Stockouts — What Are The Causes And How To Avoid Them

StockOuts And Why It Happens

According to the wiki, A stockout, or out-of-stock (OOS) event is an event that causes inventory to be exhausted. In layman terms, it means the unavailability of the product when a customer wants to purchase it. Stockout is the opposite of overstock which means, a surplus of inventory than required.

Negative Effects Of Stockouts

  • Missed Opportunity: If the product is not available when customers want it and in the quantity they want it, then its potential sales loss for the business. This type of loss is difficult to tap, in the sense that business would never be able to analyze how much product would have sold if it was available. There is a delicate balance between understock and overstock which can lead to either revenue loss or higher costs.
  • Impacts Customer Loyalty: If a product is not available when a customer walks in the store, there is a high chance that the customer moves to competitor business looking for the same product. In an ever-competitive market where customers are bombarded with many options, loyalty in the case of a stockout is difficult to retain.
  • Depletes Profit Margins: When a product is not on the shelf when needed, businesses look for quick replenishment i.e Rush Delivery of the products using measures like cross store transfers, expedite inventory which hurt profit margins as it increases costs significantly and not sustainable in long term.

Causes Of Stockouts

  • Underestimating Demand: Underestimating demand and in turn under orders is largely due to visibility and communication issues between store managers, distributors, and manufacturers. Usually, there are no reporting platforms to validate inventory accuracy at different levels like stores, warehouses and the orders are generated by a manual process which is not only inaccurate but time-consuming as well.
  • Delayed Delivery by Supplier: Many factors contribute to delayed deliveries, like a simple miscalculation in, when the stock is required at store, or unexpected events contributing to high lead time or perhaps an order placed too late. Late deliveries not only lead to loss of business but they also pose a bigger challenge of what to do with stocks once it arrives in store after-sale season.
  • Safety Stock Too Low Safety stock is an additional stock kept above-expected sale to manage unprecedented sale surges. Usually it poses a peculiar problem of how much safety stock is too much or too low. Also safety stock varies not only by-products but also by stores-product combination, which makes it impossible to find an optimum safety stock across products, across stores. If safety stock is too low then it may lead to stockouts while too high a value and store struggle with storage and shelf capacity.
  • Working Capital Working Capital is defined as capital used by business in its day-to-day trading operations. How much working capital will be allocated to a product depends on how business envisage how fast the product will move. As pointed out above, if sales projections, safety covers calculations are faulty, it will lead to unequal and insufficient capital allocation.

Overcoming Stockouts

It's not practically possible to reduce stockouts to zero, as that means infinite inventory and storage in stores, which is not possible. But there are ways using which stockouts can be minimized.

  • Accurate Demand Forecasting Using quantitative measures to forecast demand helps in balancing the order cycle, stock replenishment and space usage. It is not possible to identify the future demands just by looking at obvious sales patterns manually in excel sheets. Machine Learning can harness the power of data to identify unique patterns in data as well as seasonality of the purchases.
  • Optimum Safety Stocks As mentioned above, using the same yardstick for safety covers for all products leads to stockouts. The same product has a completely different sales cycle given a region or store. And it's not possible to find out optimum safety cover for each product-store combination manually as that combination can be in a hundred thousand if not in millions. Machine Learning can help to churn all the data and provide optimum safety cover, which not only results in reducing stockouts but also helps in distributing working capital more efficiently.
  • Communicate with Data As business grows and hierarchies emerge, departments start working in silos and have a very narrow world view of business. Reporting trends, insights across departments can remove this barrier and result in better coordination. This is not only useful in reducing stockouts but improving the whole of the supply chain with easy and timely access to relevant information.

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