September 29, 2023

What is Inventory Planning and How to Do It With Software

Introduction to Inventory Planning

Inventory planning is the art and science of determining what, how much, and when to order inventory to meet customer demands while optimizing costs. In the fast-paced world of retail and e-commerce, inventory planning serves as the backbone of operations from Shopify merchants to household enterprise retailers.

It plays a pivotal role in ensuring that businesses maintain enough stock to meet customer demands without incurring the costs of overstocking. The concept is particularly vital as poor inventory decisions can lead to stockouts, unsold goods, and ultimately, financial losses.

The process not only helps in keeping customers satisfied but also has a direct impact on a company's bottom line. By aligning inventory levels closely with the actual demand, businesses can improve their cash flow, reduce holding costs, and increase profitability.

The Difference Between Inventory Planning and Inventory Management

Inventory planning and inventory management are two closely related yet distinct aspects of supply chain management. While inventory planning focuses on what to order, when to order, and how much to order, inventory management is concerned with handling the storage, control, and record-keeping of stocked goods.

In simple terms, inventory planning is more strategic, looking at the long-term, whereas inventory management is operational, focusing on the day-to-day functioning of a warehouse or retail space. Both are integral to a successful business strategy and often work hand-in-hand. For instance, a well-executed inventory plan relies on effective inventory management to maintain the accuracy of stock levels and turnover rates.

Key Components of Effective Inventory Planning

Effective inventory planning hinges on several key components that businesses should consider for optimal results. First and foremost is demand forecasting, which involves analyzing historical sales data and market trends to predict future demands.

Another critical element is safety stock calculations to ensure that there's a buffer in case of unexpected spikes in demand or supply chain disruptions. Order points signify when to re-order inventory based on current stock levels and lead times.

Finally, economic order quantity (EOQ) helps in determining the most cost-effective number of items to purchase in a single order, minimizing total holding and order costs. These components can differ significantly depending on the type of business, market conditions, and specific logistical needs.

Inventory Planning Models

Choosing the right model for inventory planning is crucial for ensuring that the inventory levels are optimal. Some common models include the Economic Order Quantity (EOQ), which minimizes the total holding costs and ordering costs.

ABC analysis categorizes items into three categories—'A' being the most valuable items, 'B' items are important but less so than 'A' items, and 'C' items being the least valuable. This helps in applying different inventory policies for different categories of items.

Then there's the Just-In-Time (JIT) model, which aims to ensure that goods arrive exactly when they are needed, minimizing holding costs but increasing the risk of stockouts. The choice of the model can be influenced by various factors including the nature of demand, lead times, and the financial implications of holding too much or too little stock.

Each model has its merits and drawbacks and often businesses use a combination of these for the most effective inventory planning.

Choosing the Right Inventory Planning Software

Selecting the appropriate inventory planning software is essential for streamlining operations and optimizing inventory levels. Businesses should focus on features like scalability, to ensure the software can grow with their needs.

Having up to date analytics are crucial for making informed decisions quickly, providing insights into sales trends, stock levels, and even customer behavior. Many people assume they need hyper real time information, but this will increase complexity of integrations significantly and very often a few hours or day of lag time won't make a difference.

Speaking of integrations, integration capabilities are vital; the software should seamlessly integrate with where your sales and inventory data are. This may be systems like an ERP, or CRM, and e-commerce platforms. However, it can also be an internal database or datalike like Snowflake. (Bucephalus is the leading Supply Chain solution for retailers on Snowflake).

However most importantly is the accuracy and flexibility. The software should fit into your workflows and give you the flexibility you need to make decisions quickly. You may not need an end to end supply chain solution, and if you have one, you can augment with a modular platform that specializes in a segment of it.

Considering these features, businesses can align their inventory planning with broader strategic objectives, leading to a more cohesive and efficient operation.

How to Conduct Safety Stock Calculations

Safety stock serves as a buffer against unforeseen changes in demand or supply delays. Calculating adequate safety stock levels involves various mathematical models, including simple methods like the fixed quantity model or more complex ones involving standard deviation and service levels.

Understanding the balance between carrying costs and stockout costs is crucial for setting optimal safety stock levels. By mastering these calculations, companies can minimize both stockouts and overstock situations, thus achieving a more efficient and cost-effective inventory system.

Forecasting Techniques in Inventory Planning

We've discussed this topic in other blogs posts, so check those out for more details.

Accurate demand forecasting is pivotal for effective inventory planning. Demand forecasts can directly impact inventory planning by providing a better sense of what your demand will be, allowing you to plan more efficiently. Techniques vary from qualitative methods like expert judgment and market research to quantitative methods such as time-series analysis and causal models.

Different businesses and product types may require different forecasting models. The choice of a forecasting technique significantly impacts inventory planning, affecting order quantities, safety stock levels, and turnover rates. Accurate forecasts lead to more reliable planning, helping businesses optimize costs and meet customer demands efficiently.

Looking to learn more about different techiques for forecasting demand? Check out our series on demand forecasting!

Multi-Channel / Omnichannel Inventory Planning

Managing inventory across multiple channels—both online and offline—presents a set of unique challenges. The more channels and fulfillment centers you have, the greater the complexity of managing your business. These include synchronizing stock levels, pricing strategies, and promotional activities across all channels. Some channels may be planned together while others separately.

An integrated approach using centralized software can help in tackling these complexities. Implementing real-time data analytics and automation can further streamline multi-channel inventory planning. As consumer behavior continues to evolve, businesses need to adapt their inventory strategies to manage stock effectively across all platforms.

Inventory Turnover: A Critical Metric

Inventory turnover is a critical metric indicating how many times a company's inventory is sold and replaced over a given period. A high turnover rate is generally preferable, as it signifies strong sales and minimal holding costs. The metric is calculated by dividing the cost of goods sold by the average inventory value. Improving this ratio often involves refining both inventory planning and management practices.

Financial Impact of Inventory Planning

Effective inventory planning directly impacts key financial metrics such as profitability, margins, free cash flow, and ROI. Reducing holding costs, avoiding stockouts, and optimizing order quantities all contribute to a healthier bottom line. It’s essential for companies to understand how their inventory planning decisions translate into financial outcomes. With the right strategies, better inventory planning can substantially improve a company’s profitability and operational efficiency.

Leveraging AI and Machine Learning in Inventory Planning

The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) is revolutionizing inventory planning. These technologies enable more accurate forecasting, automate routine tasks, and offer predictive analytics, transforming traditional methods. While the benefits are significant, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks, including data security and the cost of implementation.

Enter Bucephalus. Bucephalus is the leading B2B SaaS platform for Supply Chain built from the ground up using AI / ML to reduce your time to insight. Bucephalus is modular and focused on your workflows. Need a solution we don't offer yet? Bucephalus will build it up and demonstrate our unparalleled experience. Bucephalus is built by experts in AI, Supply chains, finance, and big data. We are fully SOC2 compliant and treat security with the utmost importance.


Inventory planning is an evolving field, with emerging trends adding additional complexity and offering new opportunities and challenges. Sustainability, inflation, trade wars, real wars, impacts from climate change... As we look to the future, businesses must adapt to these changes to remain competitive.

Retailers need platforms that will help them be more accurate, reduce risk, and plan for effectively.

Latest Posts