Inventory Audit Procedures, Challenges, & Best Practices

By Last updated on 14 August 2023

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Audits of any kind are time-consuming and require manual work, but they provide an insightful deep dive into a business’s different accounts and/or financial situation.

When it comes to selling goods, ecommerce businesses may audit their inventory — whether it’s for tax purposes annually or to simply verify units on hand.

Inventory audits can be done in-house or by a third party and represent one point in time. Let’s dive into auditing one of your most valuable assets — your inventory!

What is an inventory audit?

An inventory audit is defined as the process of checking a company’s actual inventory levels against their financial records to ensure accurate inventory accounting. Inventory audits can be performed by the company or an outside auditor to identify any problems with the inventory storage and accounting methods a company is using. 

They can be as simple as counting physical stock levels and cross checking against records, or as involved as hiring a third party auditor to assess all of your inventory procedures.

9 common inventory audit procedures

To audit your inventory, you’ll need to choose the method that makes the most sense for the purpose it serves and who is performing the audit. Here are a few of the most common inventory audit analyses and procedures used.

1. Cutoff analysis

This is when you pause operations such as receiving and shipping at the time of the physical count to ensure nothing is being handled and goes unaccounted for.

2. Physical inventory count

This is to make sure that the system’s numbers match up with your physical stock, counting each unit. The use of product barcodes and devices like inventory barcode scanners can help keep track electronically.

3. Analytical procedures

This involves comparing gross margins, inventory turnover ratio, and/or unit costs of inventory with previous years.

4. ABC analysis

This is when you group items of different value and volume together, such as high-value items ( or “A” products), mid-tier “B” products, and low-value “C” products. You may even choose to store these items accordingly this way (which can make it easier for an auditor who pays attention to mainly the high-value inventory items).

5. Freight cost analysis

This determines the costs of getting things from one place to another, such as freight shipping costs and tracking the time between the date of shipment and the date of receipt. This documentation accounts for any units that are in transit and also in case anything is lost or damaged in transit.

6. Finished goods cost analysis

This is ideal if you create your own products as it demonstrates when product is ready to be sold so an auditor can immediately value the inventory for the current accounting period. Auditors may test this inventory to ensure financial statements are accurate. Learn more about finished goods inventory here.

7. Overhead analysis

Knowing your indirect costs of doing business will help with budgeting. Outside of direct materials and labour, this looks at “hidden” expenses such as rent, utilities, and other costs of doing business — if you record overhead as part of your inventory costs.

8. Reconciling items

If there are discrepancies found in your inventory audit, you may wish to do a reconciling items investigation to determine the root cause. You’ll want to track if there are certain error-prone SKUs and keep an eye on them in the future.

9. Match invoices to shipping log

Verify that invoices match the amount of items and cost of inventory shipped from your ecommerce warehouse. This may be done at random by an auditor to verify that the right amount was charged to the right customer at the right time.

Why inventory auditing is important for ecommerce businesses

An efficient inventory management process can reduce the frequency, length, and complexity of audits. Ecommerce inventory is different from physical retail stores, as sales can take place anywhere across the globe and are thus more unpredictable.

In a digital world, your inventory audit methods must match. Using technology that keeps inventory counts synced in real-time rather than using something static like Excel helps with the following.

1. Calculate profit

Inventory audits can help you calculate accurate profits, as the accuracy of your inventory accounting informs your bottom line. Tracking and accounting for changes in the value of inventory over time as it relates to manufacturing and costs of goods sold can drastically impact your accounting records. Inventory audits can prevent inventory shrinkage (or when the actual inventory levels are less than accounting has them recorded as) and identify costly slow-moving products.

2. Budget with accuracy

If you don’t have an accurate method for keeping track of your inventory’s value, you can’t budget for the next batch of inventory you need to purchase. Inventory audits can help you budget better and more accurately when you know the exact inventory count you’re running through, and how much safety stock you should keep.

3. Find inefficiencies

Audits can help you find inefficiencies, including inventory that’s not selling quickly (or much at all), SKUs that are selling out quickly and causing frequent stockouts, inaccuracies with storage or inventory tracking techniques, and other operational errors.

You can use this information to improve the financial health of your business by discontinuing unsuccessful products, doubling down on what’s working, and optimising other areas of your supply chain — from manufacturers to warehouse locations.

4. Optimise your inventory holding

Holding costs are the sum of all costs related to carrying inventory including warehousing, labour, insurance, and rent, combined with the value of damaged, expired, and out-of-date products. The longer you hold inventory and the more unusable inventory you have, the more money you pay. Inventory audits can help you limit these factors.

3 challenges of performing an inventory audit

Inventory audits can be an incredibly challenging task to perform. And the bigger the business, the more complex it becomes. Here’s what you may encounter.

1. It’s time-consuming

Auditing physical inventory is very tedious. Think about it: If you sell 500 SKUs and you check actual inventory levels against the amount of inventory you have listed on hand electronically or in an inventory sheet, that can take you days, if not weeks, to complete.

Even if you have one SKU and 3,000 units, you’re going to spend a while on a manual task. Going electronic with inventory reports is key to saving time, with access to the most up-to-date information across locations. 3PLs like ShipBob help with this.

“We have access to live inventory management, knowing exactly how many units we have in Texas vs. Chicago vs. New York. It not only helps with our overall process in managing and making sure our inventory levels are balanced but also for tax purposes at the end of the year. ShipBob simplified the entire process for our accountants and us.”

Matt Dryfhout, Founder & CEO of BAKblade

2. It’s difficult to scale

The bigger you get, the more strategic you’ll need to be with inventory solutions. Spot checking can be a more manageable way to keep inventory audits under control in between full physical inventory audits. This means choosing a specific product, counting the number of units on hand, and comparing it to the number of units listed in the system.

“I felt like I couldn’t grow until I moved to ShipBob. Our old 3PL was slowing us down. Now I am encouraged to sell more with them. My CPA even said to me, ‘thank god you switched to ShipBob. ShipBob provides me clarity and insight to help me make business decisions when I need it, along with responsive customer support.”

Courtney Lee, founder of Prymal

Inventory management technology can help simplify inventory methods by prompting a spot check when the system marks the product stock as zero to confirm there are no more units on hand.

3. It can halt operations

If you pause everything to conduct an inventory audit, you halt operations, which includes order fulfilment and getting items shipped to customers. In the age of Amazon, meeting customer expectations around timely delivery can influence their experience and impression of your product and brand.

How to improve inventory efficiency with software

Stock control is difficult, but the use of tools can help streamline it. Small to midsize ecommerce businesses can outsource fulfilment to ShipBob to receive the fulfilment services, warehouses, and technology needed to compete today.

1. Forecast demand

Auditing inventory helps you understand current counts, but it’s another thing entirely to use data to make future business decisions. Demand forecasting is predicting future orders by using historical data. This enables a business to make better decisions around inventory planning, product storage, and marketing promotions while meeting customer expectations.

ShipBob’s analytics provides the following distribution metrics and data visually:

  • Which items are slow-moving
  • How many days of inventory you have until you are expected to run out (based on SKU velocity)
  • How your current demand compares to previous time periods
  • How your sales are affected by different seasons and months
  • How much inventory you were holding at any ShipBob fulfilment centres at any point in the past
  • Your best-selling items and the percentage of your business they account for
  • And much more

2. Store product in the “right” location(s)

Part of making inventory management more efficient includes optimising your inventory storage system. This means both within a warehouse and by zooming out to understand where in the world you should keep inventory. Thus, good inventory management software should not only help you review all of your SKUs but also connect your shipping data to close the loop.

For example, ShipBob’s software helps you understand where to distribute your inventory across its network of fulfilment centres by analising your past order history. This is so you can keep inventory closer to your customers, reducing the shipping zones, transit times, and shipping costs. When an order is placed, ShipBob’s algorithm automatically matches the order to the warehouse that has the available inventory and is closest to the customer.

“ShipBob has fulfilment centres in major cities all over the US, so we can spread out our inventory across the country and leverage ground shipping as an inexpensive alternative to expedited air shipping.”

Founder of My Calm Blanket

3. Stay accurate and reorder on time

With software like ShipBob’s, you can view the status of your inventory and know when to proactively replenish inventory. Using your store’s order history, ShipBob can help project when you should send more inventory to prevent stockouts — no need to do manual reorder point calculations each time. You will be alerted to restock at the SKU level.

Additionally, you can manage how SKUs are grouped to bundle products, merge the same SKU across stores, and add new SKUs with ease.

“We roll out new products and designs on our website 1-3 times a month and send new inventory to ShipBob each week. It’s really easy to create new SKUs and restock existing ones using ShipBob’s technology, which is especially important with high inventory turnover.”

Carl Protsch, Co-Founder of FLEO Shorts


It’s important to conduct inventory audits to maintain inventory accuracy, identify shrinkage, and ensure that you always have enough (but not too much) stock at any time. Outsourcing inventory management and fulfilment to a 3PL can help. They will take measures to keep your inventory safe and secure, without you having to do any of the time-consuming work yourself.

If you’re in the market to partner with an ecommerce fulfilment company that has inventory management tools and technology, check out ShipBob today. Get pricing and see if we’d be a mutual fit by clicking the button below.

Improve inventory management with ShipBob’s WMS

For brands looking to maange inventory and fulfil orders within their own warehouses, ShipBob’s warehouse management system (WMS) can provide better visibility and organisation.

Ecommerce merchants can now leverage ShipBob’s WMS (the same one that powers ShipBob’s global fulfilment network) to streamline in-house inventory management and fulfilment. With real-time, location-specific inventory visibility, intelligent cycle counts, and built-in checks and balances, your team can improve inventory accuracy without sacrificing operational efficiency.

For brands looking to scale internationally, ShipBob even offers a hybrid solution where merchants can employ ShipBob’s WMS technology in their own warehouses while simultaneously leveraging ShipBob’s fulfilment services in any of ShipBob’s fulfilment centres across the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia to improve cross-border shipping, reduce costs, and speed up deliveries.

Written By:

Kristina is the Director of Marketing Communications at ShipBob, where she writes various articles, case studies, and other resources to help ecommerce brands grow their business.

Read all posts written by Kristina Lopienski