Inventory management and inventory control are not the same thing. Though they might sound similar, they serve distinct business objectives—and you’ll need to know the differences between them to serve your business well.

Retailers that aren’t efficiently tracking their inventory run the risk of suffering losses of up to 12 percent of their annual revenue through inefficiencies such as preventable returns, out-of-stocks, and overstocks. This is why knowing the differences in inventory software—as well as what business purposes each type serves—is crucial for small retailers.

At present, 43 percent of small businesses don’t track their inventory at all, or are using manual processes. No matter how small your store is, you won’t capture the intricacies and complexities surrounding your inventory as it moves through the supply chain without using dedicated inventory software.

If you’re here, you’re probably asking yourself, “Which one does my small business need?”

The answer is, it isn’t about which one you’ll need—you’ll almost definitely need both—but about when you’ll need which tool.

To help you decide whether you need an inventory management or inventory control solution, I’ll cover:


Inventory management vs. inventory control

Inventory management

Inventory management software helps retailers manage demand through forecasting and is focused mainly on product replenishment activities. Its main aim is to ensure that warehouses are stocked with the right quantity of inventory. It helps businesses streamline the ordering process for inventory and identify optimal reorder points.

To inform these activities, inventory management software generates reports by analyzing past trends in inventory, noting seasonal demand, and identifying risks in the supply chain and changes to targets. This helps businesses avoid over and understocking. Many solutions also offer barcoding to monitor inventory movement and help inform warehouse practices.

The key features of inventory management software include:

  • Inventory control: Tracks quantities of stock and optimizes the process for ordering, storing, and tracking inventory by using advanced analytics to identify historical inventory information.
  • Inventory auditing: Supports inventory counts or stock-takes, including both physical and cycle counts and support for radio frequency identification (RFID) devices.
  • Product categorization: Tracks specific item attributes such as sizes, colors, or other varieties of similar goods to enable reporting of inventory levels based on attributes.
  • Barcoding/RFID: Facilitates the tracking of inventory using barcode or RFID functionality to scan items that are received, sold, or transferred.
  • Order management: Supports order capturing and processing and fulfillment of orders from the point of purchase through payment and delivery.
  • Traceability: Tracks lots from ingredients and raw materials through manufacturing processes to distribution.

Although these are the main features of inventory management software, other features often include reporting tools to help monitor trends and inventory performance, demand forecasting, and shipping management to help aid the running of a warehouse.

Inventory Control

Inventory control software is concerned with maximizing and controlling what your stock is doing once it’s in your warehouse. Its aim is to help retailers and warehouses achieve objectives such as loss prevention, optimizing inventory spaces, and reductions in over and understocking. Inventory control software also helps to analyze which products are slow movers and those that are in high demand, which in turn informs order management.

Inventory control is also crucial for optimizing the layouts of warehouses, which can ease pressure on all parts of the fulfillment process, and also for preventing spoilage or damage of inventory that lives in the warehouse.

You’ll need to invest in an inventory control system only after you’ve invested in an inventory management system, as the former won’t take care of actually stocking your warehouse or paying your vendors. Smaller retailers might look to invest in a system that has both strong inventory management and control features—but keep in mind that it’s important to have both sets of functionality.

 

The key features of inventory control software include:

  • Inventory tracking: Tracks all products in inventory by site, location, serial number, lot, date, and/or pallet.
  • Barcoding/RFID: Helps to create an inventory system that fits your needs by tracking inventory using barcode or RFID functionality to scan items that are received, sold, or transferred.
  • Check-in/check-out: Tracks items as they move through the warehouse to employees, vendors, or customers, preventing them from getting lost along the way.
  • Automated alerts: Provides alerts about low inventory levels, expiring items, overstocked items, and reorder points to help keep track of inventory levels.
  • Audits and reports: Runs periodic audits of inventory and generates reports to track stock and recognize problems before they develop.

Other common features of inventory control software include inventory optimization, which helps match inventory supply with demand, and safety stock calculation, which helps optimize the amount of backup stock.

Below is a graphic that summarizes the difference between inventory management and inventory control.

Graphic explainer of the difference between inventory management and inventory control


Which tools are out there?

Whether you’re looking for an inventory management solution to refine your ordering and forecasting processes or an inventory control solution to regulate your existing stock, there are lots of software options to help you optimize your inventory processes.

Below, I’ll go through some of the options for businesses of all types. Be aware that many solutions offer both inventory management and inventory control features in one solution.

See the methodology section at the bottom of this article for more insight into how the apps for each section were chosen.

If you’re looking for inventory management software …

Zoho Inventory

Zoho Inventory is a popular inventory management solution due to its multichannel system, which allows users to manage orders from multiple online (e.g., Amazon, eBay, and Etsy) and offline channels.

Zoho inventory is a good tool for those looking to integrate their existing solutions, such as shipping, accounting, and CRM. Zoho’s automated sales processes, from sales order creation to shipping and invoicing, also makes this inventory management solution a good choice for retailers looking for an all-in-one solution.

Sales orders in Zoho Inventory
Sales orders in Zoho Inventory (Source)

Orderhive

For those that want to automate the fulfillment process, Orderhive synchronizes sales and inventory activities, providing real-time visibility into the order process as a whole. Its inventory management features also include demand-based automation to help prevent out-of-stocks and product spoilage.

Orderhive also takes care of business analytics, providing users with 15 ready to use reports for sales, purchases, and inventory, which helps track overall performance and identify future inventory risks.

Example of stock updating in Orderhive
Example of stock updating in Orderhive (Source)

Brightpearl

Brightpearl is an inventory management option that integrates with popular eCommerce platforms, such as BigCommerce, Shopify, and Magento, for omnichannel retailers. Its accounting functionality also helps to manage accounts across omnichannel businesses. Brightpearl also matches inventory requirements to each business type, such as single retail or multiple warehouses to the inventory processes they’ll need to carry out.

Inventory list in Brightpearl
Inventory list in Brightpearl (Source)

Unleashed

Inventory management solution Unleashed uses what it calls “perpetual inventory control” through the average landed cost method to help retailers record a more accurate cost of goods sold. It also allows retailers to take the lead with how they manage product catalogues, by providing multiple ways of grouping, such as dimensions, weight, and bar code.

Unleashed also has a minimum and maximum stock level setting, so that retailers can make sure that they have enough stock in multiple warehouses.

Barcoding feature of Unleashed inventory management solution
Barcoding feature of Unleashed inventory management solution (Source)

If you’re looking for inventory control software …

Wasp Inventory Control

Wasp Inventory Control is well-known for its barcoding functionality, allowing users to buy hardware that aligns with the inventory control software to track inventory. The solution also offers automatic check-in and check-out functionality for both employees and vendors, to help minimize inventory shrinkage.

Users can also track inventory through serial numbers, date, sites, and lots. Customized shipping labels can also be created, alongside ready to use shipping labels.

Purchase orders in Wasp Inventory Control
Purchase orders in Wasp Inventory Control (Source)

Fishbowl

Fishbowl enables users to track and monitor inventory levels across multiple locations, which allows users to make strategic decisions on when to move inventory from one place to another to prevent out-of-stocks. This functionality also provides retailers with information on sales and stock trends across locations, to inform inventory management practices.

Inventory control feature of Fishbowl inventory solution
Inventory control feature of Fishbowl inventory solution (Source)

TradeGecko

TradeGecko handles stock adjustments, so users can increase and decrease stock levels according to new products, returns, damages, and shrinkages. Stock can also be checked by filters of location and product type, and products have stock history attached to them, making analysis of restocking easier by quantity, date, and personnel.

Order management in TradeGecko
Order management in TradeGecko (Source)

Finale Inventory

Finale Inventory integrates with POS systems such as Square and Lightspeed to help manage sales across physical retail stores. Employees in different locations are also able to use Finale Inventory to have real-time visibility of inventory stock-counts across these multiple locations. Finale Inventory also calculates sales velocity so that retailers can understand sales trends and prepare accordingly.

Stockouts and stock velocity in Finale Inventory
Stockouts and stock velocity in Finale Inventory (Source)


More about inventory management and inventory control software

While both systems are very similar and ultimately deal with inventory, you’ll need an inventory management system before an inventory control system. After all, inventory control software is designed to deal with stock after it’s been ordered and sitting in your warehouse. Remember that many inventory management systems also include comprehensive inventory control features.


METHODOLOGY

Applications highlighted in this article are selected based on several criteria: the current market definition for the category, the Category Leader rankings, and business size.

As part of our formal research efforts, a series of market definitions are developed and leveraged across all of our content for that category. These definitions determine an application’s suitability for the category under analysis. If a formal market definition is not yet created, the individual analyst uses his/her market experience and knowledge to assess an application’s suitability for the category.

After suitability is established, the applications are analyzed against GetApp’s Category Leader ranking for that category of software; this ranking includes user reviews, integrations, mobile app availability, media presence, and security features. Where a Category Leader ranking does not exist, individual apps are chosen based on the highest average overall ratings. Each app has a minimum of 10 reviews written in the past two years in order to qualify for inclusion.

Lastly, applications are then filtered for business size using GetApp’s filtering tool to include options that are suitable for businesses ranging from 0 to 500 employees.