Ecommerce Tips

Inventory Forecasting for Scheduled Orders on WooCommerce: How to Do It Right

Subscriptions, autoship, subscribe and save, and other scheduled order formats are great ways to develop recurring, stable cash flows for your business. There’s a lot involved in getting a scheduled order system, though, and one of the most difficult aspects of switching to scheduled orders is managing inventory.

It’s hard enough to balance stock against unknown demand in the future for standalone orders. It becomes a lot more complicated when some of your inventory is, in effect, “spoken for,” leaving you with more to track, and less to offer one-time customers.

The good news is, with the right tools, keeping all your orders straight, and ensuring you have the inventory to fill them, can be easy.

The Ubos Problem

Modern supply chain practices favor Just-in-Time inventory: you don’t waste money on expensive warehousing costs, you have less surplus inventory to deal with, and you’re not as concerned with fluctuating supply costs. But there’s one substantial drawback.

It’s a lot harder to avoid running out of stock.

Demand is hard to anticipate. Even companies with decades of customer trend data to draw from sometimes miss the mark, either underestimating demands and running out, or overestimating how many people will care to buy their product (an embarrassing mistake, indeed). 

To avoid the latter problem, many businesses these days run their business a great deal closer to the edge of the former. And while this can save the company money on overstocking, it can also frustrate and alienate customers. 

In other words, we’re all walking a razor’s edge here, so we’re all scrambling to find ways to better anticipate consumer demand. 

International Insight

Over in the Philippines, they have a word that’s very applicable to this problem. The Tagalog word ubos is a verb used to indicate that something—a consumable item, resource, or supply—has been used up, consumed, or otherwise depleted. 

Your spouse eat the rest of the ice cream in the freezer? That’s ubos na

Your car run out of gas on the highway because you forgot to fill at the last rest stop? Your fuel is ubos na

You head to the store to get hand sanitizer or bleach, only to find out some scalper got to them all first? The supply is ubos na

Here’s where the Filipinos have insight for us. In the Tagalog language, almost everything is expressed in what we would call in English “passive voice.” Focus is almost always taken off of the actor in the sentence, and emphasis is instead placed on the action itself. 

In other words, where we would say in English “Dave broke the plate,” in Filipino it would be expressed as “the plate was broken.”

So, when someone tells you that the toilet paper in the house is ubos na (a likely occurrence, since native Filipinos don’t typically use it, and thus wouldn’t bother buying it), they’re not assigning blame. They’re just indicating the state of affairs. 

What this linguistic alteration does is shift the focus away from “it’s so-and-so’s fault,” and toward avoidance and remedy. Ubos na doesn’t mean “I blame you,” or “that’s my bad,” it means “we have a situation that needs fixing.” 

Now, the remedy for your inventory being ubos na is simply to resupply. But how about avoidance? What can businesses do to avoid ubos-ing their stock when transitioning to scheduled orders?

WooCommerce Has the Basics

If your ecommerce site is built on WooCommerce (or you’re planning on switching), then you’re in luck. While the default settings on WooCommerce don’t do much to enable you to forecast inventory needs, the platform does have some settings you can switch on that will make the job easier for you.

“Out of Stock” Threshold

First, you can set an “Out of Stock” threshold. Doing this enables you to prevent additional purchases once the product stock reaches a certain level, giving you time to restock before completely running out. This is important, especially if you’re offering scheduled orders, as you’ll need inventory to account for all those shipments that haven’t gone out yet. 

Allow Backorders

You can also enable backorders. This feature allows you to take orders past the point of ubos, and into the negatives. This may sound like, well, a negative, but it allows you to track how many orders you’re still obligated to fill once you restock. 

It’s an important functionality to have if you’d like to continue making money while you’re busy spending the money you have to spend in order to make more money. 

QPilot Takes It Further

“That’s all well and good,” you might be thinking, “but how do I get my scheduled orders to pull directly from my current inventory?”

That’s a good question, and one that WooCommerce doesn’t have a good answer for. Thankfully, the QPilot API (and the Autoship Cloud plugin, which uses it) does. 

QPilot syncs to your inventory stock status and stock quantity automatically, in both directions. When a one-time purchase is made, that reduction in quantity is reflected in the available stock for scheduled orders, and vice versa. 

It also enhances WooCommerce functionality. For example, you can set the system to allow backorders for autoship customers, even when backorders aren’t allowed for one-time purchasers. 

As for showing an “out of stock” warning for your scheduled order customers, they’ll only see it if the product doesn’t meet the following criteria:

  • Scheduled orders are enabled for the product
  • The product is in stock

Reports from the Frontline

Perhaps more importantly, QPilot and Autoship Cloud give you something critical that WooCommerce omits: scheduled order reports.

The system’s real-time reporting gives you full visibility into both pending scheduled orders, and your current inventory situation, making it easy to determine if you need to stock more product to meet demand. It does this with two key reports:

  • Products by Date—this report displays all products scheduled for upcoming scheduled orders, grouped by their date of next occurrence
  • Scheduled Orders by Product—this report displays all customers that have a selected product in their scheduled order

These reports help in the immediate future (the upcoming month), and for long-term planning; by looking at past reports, you can more accurately gauge future demand.

QPilot Grants You Foresight

Even at the best of times, demand is hard to anticipate. But switching to scheduled orders, be they subscriptions or autoship, can increase the accuracy of your forecasts. The key here is making the most of scheduled orders: the more of your customers you convert to recurring customers, the easier it is to forecast future needs.

Sure, there will always be one-timers (gotta get new customers in the door somehow), but so long as the bulk of the business you do falls under scheduled orders, the more manageable your inventory needs will be.

Look, we know running scheduled orders through QPilot isn’t exactly like having an oracle on staff. But it’s close. At least, as close as you’re going to get without becoming reality TV fodder. So if you want a little more stability in your inventory management, give us a call. We’ll help you put forecasting to work for your business.

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