control is a specialization within the field of inventory management. It falls under the umbrella of inventory management, but it’s a more specific practice. Think of it like medicine. Inventory management is a general practitioner, while inventory control is more akin to a specialist like a cardiologist.
What is Inventory Control Software?
Now that we have a better understanding of inventory control, let’s talk about inventory control software and how it can help make running your warehouse or distribution center a more straightforward task.
Inventory control software provides real-time analysis of the stock currently in your warehouse. The information this software provides will not only help your business know exactly how many items or materials they have on hand (and the condition of the items and materials), but it will also provide insight into your purchasing practices, how your vendors are performing, and how well you’re doing with order and shipping optimization.
Like many products in the inventory management software space, inventory control software covers the entire gamut of pricing and features. There’s a solution for almost every business. It’s simply a matter of determining what you want from the software and then scheduling product demos to see what meets your needs.
The beauty of the continually evolving technology that powers these kinds of software is that the features offered constantly improve. With that in mind, it becomes easier to find a product that will grow with your business.
How is Inventory Control Software Different from Inventory Management Software?
Now that we understand how inventory control and inventory management are both alike and different, let’s take a moment to discuss the software solutions for both disciplines and how they differ.
Inventory management software is an all-encompassing solution that can focus on every area of your business. From your supply chain to logistics, to your vendors and beyond, an inventory software management solution focuses on all of your inventory needs.
Inventory control software, on the other hand, is once again slightly more specialized.
Inventory control software solutions tend to focus primarily on things inside your warehouse or stockroom.
Here are a few key things inventory control software must have:
A Centralized Inventory Database
For inventory control or inventory management software to be truly effective, it needs to have a centralized inventory database. This is particularly important if you’re running an eCommerce business with multiple storefronts, but it’s also valuable for brick-and-mortar locations with more than one warehouse.
A centralized database ensures you’re up to date on inventory at all of your locations, which can prevent overstocks and stockouts.
Uses Barcode or RFID Tech to Track Products and Materials
One of the benefits of both inventory management and inventory control software is that they can track items by barcode or radio frequency identification (RFID) tools.
The benefit of these technologies is that they make tracking items and materials in your warehouse simpler through automation. Each time an item is scanned, the software updates so you know where it is. This can eliminate human error and ensure you have up to the second inventory information.
Provide Tools for Forecasting
And finally, inventory control software should contain tools for forecasting future demand. By understanding past trends and predicting future needs, you’re better able to keep the right amount of products and materials on hand to meet demand.
Having improper inventory levels costs companies money in carrying fees and lost sales due to stock-outs. Good forecasting can help you avoid both of these traps.
So, what we see in this section is that inventory management and inventory control software have a great deal of functionality in common. The difference is that the inventory control software is a more streamlined solution. It only needs to focus on things in your inventory and not your supply chain and logistics operations.
What to Look for When Considering Inventory Control Software
When it comes to selecting the right inventory control software, there is a multitude of things to consider.
The good news is that there are many different software solutions out there designed to fit a wide range of budgets and requirements. Once you’ve determined what you need, finding the right tool is simply a matter of researching products and scheduling demos to find what’s right for you.
But what should you be looking for in your inventory control software? Let’s talk about some of the key features to consider.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first.
Before you can find a solution that fits your needs, you’ll need to understand what your budget is. Inventory management and inventory control software can run the gamut in terms of pricing. From free solutions with limited functionality to fully modular systems that can be customized to your needs and cost thousands of dollars per month. Knowing what your budget is can help you narrow down the options.
Beyond that, consider whether you want to purchase a software solution directly, or if you’re willing to work with a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider to meet your needs.
Both approaches have benefits.
With a traditional purchase, you pay one flat fee for the software and are off to the races. You’ll get some support and other help with the product if you have problems, but future upgrades and specialized assistance will often require another purchase.
SaaS, meanwhile, will come with a recurring fee. The upside is you’ll have the software company as a partner, helping you address issues, upgrade when needed, and generally be there to help if issues arise.
There’s no right or wrong answer here, but knowing what you have to spend will simplify the purchase process.
The next thing to look for in your inventory control software tools is the features it offers. Does it do what you need it to do? Is it easy to use? The best software in the world won’t help your business if it doesn’t do what you specifically need or you can’t figure out how to use it.
Here are some of the key features you should look for:
Barcode or RFID Tools
If you’re using barcode or RFID technology to track inventory, you’ll want to make sure your software is compatible with your scanner technology.
Believe it or not, not all software will work with every scanner on the market. Knowing about compatibility issues ahead of time can save you frustration.
Reports and Analytic Tools
Data is king, and if you’re not analyzing your reports and studying your analytics, you’re assuredly missing out on opportunities. The best software out there will give you all the reports and data you could ever want, but will allow you to customize things to meet your exact needs so you don’t drown in a sea of numbers.
We touched on the importance of forecasting earlier, but it bears repeating here. Software that can help you forecast upcoming trends will help you save money in the long run. The money saved through forecasting alone can offset the price of your software in short order.
Inventory Level Alerts
Ideally, you’ll want to find software that alerts you when your stock levels are low. Some will even order for you automatically when stock levels dip.
Accounting Software Compatibility
You’ll definitely want to find inventory control software that integrates with your accounting software of choice. Not all programs out there play well together, and like the barcode scanners above, it’s better to find out if there’s an issue before you commit.
Inventory Sync Abilities
If you have multiple storefronts or multiple distribution centers, or just have inventory spread across locations, inventory sync is vital.
Software that can sync inventory across locations and platforms ensures you’ll always have accurate data when making stock decisions.
The Top Inventory Control Software Options for 2021
Now that we’ve cleared up what you should look for in your inventory control software, here are our top 9 recommendations for ICS tools to consider in 2021.
SkuVault is our favorite inventory control software, and that’s not just because we make it.
While SkuVault can handle all of your inventory management needs, it’s also an excellent tool for inventory control inside your warehouse or facility.
With the ability to track product quantities and locations at any time, anywhere, you’ll always have an up-to-the-second account of your stock levels. The software provides robust analytics and forecasting tools and tight quality control procedures and checkpoints that can help automate your warehouse operations — allowing you to spend more of your time on other projects.
With a wide range of customization options, full technical support, and an easy-to-use interface, SkuVault is a perfect solution to help you better control your inventory.
Schedule a demo with us today and see the software in action for yourself!
Zoho Inventory is “a cloud-based inventory management software that helps you create and manage both your sales and purchase orders, as well as track your inventory. You can integrate it with online sales channels like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, as well as shopping carts like Shopify and many others.”
Zoho provides instant updates on your inventory levels and notifies you whenever your stock goes below reorder levels. Keep your inventory organized with vital details like prices, cost, availability, and SKUs. The centralized inventory tools will help you stay synced across multiple locations.
With a wide range of plans and prices, Zoho is another ICS product worthy of your consideration.
NetStock provides “an affordable cloud-based inventory management solution that connects to your ERP, providing additional functionality to optimize your inventory. The intelligent data does the hard work for you – helping you classify items, providing reliable forecasts, and order recommendations.”
This software will help you calculate safety stock levels and supplier leads times so you’re never caught with stock-outs.
The one potential downside of NetStock is you need to have an ERP system in place to use the software. If you meet that requirement, this solution is worthy of your consideration.
Veeqo is “the inventory and shipping platform for ecommerce.”
They help online retailers deliver the experience their customers deserve. Veeqo syncs inventory across the world’s most popular eCommerce sales channels — including Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Amazon, eBay, Etsy and Walmart — giving you an inventory you can trust 100% of the time.
Beyond that, the software integrates with popular shipping companies as well.
This one is not the cheapest option on the menu, but Veeqo might have the solutions you need if you run an eCommerce business.
Fishbowl is “a hybrid manufacturing and warehouse management solution designed for small and midsize companies. Key features include inventory control, material requirements planning (MRP), job shop floor control, work order management, manufacturer orders and bills of materials. The solution can either be deployed on-premise or hosted in the cloud.”
Fishbowl also offers barcoding, asset management, raw materials management, cycle counting, reporting, automated ordering and purchasing. It provides real-time updates on the stock level to multiple warehouses of an organization. The solution can predict inventory requirements based on sales trends and allows organizations to transfer stocks from one warehouse to another.
Easily the most expensive option on the list, NetSuite offers up modular functionality that can fit almost any need. It comes at a price, though.
NetSuite provides an array of accounting and financial management solutions such as a general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, cash management, project accounting, fixed assets management as well as global financial consolidation, that help expedite daily financial transactions, accelerate the financial close process and ensure compliance. Built-in dashboards and real-time reporting deliver a complete, real-time view of your business’s performance, from a consolidated level down to the individual transactions.
From pre-revenue startups to small and mid-size businesses, organizations around the world, use NetSuite to grow and easily adapt to change.
If you have the budget for it, NetSuite is an option that can help you take your inventory control to the next level.
AltheaSuite Inventory Management “is a comprehensive inventory management solution for all businesses. It’s a cloud-based SAS solution and works on all modern web browsers and devices. This solution is developed with a strong focus on ease of use. The web-based user interface is very intuitive and also has complementing smartphone apps for the required functionalities.”
Basic key features include: starting with opening balances using excel upload, auto integration of inventory with sales and purchase activities, inventory audits with stock corrections, managing wastages with dump stock documents, and detailed tracking of stock at hand by granular stock ledger inquiries with easy to use interface.
Zangerine is an “easy to use, customizable, and a mobile way to control your inventory. Use barcode scanners to scan items in or out. Zanerine is Cloud-based and you can use any mobile device to access your data. Set permissions based on users or groups. Pull activity reports from anywhere. Integrates natively with Quickbooks. Control inventory across multiple locations and set automated reorder alerts and vendor management.”
Zangerine offers a trial version and various monthly plans starting at $79 per month.
Flowtrac is a “cloud-based and on-premise warehouse management solution that helps companies manage their inventory, assets, warehouse, work in process, and other specialty tracking requirements.”
Flowtrac is used in commercial, government, higher education, and humanitarian organizations all over the world. Users can access the system via desktops, tablets, or mobile devices. Key features include stand-alone inventory tracking by quantity and lot, as well as unique serial tag tracking.
Demand forecasting, replenishment, inventory optimization and reporting can also be offered within an integrated suite.
Flowtrac offers a lot of varied functionality, so it’s geared to help you in a wide variety of applications in your inventory control program.
Inventory control is often considered the same thing as inventory management, but we hope you now realize that inventory control is a separate and more focused discipline. Inventory management can handle your inventory control issues, but you’ll often get even better results if you actually focus on inventory control.
To start reaping the benefits of inventory control protocols, you should consider adding software tools to your inventory management mix. The ones highlighted in this article provide a wide range of functionality and options for nearly every budget. You really can’t go wrong with any of these products, so schedule demos and find the one that’s right for you.
If you want to learn more about inventory control, inventory management, and software solutions, subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss our latest posts. If you have questions or need further guidance, why not schedule a meeting or demo? We’ll be happy to answer your questions and help you find the perfect inventory solutions for your business!