If you are an online seller you know that having an efficient inventory system is essential in keeping your business running smoothly. Without an efficient system in place, there’s a high likelihood you will waste unnecessary hours looking for misplaced inventory. You can transform that wasted time into revenue producing, value-added activities by simply becoming organized.
This article is geared more towards managing book inventory, but the system outlined here can be applied to other business lines as well. I manage an inventory of fewer than 10,000 books and it has worked well for me as a small online seller. Even if it does not work for you, there may be pieces that inspire you to develop your own inventory system that best meets your needs.
- Inventory Numbering System
- Taking the Inventory Numbering System to the Next Level
- What You Will Need to Get Started Managing Inventory
- Shelving Options
- Shelving Quality
- Bookshelf Alternatives
- Shelf and Inventory Labels
- Microsoft Word Shelf Inventory Labels
- Microsoft Excel Inventory Tag Template
- Alternative Inventory Tags
- Listing Management Software
- eBay Seller Hub
- Best Free eBay Listing Software
Inventory Numbering System
The inventory numbering system I use is basically a custom SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) number. It consists of the following pattern:
- Location (the shelf the book is located on)
- Row (the row of the shelf)
- Book ID (a counter starting from zero)
An inventory number looks like this:
This inventory ID (or custom SKU) is telling me the book is located in the 4th row of bookshelf #3. There would be a tag inserted into the book with the number “8930” printed on the edge of the paper slip. The tag hangs out the top of the book similar to a bookmark. Continue reading for more information on the tagging system and an Excel template to print out your own.
When I fulfill an order or someone asks a question about a book, I can look at the inventory ID in my listing management software or through eBay’s Selling Manager and know exactly where the book is located. It literally takes just a few seconds to locate the book and pick it from the shelf.
Taking the Inventory Numbering System to the Next Level
You can include just about any type of information in your SKU scheme. For example, consider this inventory ID:
In addition to telling me the book is located on the 4th row of the 3rd bookshelf and the inventory ID is “8930,” this SKU is also telling me I listed (or purchased) the book on 10/27/18 and paid $12.00 for it. You get the idea; you can add any pertinent information you want right in the inventory ID and keep it all organized without too much effort. When someone buys or makes an offer on your item, you will know exactly how much you paid and how long you have held on to it. In turn, that may help you with bookkeeping or make the decision to let it go (if an offer is made).
What You Will Need to Get Started Managing Inventory
Getting started with this system is easy. Aside from products to sell, all you will need are:
- Shelving units to store your items for sale
- Printer and regular paper for the ID tags (or sticker tags if you choose)
- Listing software that allows a custom SKU or inventory ID field
The shelving units are dependent upon what type of items you are selling. In this article, I am using books as an example. If you are selling paperback books, a cheap particle board bookshelf may be sufficient. On the other hand, if you are selling heavy hardback books, a garage shelving unit would be more suitable.
You will need a standard printer to print out your inventory and shelf tags. The inventory and shelf tags I use are printed on a standard 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper. Continue reading for more information on the tags.
There are many considerations when choosing the best listing software for your online business. For the purposes of this article, I recommend you choose software that has a “custom field” which allows you to add your own SKU or inventory ID.
If you are going to sell books or any other items you will need bookshelves or other shelving units to store them. If you are keeping the shelving units in your garage I would not recommend going out and spending a lot of money on them. One option is to check your local thrift stores or Habitat For Humanity’s “ReStore.” Both places typically carry used furniture and often have bookshelves. For the money, you will likely get a higher quality bookshelf at a second-hand shop than you will buying a new one online.
If you are interested in buying shelving units online, below are a few good starting points as you research.
|Shelf Name||Price||Type||Number of Shelves||Comments|
|EDSAL Heavy Duty Garage Shelf||Check Price on Amazon||Garage Shelf||5||Holds 800 lbs per shelf or 4,000 lbs total|
|Muscle Rack Silver Vein Storage Rack||Check Price on Amazon||Storage Rack||5||Holds 4,000 lbs total. Shelves are only 12” deep.|
|AmazonBasics 5-Shelf Shelving Unit||Check Price on Amazon||Garage Shelf||5||350 lbs per shelf;
1,750 lbs for all shelves combined
|South Shore Bookcase||Check Price on Amazon||Bookshelf||4||There is one fixed shelf that holds 25 lbs. There are two adjustable shelves that hold 15 lbs each.|
|Sauder Heritage Hill Open Bookcase||Check Price on Amazon||Bookshelf||5||The most heavy-duty bookshelf listed in this table. Suitable for hardback books.|
Some of the cheaper bookshelves found online typically do not do a great job at bearing the load of heavy books. Those shelves tend to bow in the middle. I can attest as a few of the bookshelves I use fall into this category. Since they are just being used in a storage area for the purpose of organizing my inventory, the cost savings is more important than the quality. I have been using cheaper ones for years with no issue. As long as they don’t fall apart it’s all good!
An alternative to bookshelves is garage shelving. In general, you will be able to fit more books on garage shelving. Instead of standing the books upright, you can lay most of them down flat. Shelf space can be maximized if you lay them with the top or base of the book (rather than the spine) facing you. In fact, on a 24” deep shelf, you can fit as few as 4 rows of books per side. That’s 8 rows total if you line them up on both sides. The smaller the width of the book the more rows you can stack.
I line 12” deep shelves up against the wall and 24” deep shelves everywhere else. I have isles I can walk between which allows me to store books on each side of the 24” self. Against the wall, the 12” shelves suffice since stacking them up on both sides would make the books hard to access.
Shelf and Inventory Labels
I recommend identifying each of the shelves or bins in your storage location. If you have more than 5 shelves or bins in your garage, it’s a good idea to number them so there is no question about the shelf ID. In the example inventory ID scheme used in this article (s3-r4-8930), the first segment is “s3” which stands for shelf three. The idea is to have “S3” printed on a sheet of paper and taped to the shelf so they are easily identified.
Microsoft Word Shelf Inventory Labels
My naming convention for “shelf 1” is “S1”. If you use bins, you may consider assigning them “B1” and “B2” for “bin 1” and “bin 2,” respectively.
I further identify each row on the shelf. When I create an SKU and show the item as being on row 2, I do not want there to be any question about whether I started counting the rows from the top or bottom. Little things like this may sound insignificant, but the more organized you are, the fewer issues you are going to run into.
I uploaded the Microsoft Word document of the shelf tag I use. If you don’t have Word, or would like to create your own from scratch, below is a screenshot to use as an example.
Microsoft Excel Inventory Tag Template
If you are a bookseller, I recommend using small slips of paper to insert into the book rather than using any type of sticker. The glue on stickers can lift the material off the spine or cover of the book, causing permanent damage. This is especially the case in older or paperback books
If you would like the Microsoft Excel template I use for my inventory tags (including formulas), follow the link to download it. If you do not have Excel, or would like to create your own, below is a screenshot to use as an example.
Cut the inventory tags with scissors. The tags in the template are numbered in such a way that the tags will fall in order when you cut them out and stack them up. You will save a little bit of time by not having to sort them manually.
Alternative Inventory Tags
In lieu of inventory tags that you manually cut out, some folks choose to use a stickered inventory system. If the inventory you carry would not be damaged by a sticker, I recommend using these inventory tags. Rather than printing the labels out as described above, you can simply write the ID on the label with a pen. Complete a few sheets at a time for efficiency. The inventory ID segment in our “s3-r4-8930” example is 8930. You would just write 8930 down on the label and stick it on your item.
Listing Management Software
As a long time eBay seller, I am surprised at the limited number of good listing software options available on the market. From an inventory management perspective, you will need software that allows some type of custom field where you can add a user-defined value that is not visible in the listing itself. This is where you would enter the inventory ID (i.e. the “s3-r4-8930” example used in this article).
Don’t put the inventory ID in your title or in the body of your listing. Use a custom inventory field instead. An inventory ID in the title or the body of the listing looks unprofessional. Additionally, if the location changes, the inventory ID is harder to modify if its not in a discrete field. Just use the custom field where the inventory ID is meant to be stored to avoid issues.
eBay Seller Hub
eBay has its own listing management tool within their Seller Hub. It is good for a web-based tool, but there is one MAJOR downfall! After the listing has ended and you forget or otherwise choose not to relist, your work is GONE after 90 days! In other words, the work you put into creating your listings will be history if you don’t relist them after a 90 day period in an unsold status. For this reason, I definitely recommend creating listings offline via software and uploading them to eBay. If you need to take a few months off from selling you can do so without the risk of losing all of your work!
Best Free eBay Listing Software
The best free eBay listing manager software for small sellers is Turbo Lister. Many months ago, eBay announced they are no longer supporting Turbo Lister. However, at the date of the original publication of this article, I am still using Turbo Lister and it works great.
Turbo Lister’s inventory field is called a “Custom Label”. It is located below the description box. A screenshot of the “Custom Label” field is below.
Turbo Lister is slow and clunky, especially when you have many listings, but it works and its free. If there is one tip I could offer when using Turbo Lister, it is to backup the database often. Yes, it takes time, but if your database ever corrupts, you will be glad you took the extra time to back it up. I’m speaking from experience here.
If you are selling or considering selling online, I hope this guide benefits you in some way. When I started out I didn’t have a “real” inventory system in place and my business was the “Wild West” in terms of organization. Looking back, I see how much time I could have saved by just having a system in place rather than spending lots of unnecessary time searching through my inventory to pick an item to ship. I could have been using that time to source or list more inventory and sell even more. It’s one of the best decisions I have made for my e-commerce business. I hope this helps and best of luck in the inventory system you choose to use!
If you think others may be interested in this article, share it on facebook!