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What Is Cycle Counting in Inventory? (2024 Update)

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In this article, we explore what is an inventory cycle count and their significance in maintaining inventory accuracy. Read on to learn more.

what is cycle counting in inventory

What Is Inventory Cycle Count?

Cycle counting is a way to regularly check parts of your inventory without counting everything at once. It enhances stock accuracy and streamlines operations.

Example: Rather than counting 10,000 books annually, a bookstore counts 500 books weekly, ensuring the whole stock is checked yearly without a full shutdown.

Benefits of Cycle Counting

Understanding your inventory is crucial for any business. Below, we'll explore six key benefits of using the cycle counting method.

Real-time Accuracy

Cycle counting keeps a constant check on what's in stock right now, ensuring that your records match the actual items. This helps prevent errors when you sell or use items.

Reduced Disruptions

Instead of stopping everything for a massive inventory check, cycle counting lets you count a small portion regularly. This keeps your business running smoothly without major interruptions.

Optimized Resources

By focusing your counting efforts on the most important items, you save time and resources, making your inventory management more efficient.

Timely Issue Identification

Cycle counting helps detect problems early on. If there are discrepancies or issues, you can address them before they escalate into significant challenges.

Enhanced Customer Satisfaction

Accurate inventory leads to accurate orders, which in turn leads to satisfied customers who receive what they expect, when they expect it.

what is an inventory cycle count

Inventory Cycle Count Process

Cycle counting might sound complex but with our simple step-by-step process below, it can be quite straightforward:

1. Planning

Begin by planning your cycle counting. Decide which items you'll count and how often. This could be weekly, monthly, or based on the importance of the items.

2. Item Selection

Select the items or areas in your inventory to count in a particular cycle. You can use various methods, like ABC analysis, to prioritize what gets counted.

3. Counting

Physically count the selected items. You can use tools like handheld devices or barcode scanners to make this step easier and more accurate.

4. Recording

Document the counts carefully. Note down any discrepancies or differences between what you counted and what your records show.

5. Analysis

Analyze the results of your cycle counts. Look for patterns or trends and investigate any discrepancies to understand the reasons behind them.

6. Adjustment

If you find errors or discrepancies, make the necessary adjustments to your inventory records to ensure they match the actual inventory levels.

7. Repeat

Cycle counting is an ongoing process. Over time, you'll cycle through all your items, continuously improving accuracy and ensuring that your inventory remains up to date.

Cycle Counting Process Example

Consider this example: "Readers' Haven" is a popular bookstore with a vast range of titles. To ensure stock accuracy and streamline inventory, they implement cycle counting as outlined below.


The "Readers' Haven" bookstore decides to incorporate cycle counting into their inventory process. They plan to count different book genres every week, given the vast number of titles they have.

Item Selection

This week, they choose to count their stock of mystery novels. They prioritize this genre as it's been a top seller the past month and they need to ensure adequate stock levels.


The staff members start physically counting every mystery novel on the shelves. They utilize handheld devices that help in tallying the counts as they go through the aisles.


Once counted, the numbers are documented. They notice that their records show 50 copies of "The Lost Key," but they only counted 48 on the shelf.


After comparing counts for all mystery titles, they notice discrepancies in a couple of books. They investigate and realize that some books might have been misplaced or could be at the check-out counters.


The bookstore adjusts its records, accounting for the missing "The Lost Key" copies and other discrepancies. They ensure their system reflects the actual number of books on the shelves.


Next week, they'll move on to counting science fiction novels. By continuously cycle counting different genres, "Readers' Haven" ensures its inventory is always accurate and up to date.

Common Challenges and Risks of Cycle Counting

Cycle counting, while beneficial, does come with its own set of challenges and potential risks:

Data Accuracy: Accurate inventory data is crucial for decision-making. If cycle counting procedures aren't followed diligently, it can lead to discrepancies between recorded inventory and actual stock levels, potentially causing costly errors in ordering and stocking decisions.

Resistance to Change: Introducing new inventory practices may face resistance from employees accustomed to traditional counting methods. This resistance can slow down the transition to cycle counting, delaying the benefits it offers.

Disruptions: Although less disruptive than comprehensive physical counts, cycle counting can still temporarily disrupt normal warehouse operations when specific items or areas are being counted. 

Overlooking Items: Without a clear selection criteria or process, there's a risk of overlooking some items during cycle counts. This can result in inaccuracies and defeats the purpose of regular auditing.

Human Errors: When cycle counting relies heavily on manual counting methods, there's an increased risk of human errors such as miscounts or data entry mistakes. These errors can compromise the accuracy of cycle counts.

Training Requirements: To ensure cycle counting is effective, employees need proper training to understand the procedures and importance of accurate counting. Neglecting training can lead to incorrect counting practices and errors in the process.

By recognizing these challenges and addressing them proactively, businesses can navigate the potential pitfalls of cycle counting and reap its long-term benefits in inventory management.

To summarize, cycle counting is a vital practice in inventory management that offers real-time accuracy, efficiency, and enhanced control over inventory levels. We hope you now have a better understanding of what is an inventory cycle count and why it is essential.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our article on what inventory cycle time is or our article on what Do Not Inventory means.

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