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How to organize your online store inventory once it's prepared for shipping. Easy tips!

Updated on July 27, 2013
Bins are great for storing items ready to ship in tyvek envelopes and poly mailers
Bins are great for storing items ready to ship in tyvek envelopes and poly mailers

Getting Organized

Be more productive selling, rather than searching for items that may have been misplaced. There is nothing more frustrating when things are lost because they were put in the wrong spot.

Basic supplies to start

  • 3 x 5 index cards, lined
  • color-coded index cards if you sell on multiple venues
  • address labels
  • Bins
  • Shelves
  • Mailing supplies

Plastic cabinet kept outside of my inventory space where I keep my packing supplies.
Plastic cabinet kept outside of my inventory space where I keep my packing supplies.

Taking Measurements of your Inventory space

I work from home. My designated inventory space is a separate room. The space is organized with shelving, bins, an old dresser I use for office supplies, and a plastic cabinet outside of the room in the hallway that is used to store all of my shipping envelopes, poly bags, tyvek, small boxes, and lots of packing tape. All of my supplies are organized. (I also keep a small supply on hand in a file cabinet by my desk where I package and ship my orders.) What's important to note here is that I didn't purchase any of these items on a whim. I carefully selected an inventory storage space, then took measurements. I designed a room plan and thought about the layout before I invested in anything.

It's not a coincidence that all of my mailing envelopes fit nicely in to this plastic cabinet. This cabinet is actually sold as a garage storage cabinet. It took me a while to find one with shelves that matched the measurements of my mailing supplies. The boxes are stored flat on the bottom. For larger boxes, I have open plastic shelving with three shelves, next to my plastic cabinet.

For the shelving units, I purchased those years ago, but re-purposed them when I realized they were stackable. They fit one on top of the other. I measured the

Shelving where I store my inventory bins.  I use a basic lettering system to label my bins.  Use whatever fits your needs the best.
Shelving where I store my inventory bins. I use a basic lettering system to label my bins. Use whatever fits your needs the best.

Office supply storage

I use an old spare dresser for storing office supplies such as markers, notebooks, bags, ribbon, tissue paper, etc. I changed out the drawer pulls with novelty ones I found at a thrift store, and added white board sticker strips to each drawer so that I could label the contents of the drawer. The top surface became a work station in my inventory room. It's a horizontally shaped dresser, not a tall one. It fit in the middle of the room perfectly and there is plenty of room to walk around it to get to my shelving, therefore also saving wall space!

I package all of my items when I list them. That way I can quickly grab them in their envelope or packing material from the bin they are stored in when I sell

Whether or not you use a spreadsheet, these tips will work for you. If you have a small inventory, or you sell a small amount from your home, you don't even need a spreadsheet. These tips will help you not only organize your inventory, but evaluate it as well by keeping track of valuable notes such as when you first listed the item, what was your original asking price, and what Bin the item is stored for when you sell it.


Tip! I use an old recipe tin for storing my index cards for keeping track of my inventory!

Keep your index cards organized by item number
Keep your index cards organized by item number

How to keep track of your inventory

I worked retail many years ago. When I think of inventory management, bar coding and UPC codes come to mind. But for a home-based small business, there is no reason to invest in equipment when you can get by with paper and a pen. However, if you think your business is going to grow substantially, or you use vendors and get shipments every week, by all means, that type of equipment might be best for your company.

I put a lot of thought in to my inventory management system. Would it be best to invest in inventory management equipment? Would it be wise to create my own inventory numbering system? (I hear that there is accounting software that will create unique inventory codes as well, but is it worth it if that's the only reason you would use it?) If I sold a lot of items on my own website, or had a store down the street, I would definitely invest in inventory management software or equipment. But because I don't need all of that, I came up with a very easy, user-friendly, simple system.

  • Start with lined 3 x 5 index cards. These are very inexpensive. (Tip! You can stock up at back-to-school time when there is plenty of them almost everywhere.)
  • Do you sell on more than one venue? If so, buy different colors for different venues. I have them in yellow, purple, green, and red. That way you don't have to create more than one inventorying system, you can simply color code your system! Very easy.
  • Create a basic indexing system for your inventory (this is what I do):
  1. Item #
  2. Bin #
  3. Description of item
  4. Listed date
  5. Price
  • Item #. This is where you would put your inventory number. So if you have your own sku or inventory numbering system, put that number here.

I put the number of the item that the venue assigns when I list the item. This will work on multiple venues that automatically assign a number when the item is listed. If you have your own website, you might need to create your own numbers.

  • BIN. This is the letter or number of the corresponding bin that you use to store your item that you listed. For example, once the item is listed, it goes in Bin A. If your item sells in a week, you might remember which bin the item was stored. But what if it takes a month? You might not remember. Instead of wading through Bins and envelopes, you now have a way to track where you put the item!
  • Description of item. What is the item? What did you use for the title when you listed it? You don't have to go in to details here, but a simple basic description.
  • Listed date. Here you would put the date you listed your item. If it doesn't sell and the item ends and is relisted, put the next listed date and so forth. This way you can keep track of how many times the item was listed before it sold (just for internal marketing).
  • Price. Put your listing price here. If the item is relisted, keep track of the price changes. (This is simple marketing for your business to help you establish a record of what sells, what doesn't, and what prices are people looking for most.)

Tip! You can code boxes the same way! Do you ship a lot of boxes instead of envelopes? Open shelving might work better than my bin system, and then you would

I worked in a corporate office and had metal shelving with 50 files on it all of the time. It was hard to see what was in each file without pulling the file all the way out. That was very time-consuming. I purchased magnet strips which I labeled with dry-erase stickers. Each file had it's own magnetic dry-erase label under it for easy identification of the files. This same technique can be applied to metal shelving systems. If the shelving is plastic, the same thing can be done with plain dry-erase sticker labels.

Keeping track of what's in each bin

By using this index card system, or entering the information in to a spreadsheet, you'll have a clear idea of what should be in each bin.

When I file my index cards, I file them in numerical order by item number. I can go back through them quickly and easily and see what items are labeled for each bin. That way I can do a double-check of each bin to make sure the items I should have listed are indeed in my online store.

There have been a few times before I implemented this inventory system when an item didn't sell and ended. I forgot about the item. Now I can double check by Bin to make sure that all the items in there are listed, increasing the opportunities to sell something!

Using spreadsheet software to keep track of your inventory

If you have a lot of inventory, this index card system won't work for you. However, the basics are the same. You can set up your spreadsheet with the exact information that I have put on the sample index card. This holds true if your business grows from small to large. You can always transfer the information to your spreadsheet.

Spreadsheet headers (same as index cards):

  • Item #
  • Bin
  • Description of item
  • Listed date
  • Price

If you have a lot of items and have a spreadsheet, you'll be able to search quickly which bin the item is stored in.


What to do when the item sells!

The index cards (or spreadsheet) are for inventory management purposes. When you sell your item, the information can be transferred to your selling record.

I keep track in a spreadsheet program of what I sold, date sold, amount, tax (if applicable), etc.

You won't need the index card any more once the item sold because the point of it is to keep track of what is currently in your bins. But the information on the card such as date listed, how many times listed, and what amounts it was listed before sold will help in your marketing information.

When the item is sold, the card should be removed from your storage box, the pertinent information can be transferred to your selling spreadsheet, and then the card can be thrown away.

I print my logo on address labels for my inventory

Address labels are an inexpensive way to tag your inventory. I am a paper artist so most of my work is handmade. I put my work in bags to store it and for shipping. I put the address labels on the outer bag labeled with:

  • Item #
  • Description

This is another way to keep track of your inventory. You can check the label to make sure it matches what was sold before pulling it from the bin to package it. For example, if you are selling dresses and have two of the same in different sizes. It would be a costly mistake to mail out the wrong dress. But to have them properly labeled before hand will save you time when looking for the item to ship it, and will save you a costly mistake of mailing out the wrong size!

Always double-check!

Even when things are labeled, it's always wise to double check the item you are shipping!

Organizing inventory on hand before ready to sell

This blog is about organizing your inventory after it's been prepared for listing and when it's ready to ship. Organizing your inventory before it's ready for sale is a topic just as lengthy as this one. But for now, I leave you with these tips:

  • Totes with lids are stackable and dust-proof. Preferably moisture-proof.
  • Organize your items by theme. (toys, clothing, curtains, etc.)
  • Label your totes so you can clearly identify what's in them.
  • Totes can remain stacked until you are ready to tackle them.
  • Open shelving is great for storing larger items.
  • Large zippered bags can hold unusually shaped items that may not fit into a tote.
  • Measure your space to make sure you are buying only as many totes that you can properly store.

If you get your inventory from stores, yard sales or thrift stores, have a sorting station located near your storage. This could be several open totes or a table where you sort out your treasures before storing them until you can get to them to sell them. This way bags of stuff won't sit around collecting dust.

Tip! Plastic storage won't retain moisture from sitting on a cement floor like boxes will. If you have books to store, use plastic storage totes to keep the books from getting damp!


Checklist!

  • Organize
  • Measure
  • Use color-coded index cards if you sell on multiple venues
  • Pre-print your logo on address labels


Conclusion

Managing your inventory doesn't have to be stressful. Costly mistakes can be avoided by these simple tips! I hope this helps you in your business ventures. Happy inventorying!

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    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 3 years ago from Ohio

      Great hub, very useful and detailed. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      This is such a wonderful idea!

      I've just moved in to my new place and prior to moving, I've cleared (packed) all my stuff from the old house and realized I have a lot that I wasn't using anymore. Some are really good stuff from knick-knacks to valuable items. I've put some into garage sale and separated those valuable ones i.e. collector's items. They are now stored in the boxes but thinking of putting them for sale online soon. Your hub came very handy. I'm bookmarking it and will definitely refer to it.

      Voted up, useful, pinning and will be passing it along.

      Thank you.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image
      Author

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      Hi Robie! Thank you for commenting.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image
      Author

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      Hello Cris! I used to have a lot of opportunities to shop at estate sales. I had a system in place when I came home with all of my finds. Bins were lined up in my garage. When I opened the door, I would sort everything in to the labeled bins. It really helped me maintain clutter until I could put the items away appropriately. Thank you for commenting.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      How to organize your online store inventory once it's prepared for shipping. Easy tips, great tips and so useful to all readers

    • CraftytotheCore profile image
      Author

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      Thank you so much for commenting here DDE!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for posting your methods with these really useful tips.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image
      Author

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      Hi Rtalloni! Thanks so much for stopping by here. It really pays to have everything organized. It saves so much time.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 19 months ago from The Caribbean

      A great comprehensive guide to online store inventory, and well laid out. Yes, you put a lot of thought into keep track of items. I especially appreciate that section. Congratulations on your HOTD award!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 19 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Crafty, what a clever hub on how to keep everything organized from your supplies in labeled bins for your online store. So handy and useful for everyone who has an online home business. Well done for your HOTD!

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