Stock management is top of mind following the post Christmas stock- up, but ever more sophisticated software means it no longer has to be a chore, discovers Matthew Chapman.
As small businesses many pharmacies can feel hamstrung as to the stock management options available to them. Any new software can be expensive and feel daunting to install. However, if handled wisely the pay- off is obvious.
An effective stock management system can significantly help reduce shrinkage. Figures from research company Euromonitor found that shrinkage accounts for around 1.4% of all global retail sales.
Independent consultant Clive Eckett, who previously worked as sales and marketing director at Cegedim Rx, highlights how effective software can help a pharmacy reduce its stockholding and in the process limit the risk of shrinkage due to breakages, theft, admin errors and product going out of date.
A great deal of restocking is still carried out in the old fashioned way where the pharmacist or a chosen member of staff is responsible for ordering. This low-tech solution can be relatively effective but will soon break down when that person is unavailable. It is also hugely time consuming.
“You will find a lot of the older independent pharmacists still like to keep a book and go home and do their own ordering and stock management,” says Eckett. “That is great, but the amount of time they can save by relying on a system to do it for them means they can focus on other things.”
Much of the software on the market today such as EPoS Logic’s Victoria-OS is automated, which allows buying rules to be preset to ensure ordering of stock is automated. This saves money on expensive and time-consuming training of staff.
Software is also increasingly more intelligent and can make accurate projections of how much new product is required based on order histories.
Cegedim Rx’s system allows pharmacists to set certain parameters for stockholding, whether that be ordering based on recent trends, or simply replenishing stock to ensure there is a certain amount of each individual product on shelves at any time.
Seasonality, of course, plays a major factor and parameters can be set within the software to take into account the experienced pharmacist’s knowledge of how big an impact seasonality will have on stock levels.
A number of Patient Medication Record (PMR) system providers have embedded stock management systems within them, or independent pharmacists can opt to go down a more bespoke route.
Eckett believes investing in the right software will pay for itself. “The independent platforms should effectively be self-funding because what you spend on the platform you should save from more effective ordering and potentially holding less stock,” explains Eckett.
Along with saving money on shrinkage these systems can improve profit margins in the ordering process. Some have a ‘cascade’ feature that allows a pharmacist to specify a first choice supplier before cascading through additional suppliers in a controlled order.
This ensures high levels of control over the ordering process and helps save staff from time consuming attempts to source products that are in short supply.
There are many management software providers that specialise in the pharmacy sector, but pharmacists can also seek the right solution outside of the sector. For instance, OrderWise prides itself in providing “comprehensive stock control” to small businesses regardless of what the stock is and how it is sold.
Meanwhile, for those with the resources there are even stock management solutions on the market that allow robots to oversee the stocking process.
“The robot is intelligent enough to dispense those items that are expiring first,” says Chris Shelford, marketing manager of Northern Europe at BD Rowa. “It can read expiry dates and pick out the package that is due to expire soonest rather than just randomly, so it will effectively manage stock by expiry date.”
At the other end of the scale there is also free stock management software solutions for those that do not have any spare cash for capital expenditure. This includes software such as ABC Inventory, which can only be used by a single user but allows the management of a whole host of inventory related data.
Due to the nature of these free software packages most of them do not come with customer support, which means users need to rely on forums to navigate any issues.
Other free versions of software packages such as inFlow, limit the number of products that can be managed on it, which may make it unsuitable for pharmacies, but it can be upgraded for a one-off fee to allow the management of unlimited products.
As with most technological solutions the market is flooded with options. However, there is a solution out there that suits the needs and resources for every type of community pharmacist. It may take an investment of both time and money choosing the best, but it is likely to pay dividends.