Inventory Management KPIs: Tracking What Matters Most

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Maintaining proper inventory levels requires a delicate balance between having a lot of product on hand and having a little.

This is why inventory management issues can often make or break ecommerce brands:

  • Have too much stock and you’ll rack up storage costs and tie up cash flow.
  • Too little, and you’ll run out of stock and miss out on potential sales. 

It’s crucial to track inventory management KPIs consistently to avoid a surplus or stockout. 

In this article, we’ll break down what inventory KPIs entail, why they matter, and which metrics are most valuable for you to track.  

What are KPIs & why are they important for your inventory management?

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are the quantifiable metrics companies use to gauge their progress toward a specific goal. 

For inventory management, KPIs indicate how a retail brands’ stock performs and offers insights into costs of goods sold (COGS), inventory turnover, demand, revenue, internal processes, and more.

Ecommerce businesses can then use inventory analytics and metrics to operate more efficiently, optimize cash flow, and increase profitability.

You can easily track these KPIs in an inventory management system (IMS) or enterprise resource planner (ERP).

With the right technology solutions and processes, your internal team can quickly identify which initiatives will improve supply chain efficiency by reducing time and costs. 

15 most valuable inventory KPIs to keep track of

There are infinite inventory KPIs you can track. But to avoid analysis paralysis, try to focus on the metrics that will actually move your business toward its strategic goals. 

Not sure what those metrics are?

Below are 15 most valuable inventory management KPIs for retail brands, including insights on how to track and improve them. 

At a glance, the most common inventory KPIs are: 

Inventory KPIs

What this tracks

1. Holding costsHow much it costs to store and protect unsold inventory
2. StockoutsWhich product offerings are currently unavailable 
3. Lead timeHow long it takes to receive orders from your manufacturer
4. Inventory accuracyIf your inventory records match your actual inventory levels
5. Inventory days on hand How quickly you use up inventory levels on average
6. Safety stockHow much excess product you should keep on-hand in case of supply chain issues
7. Stock availabilityHow much inventory is currently in stock to sell
8. Inventory shrinkageIf your inventory records match your actual inventory levels
9. DeadstockWhich SKUs aren’t selling despite being in-stock
10. Inventory turnover rateIf a brand has too much inventory for the demand
11. Backorder rateHow many orders a brand can’t fulfill when a customer tries purchasing it
12. Revenue per unitHow much you’ll make on average by selling one unit of product
13. Cost per unitHow much one unit of inventory costs to manufacture or supply
14. Stock to sales ratioHow healthy your inventory levels are
15. Order cycle timeHow long it takes to fulfill customer orders on average

Inventory holding costs

Inventory holding cost is the sum of all costs involved in storing and protecting unsold products. The lower this number is, the less it takes away from your net margins. 

To calculate your inventory holding costs, use the following formula: 

Inventory Holding Cost = (Storage Costs + Employee Salaries + Opportunity Costs + Depreciation Costs) / Total Value of Annual Inventory

To lower these costs, opt for a fair inventory storage solution. Renting one or more warehouses can be costly, which is why many ecommerce businesses partner with a fulfillment company that operates multiple fulfillment center locations.

Doing this allows you to pay for the space you need and you won’t have to hire labor to manage a warehouse

In addition to storage optimization, you will want to keep your stock levels lean while avoiding stockouts. To do this, use your demand forecasts to place smaller orders more frequently, so you can receive inventory replenishment just before going out of stock. 

Stockouts

Stockouts are inventory events where one or more SKU variants are unavailable. And they can frustrate customers and negatively impact conversion rates. 

The best way to identify and avoid stockouts is by investing in an inventory management system with real-time tracking.

An inventory management solution can help you identify potential stockouts by tracking stock levels in real time, pull historical inventory data to forecast demand, and understand warehouse receiving timelines so you know how long it will take to order, receive, and position inventory.

Historically, when stockouts occurred, brands couldn’t sell inventory they didn’t have, and conversion rates crashed to zero. But by selling on backorder, you can see a marginal drop in conversion rates compared to when the product is in stock.

Lead time

Production lead time is the amount of time between when a brand places a purchase order (PO) and receives that order from its manufacturer.

To calculate lead time, use the following formula: 

Lead Time = PO Processing Time + Production Time + PO Fulfillment Time + Supply Chain Delays

Note: Typically, manufacturers require brands to place a down payment on the purchase order, which ties up cash in physical inventory you don’t have yet. So, the shorter your lead times, the better. 

To shorten your lead times, be sure to take the time to source the right suppliers and manufacturers — find a local supplier, work directly with your source manufacturer, or consolidate vendors to reduce time spent coordinating POs. 

Then, share your inventory forecasting insights with your manufacturers, so they can prepare. Many manufacturers will even prioritize your POs or offer a discount because they know you’ll be a repeat customer. 

Inventory accuracy

Inventory accuracy refers to inconsistencies between your inventory records and your actual inventory levels

When these numbers are off, it’s usually an indication of a deeper problem like a recording error, order fulfillment error, or theft. And when left unaddressed, it can lead to inventory shrinkage and major inventory discrepancies.

To keep an eye on inventory accuracy, you have two options: 

Once you’ve checked your inventory number and addressed discrepancies, you’ll want to run frequent and random inventory checks to keep a pulse on it.

This can be time-consuming and labor-intensive — especially if your managing hundreds or even thousands of units on hand.

To increase inventory accuracy, there are two alternate courses of action: outsource this work to a 3PL like ShipBob or use an integrated ERP solution like Cogsy to keep real-time tabs on your inventory records.

Having the right technology and support can help you spend less time on inventory without compromising accuracy. 

Inventory days on hand

Inventory days on hand measures how quickly a business turns over its inventory on average. In general, the fewer days a unit sits in your warehouse, the better. This way you don’t waste money holding on to inventory for too long.

When businesses accurately calculate days on hand, they can minimize stockouts by keeping their inventory levels lean and restocking just in time. 

To calculate inventory days on hand, use the following formula: 

Inventory Days On Hand = (Average Inventory For The Year / Cost Of Goods Sold) x 365

However, an operational planning tool with demand forecasting capabilities like Cogsy can take this KPI to the next level (especially in the short term).

Cogsy’s solution provides insights into other factors like sudden spikes in demand or longer lead times in your purchase order to ensure you restock the right amount at the right time.  

Safety stock

Safety stock refers to any excess inventory a brand has on hand in case of a sudden uptick in demand or supply chain issues. This offers a level of insurance against stockouts when the unexpected happens. 

In other words, safety stock is a way to cushion your inventory levels and ensure you don’t run out of product when your inventory forecast numbers didn’t align with demand.

To calculate how much safety stock you need for each SKU, use the following formula: 

Safety Stock Needed= (Maximum Daily Usage x Maximum Lead Time) – (Average Daily Usage x Average Lead Time)

Stock availability

Stock availability refers to how much inventory a brand has in stock to sell. And not knowing this inventory metric at any time (or using outdated data) can drive up logistical costs and lead to profit loss. 

Having inventory visibility is key. By tracking your inventory in real time using an inventory tracking solution, you’re given visibility into not only what you have in stock now but also records of previous inventory trends.

Many real-time inventory tracking systems also automate inventory audits so you can easily monitor inventory shrinkage. 

Another advantage is having all the data you need at your fingertips to accurately forecast demand using present and historical data. 

Inventory shrinkage

Inventory shrinkage refers to when a brand’s actual inventory levels are less than accounting has them recorded as. These inconsistencies usually indicate an accounting error, misplacements, product damage, or theft.

And for every unaccounted unit, you’re essentially throwing away money. 

To calculate your inventory shrinkage rate, use the following formula: 

Inventory Shrinkage Rate = (Recorded Inventory – Actual Inventory) / Recorded Inventory

You can improve this rate by monitoring inventory levels more frequently. However, this is manually demanding on your internal team.

To alleviate the stress on your team, you can outsource this to a 3PL like ShipBob (this will also increase security for your unsold inventory). 

For example, ShipBob offers an advanced data and analytics reporting tool that helps merchants control stock levels and prevent inventory shrinkage.

“ShipBob’s analytics tool is really cool. It helps us a lot with planning inventory reorders, seeing when SKUs are going to run out, and we can even set up email notifications so that we’re alerted when a SKU has less than a certain quantity left. There is a lot of value in their technology.”

Oded Harth, CEO & Co-Founder of MDacne

Deadstock

Deadstock is any product that hasn’t sold and likely won’t ever sell. And holding on to it doesn’t make you money; it costs you money. 

That’s because deadstock items occupy warehouse space that could otherwise house fast-selling products. As a result, they come with hefty holding costs (typically amounting to 30% more than the product’s value). 

The most significant contributor to deadstock is inventory mismanagement. This is yet another reason why it’s crucial to implement an inventory management system to track which SKUs turnover quickly and which ones are just sitting.

Once you have a better idea of what items are slow-moving (or on the verge of becoming obsolete), you can proactively get rid of potential deadstock by offering a discount, offering it in a product bundle, or donating the items to get them off your hands. 

Inventory turnover rate

Inventory turnover rate measures how many times a company sells through and replaces its inventory in a given time period (typically, a year). And it helps brands determine if they have too much or too little stock to meet demand. 

To calculate inventory turnover rate, use the following formula: 

Inventory Turnover Rate = Cost Of Goods Sold / Average Inventory Value = Number Of Units Sold / Average Number Of Units On Hand

Generally speaking, you want a turnover rate between two and four. Anything less than two means you have too much deadstock, and anything more than four indicates you’re at risk of a stockout. 

And you can quickly improve your inventory turnover ratio by generating demand forecasts. These forecasts can then inform your operational plans, so you only buy inventory that will actually sell.

But if you turn inventory too quickly (especially if this rate improves consistently over time), then you’re not charging enough for your product. 

Backorder rate

Backorder rate measures the number of orders a brand can’t fulfill when a customer tries to purchase. And the rate indicates how well a company stocks high demand products

To calculate your backorder rate, use the following formula:

Backorder Rate = Delayed Orders / Total Orders Placed

Ideally, you want this number to be as close to zero as possible. You can keep this rate down by having safety stock available, tracking inventory levels in real time, and setting a replenish point. 

However, even with the best inventory planning process and system, supply chain issues or unexpected spikes in demand can put products on backorder.

When this happens, try selling on backorder to avoid missing out on revenue. Just make sure to set clear expectations with customers around when they’ll receive their order.

Revenue per unit

Revenue per unit measures the average earnings generated by selling one unit of inventory. And the higher the revenue per unit, the more a company makes off each sale. 

By tracking this inventory KPI, brands can ensure profitability and project future revenue growth at a per-unit level. 

To calculate average revenue per unit, use the following formula: 

Average Revenue Per Unit = Total Revenue / Total Units Sold

One way to improve this KPI is to increase your product markup.

However, this might make your prices uncompetitive and drive customers away. So, a better option is to lower your cost of goods sold (COGS) and cost per unit. 

Cost per unit

Cost per unit measures how much a brand spends to produce or source one unit of inventory. Tracking this KPI ensures your business remains profitable. 

By tracking cost per unit, you can determine production inventory requirements, set product markups, and create volume discounts (which is especially important in wholesale deals). 

To calculate cost per unit, use the following formula: 

Cost Per Unit = (Fixed Costs + Variable Costs) / Units Produced

Fixed costs refer to any charges that remain the same, regardless of how much product you order, such as administrative expenses (insurance, employee salaries, and so on).

Variable costs vary depending on how much product you order, such as landed costs.

But this is a simplistic way to calculate the inventory KPI. Again, an IMS would extend on this to consider first-in, first-out (FIFO), last-in, first-out (LIFO), and standard cost. This gets you a more accurate cost per unit.  

Either way, you can lower this KPI by nurturing your relationships with your suppliers. One way to do this is by submitting reliable, consistent POs. You can then use this predictability to negotiate better rates. 

Alternatively, you can share your demand forecasts to show this same level of predictability. But you might need to commit to a minimum number of purchase orders to seal the deal.

Stock to sales ratio

Stock to sales ratio measures the health of your inventory levels by comparing how much inventory you have available to sell versus what has already been sold. 

To calculate your stock to sales ratio, use the following formula: 

Stock To Sale Ratio = Average Inventory Value / Average Sales Value

Generally speaking, retail brands want this ratio to sit around 4, which indicate you have enough stock available to avoid a stockout, but not so much that they’re racking up holding costs. 

To improve this number (or make it easier to manage), track your inventory levels and sales orders in real time using an inventory tracking system. 

Order cycle time

Order cycle time refers to the amount of time between when a customer places an order and receives that order. And it offers insights into the quality of a brand’s supply chain. 

While tracking order cycle time on each order is helpful, brands typically prioritize average order cycle time. To calculate it, use the following formula: 

Average Order Cycle Time = (Delivery Date – Order Date) / Total Orders Shipped

Generally speaking, the lower your average order cycle time, the more effectively your brand fulfills customer demand. 

To cut down on your cycle time, partner with a 3PL like ShipBob that can distribute your inventory across several fulfillment centers.

That way, you can ship from the closest fulfillment center to fulfill customer orders faster while cutting shipping costs. 

“ShipBob has been a great ally as they have fulfillment centers all over the US, facilitating a 2-3 day delivery time for any customer in the US.”

Andrea Lisbona, Founder & CEO of Touchland

10 bonus KPIs to consider tracking

I’ll admit it.

This next group of KPIs isn’t technically all inventory-specific. But tracking KPIs shouldn’t end at the inventory level.

By setting KPIs for your entire fulfillment process (or even your supply chain as a whole), you can get a better picture of your brand’s operational performance.

Luckily, many KPIs you already track for other business functions might also be relevant to inventory management.

Other important KPIs

What this tracks

Time to shipHow long it takes to ship an order once it’s placed
Total units in storageHow much product you have in your inventory at a given moment
Average warehouse capacity usedHow much of your storage space you’re actually using
Order picking accuracyHow many orders are packed without error
Undamaged delivery rateHow many orders are delivered without damage to the products
Average fulfillment cost per orderHow much it costs to fulfill an order on average
Gross margin return on investment (GMROI)How much a company made off the inventory compared to what they initially invested
Cost of receiving per lineHow much it costs to receive away a line item on a PO
Put-away cost per lineHow much it costs to put away a line item on a PO
Picking cycle timeHow long it takes to pick and pack an order on average

Tracking KPIs shouldn’t be difficult

Historically, tracking these inventory management KPIs once were time-consuming, labor-intensive, and needlessly complex. But not anymore. 

Today, setting and tracking KPIs for your inventory can be easy with the right inventory management software in place (like ShipBob’s fulfillment software). That way, you can get the insights you need in real time. 

How Cogsy + ShipBob make tracking and improving KPIs simple

ShipBob is a best-in-class 3PL that streamlines how ecommerce businesses fulfill orders and manage logistics.

With it, you can easily view your most important inventory KPIs and fulfillment metrics through a centralized, real-time dashboard.

Couple this with an ops optimization tool like Cogsy, and what you get is a proactive operational plan that’ll unlock revenue growth.

With Cogys, you can turn ShipBob’s data reports into:

  • Optimized POs (all you have to do is check and submit) with automatic replenish alerts. 
  • Accurate demand forecasts using real-time inventory levels and past trends.
  • Sustainable operational plans to hit your most audacious revenue goals (with the power to effortlessly pivot when needed). 
  • The ability to sell on backorder when stockouts occur, so you never miss a sale. 
  • And lots more!

Best part? ShipBob’s seamless Cogsy integration creates one powerful source of truth. That way, you can track all your inventory management KPIs.

And more importantly, know exactly how to leverage those insights to improve your operations and grow your brand. All in one place. 

To learn more about the Cogsy and ShipBob integration, get in touch with the ShipBob team today or visit cogsy.com.

For more inventory management KPIs, read this article on the Cogsy blog.

How Cogsy + ShipBob make tracking and improving KPIs simple

With unreliable supply chains and unprecedented consumer trends, retailers are operating on uncertainty. That’s why Cogsy has partnered with ShipBob to turn demand forecasting into an exact science and provide the clarity you need to unlock future growth.

Cogsy and ShipBob are now integrated, which allows you to track and measure inventory management KPIs with information on average metrics ShipBob commits to (e.g., how long it takes to fulfill an order, receive inventory, etc.). With this integration, you can:

  • Automatically sync your sales history, POs, and product information.
  • Get deeper insights into your inventory trends.
  • Easily create new POs based on past sales trends.
  • Have accurate delivery dates for backorder items.

To request more information about this integration and ShipBob’s fulfillment solution, fill out this form.

What are KPIs?

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are the quantifiable metrics companies use to gauge their progress toward a specific goal.

For example, inventory KPIs allow businesses to scale what’s most likely to drive results and improve inventory management processes that need it most.

What are the most important inventory KPIs?

The most important inventory KPIs are the ones that offer insights into costs, turnover, demand, revenue, process, and supply chain efficiency. Brands can then use these insights to operate more efficiently and increase profitability.

What KPIs does ShipBob track?

ShipBob allows businesses to easily track their most important inventory and fulfillment metrics (including transit times, stockouts, and more) in their analytics dashboard.

Written By:

Adii is co-founder and CEO of Cogsy, where he's empowering retail brands to pursue operational excellence. Previously, Adii co-founded ecommerce website builder WooCommerce (acquired by Automattic) and ecommerce marketing automation platform Conversio (acquired by CampaignMonitor). Find out more about Cogsy here: https://cogsy.com/

Read all posts written by Adii Pienaar