Serialized Inventory Management
For most inventory management scenarios, each product's total quantity on hand is the most important piece of data to track. As long as you know how much of each product's stock is coming in through the back door and out through the front, your inventory needs are met. But what if individual units need to be tracked separately?
This type of situation isn't as uncommon as you might think. There are many cases in which the individual items being kept in inventory and sold to customers need to have unique identifiers attached to them. This is called serialization, and is most commonly used on high-value goods for more precise tracking or for warranty claims.
Serial numbers are a part of everyday life. Your cell phone likely has an IMEI number that your carrier used to activate your phone line. Your car has a VIN for warranty, maintenance, insurance, and recall purposes. Most firearms and laptops will also have serial numbers attached to them.
When to use serial numbers
Choosing to track serial numbers is a decision you should make on a case-by-case basis. Products that use serialization are generally more valuable. Otherwise, they may be more strictly regulated by government organizations or other overseeing bodies.
Some product types and industries are going to mandate serialized inventory as a standard. If you sell jewelry, firearms, laptops, or smartphones, serialization is almost guaranteed. Those retail niches need an inventory management software solution that supports serial number tracking.
In less definite cases, you may still opt for serialization for certain purposes. Serial numbers make it easier to track individual purchases for warranty claims. Manufacturer recalls are also reliant on serial numbers to specify which products carry defects.
How to track serialized inventory
If you sell products that you need to be able to track individually, there are certain inventory management steps you'll need to take. Your inventory management software should be able to accept serial numbers when receiving stock. From there, you should be able to track individual serial numbers all the way to their final destinations.
Different warehouse workflows will involve the serial number at different times. Often, serial numbers are scanned in when the goods are put away onto their shelves. In other cases, the serial number may follow the product through an assembly or special handling process. Other warehouses still may want to scan serial numbers as products are shipped out to quickly link them up to their purchasers.
An important detail in tracking serialized inventory is the ability to see where a product is located by serial number. This could be a location within your warehouse or the name and address of the customer who purchased the product. Smart serialized inventory management software will make this information very easy for you to access.
Pros and cons of serialization
Whether your business chooses to track serial numbers or not is a tough decision. The answer is only made clear for you when the products you sell require serialization. If you sell smartphones, firearms, or laptops, this decision has already been made. Otherwise, the decision to track serial numbers rests on the advantages for you.
If tracking individual units of a product is not immediately necessary, consider skipping serialization. The theoretical benefits of this fine-tuned tracking may not be worth the added time and effort needed. In other cases, you can avoid requiring serialization by offering a simpler proof of purchase to your customers.
For many businesses, the margin of error that can be eliminated by serialization is simply not acceptable. Perhaps the products involved are too valuable, or the consequences of errors are otherwise too great to risk. If that is the case, your best bet would be inventory management software that offers built-in support for tracking serial numbers.