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Low Inventory: What Does It Mean? (2024 Update)

2.5 minutes

In this article, we explore what low inventory means and provide some practical solutions to address this issue. Read on to learn more. 

low inventory

What Is Low Inventory?

Low inventory refers to a situation where a business holds insufficient quantities of products or raw materials to meet customer demand. It can either be temporary or a chronic issue if not managed properly.

Example: XYZ Motors faced low inventory issues when they had only 50 car engines in stock, but demand from their assembly line required 200 engines per week. This resulted in production delays and increased costs due to rush orders from suppliers.

what is low inventory

Causes of Low Inventory

Below are some of the most common causes of low inventory that you should look out for:

Economic Factors

Economic factors such as inflation, changes in interest rates, or shifts in consumer spending can directly impact a company's inventory levels. Economic downturns can lead to reduced sales, making it challenging for businesses to maintain optimal inventory levels.

Seasonal Fluctuations

Many businesses experience seasonal fluctuations in demand. For instance, a retail store selling winter clothing may face low inventory issues during the summer months. Failure to predict and prepare for these fluctuations can result in low inventory during peak seasons.

Inaccurate Forecasting

Inaccurate demand forecasting is one of the primary causes of low inventory. When a company cannot predict consumer preferences accurately, it risks either overstocking or understocking products, leading to financial losses.

Supply Chain Disruptions

Supply chain disruptions, such as natural disasters, strikes, or transportation issues, can lead to delays in receiving inventory. These disruptions can leave a business with inadequate stock to meet customer demand.

Poor Inventory Management

Inefficient inventory management practices, like not conducting regular stock checks or maintaining clear reorder points, can result in low inventory. Without effective oversight, businesses may struggle to keep inventory levels optimal.

What Is a Low Inventory Turnover Ratio? 

A low inventory turnover ratio suggests less frequent inventory sales, potentially indicating inefficiency. It's not universally "good" or "bad" as the ideal ratio varies by industry, but very low ratios may lead to capital tied up in unsold goods and increased costs. 

To calculate inventory turnover ratio, you can use the following formula:

Inventory Turnover Ratio = Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) / Average Inventory Value

Consider this example: "Tool Haven," a hardware store, has an annual COGS (Cost of Goods Sold) of $100,000 and an average inventory value of $150,000.

Using the formula:

Inventory Turnover Ratio = $100,000 (COGS) ÷ $150,000 (Average Inventory Value) = 0.67

In this case, Tool Haven's inventory turnover ratio is 0.67. This low ratio indicates that they are not selling and replacing their inventory frequently. It may suggest inefficiency in managing their inventory, as they have a significant amount of capital tied up in unsold goods relative to their sales.

low inventory meaning

How to Manage Low Inventory

Understanding and managing low inventory is essential to prevent disruptions and maintain customer satisfaction. Here’s our step-by-guide to manage it effectively:

Step 1: Assess Current Inventory Levels

Begin by conducting a thorough inventory count to identify which items are running low. Categorize products based on their importance and urgency for replenishment.

Example: "ABC Supermarkets" conducts a physical inventory count across all its stores. They find that they have 1000 units of canned tomatoes, 500 units of fresh produce, and only 100 units of a popular cereal brand.

Step 2: Prioritize Critical Items

Determine which products are vital for maintaining customer satisfaction and business operations. Focus on restocking these high-priority items promptly.

Example: "XYZ Electronics" identifies that smartphones and laptops are essential for their business. They prioritize these items for immediate restocking over other accessories and peripherals.

Step 3: Forecast Demand

Analyze historical sales data and market trends to anticipate future demand patterns. This data-driven approach helps you make informed decisions about how much inventory to order.

Example: "Fashion Trends" analyzes historical sales data and market trends. They notice a consistent spike in winter coat sales every November, and based on this, they order extra inventory in September to meet the anticipated demand.

Step 4: Safety Stock

Calculate an appropriate safety stock level based on demand variability and supply chain reliability. This extra buffer ensures you can meet unexpected surges in demand or supply disruptions.

Example: "AutoParts Inc." calculates a safety stock level based on historical demand fluctuations. They decide to keep an extra 20% of their most commonly sold parts in stock to ensure they can meet customer orders during peak periods or supply disruptions.

Step 5: Supplier Relationships

Build strong relationships with your suppliers by negotiating favorable terms, including payment schedules and discounts. Reliable supplier partnerships ensure a consistent and timely flow of inventory.

Example: "TechGadget Corp" negotiates with their primary supplier. They agree to a payment schedule that allows TechGadget to pay 60% upon delivery and the remaining 40% within 30 days. In exchange, their supplier offers them a 5% discount on bulk purchases.

Step 6: Inventory Optimization

Implement inventory management software or tools to automate tracking and reorder processes. These tools provide real-time insights into stock levels, helping you maintain optimal inventory quantities.

Example: "Furniture World" implements inventory management software that tracks real-time stock levels. This software alerts them when certain items reach reorder points, streamlining their reordering process and reducing overstocking or understocking.

Step 7: Regular Review

Continuously monitor your inventory levels and adjust your restocking strategies as market conditions change. Regular reviews ensure you can adapt to evolving customer demands and supply chain dynamics.

Example: "HealthyBites," a health food store chain, constantly monitors their inventory. As they notice a growing trend of customers buying gluten-free products, they adjust their restocking strategy to include a wider variety of gluten-free items to meet evolving customer demands.


Let’s consider a hypothetical example. Book Nook, a reputable bookstore, faces inventory issues, including stockouts of popular books and excess inventory of less-demanded titles. 

To enhance operations, Book Nook implements our systematic low inventory management process: 

Step 1: Evaluating Current Inventory Levels

Book Nook commences the process with a comprehensive inventory count, revealing that they currently have only 40 copies of a best-selling novel in stock. However, their average weekly sales for this book are 70 copies.

Step 2: Prioritizing Critical Items

Recognizing the significance of the best-selling novel for their business, Book Nook prioritizes immediate restocking to meet customer demand and prevent revenue loss.

Step 3: Anticipating Demand Patterns

By analyzing historical sales data and market trends, Book Nook identifies that during the holiday season, sales of the best-selling novel can surge to 150 copies per week.

Step 4: Establishing a Safety Net

To prepare for unexpected demand spikes or supply chain hiccups, Book Nook calculates the need to maintain a safety stock of 50 additional copies of the best-selling novel.

Step 5:  Strengthening Supplier Relations

Book Nook strengthens their relationships with their primary book supplier, ReadWell Distributors. They negotiate shorter lead times and secure a 10% discount on bulk purchases, ensuring a dependable and cost-effective supply of the best-selling novel.

Step 6: Streamlining Inventory Management

Book Nook implements inventory management software that offers real-time insights into their stock levels. This software streamlines the reorder process and assists them in maintaining optimal inventory quantities.

Step 7: Continual Monitoring

Book Nook continuously monitors their inventory levels and adapts their restocking strategies as market conditions evolve. This includes adjusting safety stock levels based on seasonal demand variations and book release schedules.

Low inventory is a challenge that businesses must address proactively. We hope you now have a better understanding of what low inventory means and how to manage it.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our article on inventory glut or our article on inventory flow.

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