Whether you’ve overbought on inventory, sourced the wrong products or have merchandise on hand with little shelf-life left in it, “stale inventory” is a common (and normal) challenge for online merchants.
But no matter what you sell or where you sell it, holding on to stale inventory is a costly business practice.
In fact, in the last 60 days Amazon has implemented two new policies on stale inventory:
- Sellers will pay a new annual Long-Term Storage Fee of $45 per cubic foot for any units of inventory that have been stored in an Amazon fulfillment center for one year or longer.
- Limits on the amount of inventory that Amazon sellers can store in Fulfillment by Amazon Warehouses. Amazon has said
- they want to “ensure that customers are able to get the products they are most interested in.
Stale is merchandise that sits in your store or on your website for months on end with no sales. (Or just an occasional sale here and there.)
It’s toxic to your profits. And can take a toll on you psychologically. No one likes to look at inventory day-after-day that isn’t selling.
Potential Sales Don’t Equal Profits
Too often people will look at stale inventory and think “Well, I paid $25 for this shirt, so it’s worth at least $25 in potential income.” But that’s only true if the item sells. (And in a reasonable time.) If a product sits on your shelf and doesn’t sell, you’re losing money on your investment.
And remember, every time you pay an insertion fee to list a product on a site like eBay for example, your cost of goods for that product increases and your profit margin on the product decreases.
Additionally, every item sitting on the shelf that’s not selling could be replaced with a product that is selling. (And this also applies to unique one-of-a-kind items that have been sitting in your store for years.)
Home based businesses often hang on to inventory far too long due to low storage costs.
But as the saying goes “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.
In order to run a profitable ecommerce business, you must keep your inventory lean and clean.
In today’s blog post, I’ll show you how to get rid of stale inventory quickly and put some extra ka-ching in your pockets!
7 Surefire Ways to Turn Stale Inventory Into Cash
Look objectively at your inventory. The first step in turning dead inventory into cash starts with recognizing that your inventory is stale and it must go. This is often the hardest step for people. Be realistic about market value.
You should be turning (selling) items in your inventory every 90-120 days. Even one-of-a-kind collectibles need to turn frequently. If an item is sitting there with few views and no sales, you need to take action on it and get it to move!
Re-photograph your item. Retaking a photograph of your item is often all it takes for new buyers to take a fresh look. Your photos should have a clean white (or appropriately colored) background and the item should fill up 85% of the frame. Blurry, murky, poorly lit photos will hurt the sales of your items. Studies show that items with high-quality photos increase sales by 20% or more.
Re-keyword product title and description. 86% of all online sales begin with a buyer search. If you’re not using the keywords in your product title and description that buyers are searching for on Amazon, eBay or Google, your items won’t be found. If you sell on eBay, the Terapeak Research tool will tell you exactly what keywords buyers are using to find your products. The Google Keyword Tool will show you what keywords and keyword phrases people are using to search for your products on Google.
Feature like items together and run a promotional event. Don’t run generic 20% off sale. Select a specific line of products and run a sale on the entire group. 20% off all prom wear. 15% off all our summer sandals. Save 40% on our complete line of Back-to-School Backpacks. By grouping items together you can make a splash with your marketing and grab the attention of those specific buyers interested in the products you have on sale.
Give your event a name “Save 30% on our Red, White & Blue Fireworks Sale!” (perfect for a 4th of July promotion).
Sales on grouped products are more likely to generate buzz as well. Excited customers are more likely to email, Tweet & Facebook “Hey, did you know that Sam’s School Supplies is having a 40% off sale on all their backpacks.”
Slash prices and take the loss now rather than later. Don’t be afraid to slash prices (and lose money or break even) when you have to. While you can start your sale with a smaller discount of 10% – 20%, if that doesn’t get the sales of dead inventory going, it’s time to do some serious price slashing.
Again, this is where many merchants hesitate, trying to recoup their initial inventory investment or at least break even. But here’s the reality. Every day that product sits on your shelves unsold, you are losing money.
Bundle slow sellers with a hot seller. If you have a hot selling line with a couple of product dogs, take those non-selling products and bundle them with the hot sellers. If you’re candle holders sell well but your candles aren’t moving. Bundle a candle or two with each holder, raise the price of your set slightly and watch those items sell!
Cosmetic companies do this all the time. They’ll put together a promo kit and throw in a few items that aren’t selling or are discontinued. People will but the set because there is one item they want in there. The rest they give away (or often sell on eBay).
You can also do this in reverse and bundle a hot seller with some duds. If you sell a group of products that isn’t moving, add one hot item to it and watch the set sell.
Sell it in a “Lot”. An inventory Lot is a large grouping of like inventory bundled and sold together. Do a search on eBay for a product and append the keyword “Lot”. You’ll find thousands of inventory lots being sold in every category. Many brick and mortar stores shop eBay for Lots of inventory to sell locally.
One client of mine who participates in an annual sidewalk sale here in Seattle, always checks eBay first to buy supplemental inventory in bulk. Online sellers search eBay for inventory Lots, breaking them apart and reselling them as individual items (this is known as arbitrage sourcing).
Grouping your inventory in a Lot and selling it all at once allows you to get your money out fast and not deal with an ongoing markdown process.
Finally, you can move your inventory to a different marketplace.
If it didn’t sell on your website, move it to eBay for liquidation. If it didn’t sell on eBay, you can try moving it to another marketplace. But be careful with this! Don’t keep moving inventory around the marketplaces to avoid dealing with the problem.
Remember, cash flow is the key to health for an online business. Stale inventory will stop the cash from flowing. So focus not on how much you spent for it originally, but on how good it will feel to have cash in your bank account from the sale of those items!
Are you ready for the new eBay Fees on Shipping coming July 6th? Get help preparing and avoid ‘fee increase shock’ on your August invoice!
Yes! Now if you can just provide the magic wand to take all those new photos…LOL! I’m on it!
Thanks for the great article! I have tons of inventory just sitting around that I really need to let go. It is hard to let things go for less than what you paid for the item but I guess that’s all part of being in business.
Go for it! It is all part of being in a retail business. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but you can’t focus on “what could have been”, you need to take the steps to keep your business healthy, and getting rid of stale inventory is a big one.
Let me know how it goes!
Great list of ideas Lisa. Slow moving inventory is a problem with a lot of small businesses. Another idea is to open up your warehouse and have a warehouse sale. Think of a business having a garage sale. This would be a last resort to turn some cash from completely dead inventory. The seven ideas you outlined still give a chance at making some margin, but if you just want whatever you can get and can’t find a good liquidation partner, a warehouse sale may be another great option.
Great information! Thank you!
Good information! I went into Google and did a search for Wholesale Closeout Buyers. Found a few good companies. They solved a lot of issues for me.