There’s a story behind every item on the shelves and an entire journey from its production to arrival to being sold. It might seem obvious to the customer, but for the retailer, it’s an entire world of possibilities to navigate in. In this post, we’ll explore the inventory journey’s different steps, the risks that lie within, and the best practices to be stocked for success.

The Steps of the Inventory Journey

Sourcing and Procurement

It all begins with selecting the right suppliers to deliver quality products at competitive prices. This involves supplier evaluation, negotiation, and placing orders. Lead time management and stringent quality control are vital to ensure a steady supply of goods to meet customer expectations. This is also when you decide how many and of which inventory you’re planning to next season.


Once procured, products need to be transported from the supplier to the retail locations or warehouses. When production takes place domestically, planning is quicker with fewer involved parties. But when production is in external countries, it takes a longer time, requires more attention, and demands careful planning way ahead of schedule.

Warehousing and Distribution Centers (DC)

Since most retail stores cannot have all inventory in-house, most retailers use internal or external warehousing services. This allows them to bulk source all their inventory for the season, and store it in the warehouse until it’s needed. In the warehouse, items are stored and dispatched to different destinations as ordered and required, either to specific stores or directly to customers who order online.

Point of Sale and Customer Fulfillment

This is when an item is in the possession of the retailer. When all inventory is properly stocked across different locations with a full set of sizes or types available, then everything should flow smoothly. In such cases where no issues arise, items will be replenished from DC to stores and from the store's backroom to the sales floor.

Analytics and Forecasting

Many retailers mistakenly believe the journey concludes at the point of sale; however, it's important to recognize how sales data can contribute to future growth, and how such a step should take place before starting the inventory cycle again. With sales data, retailers can better plan, order more accurately, allocate more intelligently across the different stores, and realize potential trends of specific items, locations, and more.

The Risks Along the Journey

Unfortunately in reality… the journey looks a bit different, as several risks lurk, ready to disrupt operations and impact your bottom line.

Stockouts and Overstocking

Failing to accurately forecast demand can lead to stockouts, which frustrate customers and miss out on revenue opportunities. On the other hand, overstocking involves higher costs and storage space, leading to potential losses…and missed margin opportunities. Overstocking also promotes waste and pollution, as more raw materials are required, more pollution from production and transport, and in many cases, unsold commerce ends up burned or buried.

Inaccurate Stock and Poor Availability

This can happen for many reasons along the journey. You can end up receiving less than you ordered; theft and loss can happen during transport, storage, or in-store; and items get spoiled or damaged during the journey. All of these issues bite into your bottom line but also prevent you from delivering to your customers as demanded and expected.

Inefficient Logistics

Mismanaged transportation and allocation lead to delays, damaged products, and increased costs for fixing the issues. An example of a common scenario is a driver who confuses the locations and ends up delivering to one location items that weren’t ordered, while the real location is missing ordered items.

Lack of Visibility

Another common risk is lacking transparency and visibility of your supply chain. If items are not properly tracked, things will go missing. Previously, employees validated shipments with pen and paper, and data was prone to human errors. This may sound like a tiny mistake but if this happens daily, and in each store, it adds up to many errors and huge losses. Also, with only one item not registered as missing, it isn’t replenished, and you can disappoint a client,  losing them to your competitor.

Best Practices for a Successful Journey:

The best practice to control your supply chain from end to end is with technology. With the right technology such as RFID, BLE, QR, NFC, Barcode, and others combined with an end-to-end supply chain transparency platform you can gain full control over your inventory journey.

Starting with the source, source tagging items can ensure the right items in the correct amount leave the factory, reducing unfortunate chargebacks. This can also be fully automated with fixed or handheld readers that quickly take counts of all the items before leaving the supplier.

While in transport, items can be quickly scanned at any stage, allowing retailers to keep track of delivery status in real-time.

At the warehouse and DC, the ability to scan all the items at once without the need for line of sight is extremely beneficial, allowing for better allocations, easier searching capabilities, and faster stock picking.

At the store, shipments can be quickly validated by employees with a handheld reader and an app. This reduces valuable time by noticing errors quickly and in real-time, so they may be fixed at the moment without contaminating your entire stock. For example, if the shipment is missing items, the app can notify so quickly, and appropriate steps be taken to remediate.

At the same time, management has a full dashboard that shows insights and data in real-time across the entire business and per location, giving greater control and allowing better decision-making.

Tracking the entire inventory journey also identifies where issues are taking place. For instance, if the factory scanned the right amount, but the warehouse got a different count, you can understand something happened while in transport, giving retailers the power to keep improving their operations.

Moreover, by having a system that tracks the entire flow and captures each item's history, businesses can forecast better, and allocations become more sustainable because they no longer need to cover up for missing items, and they no longer need to overstock and overproduce.

In conclusion, the process of getting products onto store shelves is much more than it seems. There are risks along the way that can cause problems and hurt profits. The solution is to use technology, like special tags and tracking systems, to understand and control the journey better. This way, businesses can reduce issues, make smarter choices, and ensure customers are happy with what they get. By using technology wisely, the path from making a product to putting it in someone's hands can be smoother and more successful.

Eager to learn more about the inventory journey and unlock the path to remarkable transformation?

Join our webinar: "From Source to Sale: The Inventory Journey for Retail Success" on October 12th, 2023.

Get ready to be inspired by Gary Tattersall, the Managing Director of Chainlane's in Europe, and Viv Bradshaw, the Technology Consultant and Solution Product Manager at Denso Wave Europe.

Seize this golden opportunity—you don't want to miss out!

Register now!