Every store owner knows that cash is king in retail. For obvious reasons, good cash flow management allows retailers to survive and thrive. It gives them the ability to purchase stock at the right time, negotiate better payment terms, deal with an emergency, hire more engaged employees, improve store merchandising, and generally reinvest back into the business.
But due to the complexities associated with running a retail store (inventory, seasonality, competitive promotions, etc.) unexpected costs can arise – and when this happens, many retailers find themselves in a cash crunch. A cash crunch can be defined as a situation in which a business does not have enough money to operate efficiently.
If you find yourself in this position, don’t panic. Below are some steps you can take to get back on track and free up cash in your retail business!
What is cash flow?
Cash flow refers to the money going in and out of a business. For a retail store, cash inflows (incoming money) include product sales while cash outflows (or expenses) consist of payroll, marketing, inventory, rent, operating expenses, etc.
If you have more money coming in than out, then your business has a positive cash flow. If the opposite is true and you have more money going out than coming in, that means you have a negative cash flow.
It’s important to remember that a business’ cash flow should not be confused with profit – cash flow represents the amount of liquidity that is available to a business at any given time. Profitability is an accounting concept which, if you are using accrual accounting methods, may not be in sync with your cash flow. For example, it is possible for you to be profitable (and therefore owe taxes according to the way you incur sales) but still be cash flow negative. As you can imagine, negative cash flow will quickly cause problems for a business if there are no financing options available for you to pay ongoing overhead costs such as rent or payroll.
4 ways to improve cash flow
1) Stay on top of customer invoices
Getting your customers to pay you on time is key to increasing your cash flow. While it is easier said than done, here are some practical invoicing tips:
Give out incentives to pay earlier: Many business owners offer their customers discounts for paying before a certain date. This helps incentivize customers to pay faster which means better cash flow for you. Along the same lines, you can also charge a late payment penalty for those who do not pay on time.
Make it easy to accept immediate payment: More and more businesses accept credit cards for even high value or B2B sales now. While there can be fairly high processing fees to accept electronic payment, cash in hand is often still worth the fees as it reduces the risk of non-payment or late payments. Similarly, you can utilize payment services such as After-Pay, Klarna, Sezzle, Affirm, etc. These so called “lay-buy” services allow shoppers to buy now and pay in several interest-free installments. The benefit for the merchant is that the service will pay you upfront vs. a traditional “layaway” where the customer picks up the item at the end of the term once the entire purchase is paid off. As expected, deferred payment for the shopper generally increases overall sales, particularly with those that don’t have credit cards, and it will allow you to book the sale much earlier, but remember that as the merchant, you are paying a significant fee for this service (usually slightly higher than credit card processing) so make sure to shop around as different companies offer different rates and terms.
Send invoices right away: If you don’t send invoices, you can’t get paid. So make sure you stay on top of on-account sales and any unpaid invoices. Remember – the faster you send invoices out, the faster the cash comes in.
Send customers invoice reminders: It’s good practice to send friendly email reminders to your customers a week before the invoice is due, the day it’s due, and a few days after. If they still haven’t paid, it may be time to give them a call. But always make sure to include a copy of the invoice and the payment options in your email to make it easier for customers to pay.
2) Review payment processing fees
While electronic payment is important to increase convenience for shoppers, retailers should regularly examine their credit card service fees. Payment processors operate in a very competitive marketplace. It’s a good idea to do your due diligence, understand your contract terms and get estimates and quotes for your processing rates. This way, you can ensure that you are not paying more than you need to. If you process a decent volume of card transactions monthly (e.g. over $100,000 worth), make sure that you negotiate for better rates before signing any contracts.
Expert Tip: Make sure you check and understand the chargeback policies for your processor. Chargebacks (reversals on charges by the processor based on claims by the shopper) can quickly add up if you are not protecting yourself (e.g. have CCTV at your checkout till as evidence to dispute a chargeback) or using methods of payment that minimize your risk (e.g. only EMV-compliant chip & PIN terminals protect you from chargebacks).
3) Take a look at your operating expenses
Cash flow management isn’t just about getting more cash to come into your business. A big part of good cash flow management is reducing the amount of cash that is going out of your business.
For retailers, the largest monthly expenses tend to be payroll, rent, insurance, and inventory. A failure to properly manage any of these cash outflows can pose a serious threat to a retail business. Below are some tips for reducing these operating expenses:
Payroll: You don’t ever want to pay your staff to sit and watch people pass your front door. If you have a few years of sales history, make sure to keep an eye on your peak and slow periods. Make sure to create your employees and assign tasks (marketing, outbound sales calls, cleaning, repair etc.) based on the expected needs of your business, not simply ease of scheduling.
Insurance: Insurance can represent a big chunk of your expenses in a given month. Due to the competitive nature of the industry, it would be wise to seek out comparative quotes and consider larger deductibles (whatever you can reasonably afford in an emergency) to reduce your ongoing premiums.
Inventory: As the largest asset for a retail business, many retailers have their cash flow tied up in inventory. Even if you are a guideshop or an online business, unless you’re only dropshipping, you will have to draw from your store inventory or warehouse stock. That’s why careful inventory tracking and management is key to good cash flow management for every retailer or wholesaler. For a good overview of inventory management essentials for retail click here. While it’s possible to use back office software just to manage inventory, it’s always ideal to use a retail POS system with built-in inventory management features that can help you ensure that the inventory you are buying is actually selling and therefore make smarter buying decisions moving forward.
4) Have a cash reserve
There comes a time where every business experiences a cash flow shortfall. It may be due to a delayed payment of a large invoice, an unexpected personal emergency, or it could just be bad weather affecting your sales. Whatever the case may be, it’s imperative to have financial resources in place in case your business experiences a cash crunch.
While some say it’s good practice to have two months of expenses saved up as a cash reserve, the fact is, you don’t want to have funds sitting in a regular bank account, not earning you any return. If you are able to set aside some cash, it’s always best to look at higher-interest savings accounts or short-term investments that will still allow you to withdraw funds if they are needed suddenly. Make sure to check with your tax accountant to make sure it is worthwhile though – various countries, states and provinces tax business investment or interest income differently.
If it’s not possible or you don’t want to put aside such a large cash reserve, you can also consider financing options such as line of credits (LOCs) or small business loans. While the idea of owing money may make some retail owners nervous, it’s important to remember that you may not be able to qualify for a loan when you actually need it. Most LOCs or SMB loans don’t charge interest until you actually draw on the funds so as long as you only keep these options for emergencies, these can be good tools to smooth out cash flow fluctuations. Similarly, always check with your local business association to see if there are any government programs available to help with small business financing. Generally speaking, low risk financing programs to support small businesses are available at all levels of government.
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There are many different inventory management methods but ultimately, it comes down to one thing, “do you have stock when you need to sell it“.
For retailers, inventory planning matters. Inventory is your largest asset and has the greatest impact on your business cash flow. If you plan your inventory well, you can reduce your overhead costs and increase cash flow.
Cash flow sitting in old or out-of-season inventory is money that could be better used elsewhere. Lean retailers that don’t carry a lot of excess stock have more flexibility to introduce new products more quickly. This is particularly true in industries such as grocery where products are perishable or fashion where products can be trendy. All products lose value over time but in these sectors, products have shorter life cycles and a shorter lifespan, meaning they lose their value faster. And so, maintaining unnecessarily high stock levels means an increased chance of getting stuck with products that require deep discounting to free up your cash flow. Consider this the next time your suppliers offer you better prices to buy a larger volume of product.
It is important to remember, keeping your inventory lean doesn’t mean maintaining low stock levels. If stock levels are not properly aligned to your sales demand and kept too low, you will constantly have out-of-stock products. You want to avoid stockouts as they are costly to retailers not only because of lost sales, but because of wasted marketing efforts and lost customer goodwill.
In the end, selling at any price is not the objective. To be profitable, retailers need loyal, repeat customers that don’t require expensive marketing campaigns to attract. When you think of it this way, inventory is an important part of your overall customer service. Customer service is the new marketing as every touch point impacts how your customers view your business. Less stockouts means higher sales in-store and faster fulfillment for online orders, all of which means better customer satisfaction.
What can I do as a retailer to better manage my inventory?
If you’re an independent and all of this sounds scary, don’t worry. Not all retailers have the resources of the big brands, and regardless of your size, there are things you can do to better plan your inventory.
1) Make sure you always have access to real-time stock levels. You can’t manage what you don’t know. With an increasing number of sales channels (e.g. e-commerce, pop-ups, etc.), a retail POS that can handle “unified commerce” with real-time stock levels is key to inventory management in today’s market. Unified commerce is just another way of saying a total retail management platform that you can log into from anywhere that offers a single view of inventory, sales, and customer data across an entire business in real time. As expected, the need for real-time inventory data grows as the business and transaction complexity increases.
2) Use minimum stock levels (also known as safety stock levels). In many retail point-of-sale systems, you can assign a minimum stock level to every product in your store which you can easily track in comparison to your actual stock level. You should also be able to easily make mass updates in your POS when you review your minimum stock levels every 3-6 months.
3) Track inventory stock levels by supplier so that you can consolidate purchases to minimize stock-outs, lead time, and shipping costs. This will also allow you to more easily meet supplier minimum order amounts.
4) Track inventory turnover. This is essentially how many times a product is sold and replaced over a certain period of time. This can be tracked at a very high level (e.g. including the entire store inventory) or at the product/category level. There are different ways to calculate turnover but whatever approach you use, consider using Cost of Goods Sold instead of Sales as you will get a more accurate measure as your result will not include markup. For example:
From Jan-Mar, this company had inventory turnover of 13.33. This is calculated by taking the Sales$ for this period and dividing it by Average Stock Value$. Now you can convert this to “inventory days” by taking 365 / 13.33. So from Jan-Mar, inventory turns 13.33 times a year and is on hand for approximately 27.38 days. If you run the same calculations for Apr-Jun, inventory turns 18.33 times a year and is on hand for approximately 19.91 days.
From these two examples, the higher your turnover rate, the more efficient you are, since it means that your inventory is being sold faster and you have more cash flow in your business. A lot of people forget that the cost of inventory is not just the original purchase cost of an item. It includes the ongoing cost TO SELL that inventory. The longer it takes to sell something, the greater your real inventory cost as your money is sitting in that dead stock instead of products that are in high demand.
5) Determine your ideal Reorder Days. It is always a good idea to estimate the leadtime required to reorder products in time for suppliers to produce OR deliver them before you are out-of-stock. For example, if you know it takes two weeks to receive orders from a particular vendor, make sure to factor that leadtime into your reorder timing. In the beginning, you don’t want to cut it too close as unexpected delays can happen (e.g. snowstorms in the winter). This is especially true if you are ordering for a busy time of year such as Christmas. For some retailers, losing a week during the holidays might mean the difference between Christmas and Boxing Day pricing.
Inventory management for all
A lot of independent retailers or businesses often think that they are not big enough to use inventory management tools and try to use spreadsheets to keep track of their goods. While this can work in the beginning, as your inventory items grow in both size and attributes, you will either overstock (to prevent stockouts) or have constant back orders. You will also lose out on freight savings and volume discounts you might have received if you had consolidated your vendor orders more efficiently.
Start managing your inventory by following the key essentials we’ve listed above. Then when you’re ready, start to slowly automate these functions one-by-one. With the proper point-of-sale system, you will be able to spend less time managing your inventory and more time selling it.
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Inventory shrinkage (loss of inventory due to employee theft, shoplifting, vendor fraud etc.) continues to be a serious issue for retailers – both large and small.
In fact, according to the 2019 National Security Survey, industry-wide shrinkage was estimated to be $50.6 billion. Thus highlighting the importance of having a loss prevention plan.
So, to help you establish a plan of your own, we’ve put together some tried and tested tips and strategies. Check them out below!
What is retail loss prevention?
The loss associated with shrink is two-fold; you’re losing your initial investment in the merchandise itself as well as the revenue that the product could have generated with sales. This doesn’t even include reduced customer satisfaction due to stock-outs.
Which is why store owners should consider retail loss prevention to be a priority. Loss prevention can be defined as a set of best practices that a retailer should follow to prevent product and profit loss.
In order to better understand how to prevent product loss, you must understand what causes it and how those losses occur.
As outlined above, the number one cause of inventory shrinkage is shoplifting. Shoplifting can take many forms, whether it’s an individual acting alone and stealing one or two items or it’s a serious case of organized retail crime where thousands of dollars worth of merchandise is stolen.
Whatever the case may be, it’s important to take necessary precautions so you can lessen the chances of shoplifting taking place in your retail store.
The following are some merchandising best practices that can help deter physical theft:
Merchandising best practices
a) Use effective signage: Make it clear to potential thieves that your store is being monitored. Hang signs around your store warning shoppers that they are under surveillance. Or alternatively, you can use signage to remind them of the consequences of committing theft.
b) Cameras: It’s good practice to place cameras by POS terminals, the entrance/exit to your store, and by any loading/delivery areas. To beef up your security even more, you can also consider hiring security staff.
c) Mirrors: Smaller retailers may not have the resources to install cameras in every corner of their store or have their employees constantly monitor the aisles. For theses retailers, mirrors are a cost effective option to make a significant impact when it comes to loss prevention. Placing mirrors in key areas and corners of your retail space will allow one or two employees to easily monitor the whole store. It also helps your store look more spacious.
d) Revise your store layout: Thieves are less likely to act when they are in plain sight of store employees. This is why it’s a good idea to organize your store layout so that employees have maximum visibility – avoid tall shelves and clustering product displays together. Also, consider placing valuable merchandise closer to staff or in locked displays.
e) Keep your store organized: An organized store is key to deterring theft as well as encouraging shoppers to buy. Keeping your store organized will also make it easier for staff to identify missing product. On the other hand, a disorganized store makes it easier for thieves to operate and can even play a part in attracting them.
2) Use RFID technology
A radio frequency identification system (RFID) is an advanced technology system used by larger retailers to improve inventory management and protect against shrinkage. It is particularly effective against internal theft and administrative errors as RFID tags are harder to manipulate.
RFID chips contain inventory information and are embedded in product tags or packages. This then lets store owners track product information in real-time. They are especially useful for retailers who are omnichannel as RFID provides item level visibility so you can track merchandise from distribution to sale.
While RFID technology has traditionally been too expensive for small retailers, the cost continues to fall as more and more retailers are using them. In some cases, the cost has fallen below $0.05 per tag. While this may still be too high (especially when you add the labor cost of applying tags), depending on your volume (which may allow you to request your supplier to apply them) or the value of your products, it may still be more cost-effective than any losses you would incur as a result of shoplifting.
Many POS systems give retailers the ability to create different staff accounts and set user permissions. These permissions allow store owners and managers to restrict staff members from accessing certain features in the POS system. Put simply, user permissions are ways for business owners to limit employees from performing tasks outside of their job description and to prevent internal theft.
Depending on the size of your business, you will want to be able to customize the type of rights different employees have access to. If you have a lot of staff or have turnover due to seasonality, you’ll want to look for POS systems that allow you to easily group employees by different customizable roles. In this way, you can easily set the access rights for a role (e.g. cashier) and then simply assign any employee to this role without having to manually set up the rights for each person.
4) Manage refunds and returns
Fraudulent returns (returning used, stolen, exchanged merchandise or returning merchandise with counterfeit receipts/money) happen frequently in retail. And while return fraud is harder to assess than shoplifting, a strict return policy can help prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Here are a few tips for developing a practical return and exchange policy that minimizes the risk of internal and external theft:
Require the original receipt for all returns and make sure the store’s return policy is printed clearly on all receipts. Most POS systems will allow you to customize receipts to include important important information such as store policy, contact info, and social media.
Make sure employees are strict about enforcing the store return policy. Consider placing a written version close to your checkout tills. It’s also a good idea to have employees remind shoppers of the policy at checkout.
Require customer ID to process refunds and exchanges and train staff to spot fraudulent returns.
Consider offering refunds only in the payment method used to make the purchase. While there is a processing cost to allowing refunds on credit cards, it is a lot easier for savvy users to process fake returns if it is possible for them to refund using cash. After all, it’s as simple as reprinting a receipt, processing a return and pocketing the cash themselves.
Look for a POS system that gives you the option to accept returns with a separate return screen that forces users to associate a refund to past invoices.
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A SKU (pronounced “skew”) stands for Stock Keeping Unit and is used by retailers to both identify inventory and keep track of inventory movement.
It is basically a unique combination of numbers and letters assigned to each product in a retail store. As a retail owner, SKUs give all of your products a single type of code to help you keep track of certain details for a specific product including price, product information (colour, size, features, etc.), quantity, and manufacturer. SKUs are often associated with vendors or supplier barcodes but can they can also be converted into scannable barcodes and printed on to product labels.
A retail POS system is the software that holds all of this inventory information so that you can track what you’re buying, how much stock you’re carrying and whether stock movement matches what you’ve sold. Whenever you’re looking for a new retail POS system make sure to check if the software will allow you to use your existing SKUs and also generate consecutive SKUs for new products. This is particularly important if you integrate to other non-POS systems (e.g. accounting systems) based on your SKU names.
SKUs vs GTINs
SKUs should not be mistaken for Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) or Universal Product Codes (or UPCs). SKUs are internal codes used for products that are unique to a retail business. On the other hand, GTINs or UPCs are the same for a product – no matter who/what store sells it.
How are SKUs Made?
Each retail store has a unique and specific process in place for choosing SKUs. This method is usually easy to understand and follow for retail staff.
POS systems can help you create SKU codes based on a format that works for your business. For example, your SKU code can have a specific prefix or suffix together with a number that increases consecutively. For example, a SKU for your business might be FD-2340-GR. Others use shortcodes within their SKUs as an easy hint to staff so they don’t need to memorize numbers.
How are SKUs used?
Inventory management: Inventory/stock-takes should be done at regular intervals in retail; both for tax purposes and to ensure accurate inventory levels.
When each product is assigned a unique SKU, inventory availability is easier to determine throughout the year. And when it comes time for a stock-take, SKUs make it easier to reconcile stock levels – so that actual inventory levels match inventory counts in your retail POS or inventory management system.
Stock replenishment: Making use of SKUs can help store owners identify reorder points and a minimum threshold – so when inventory hits a certain level, they are made aware that a new purchase order needs to be placed.
These internal codes also help you identify the products that move faster. Meaning you only have to re-order when you really need to – resulting in reduced inventory holding costs.
Better customer experience: Have you ever walked into a store and seen a pair of shoes or a t-shirt that you liked – but it turned out that you needed a different size? In this case, retail employees usually scan the item’s barcode or label to see if they have your size in stock, either in the back stockroom or at a different location.
This instance explains how SKUs are used within a retail system to improve customer experience. When products share a traceable type of code, you and your staff can more easily identify stock levels quickly so that more time is available to actually assist customers.
Identify profitable stock: SKUs are generally the easiest way for retailers to filter for specific and detailed product reporting – e.g. identifying best sellers and underperforming products by their SKU. When you combine this with merchandising and product categories or tags, business owners can more easily see the effectiveness of their store’s product mix.
Identify inventory shrinkage: Inventory shrinkage in retail can be defined as the discrepancy that exists between the inventory quantity in a retailer’s POS system and the actual inventory in that store. In other words, it consists of the stock/product/inventory that goes missing due to human error, theft, damage, miscounting etc.
And properly designed and implemented SKUs are central to any good inventory management system. They are key to modern digital retail since they are necessary to share and track inventory information between different locations, systems, and sales channels.
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We will be posting more inventory management tips in the upcoming weeks.