Multitude of boxes stacked in a market

Photo by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash

Inventory management for subscriptions can be tricky, and if not handled right, lead to serious problems when it’s time to send out the deliveries. At the heart of the issue is that subscriptions don’t reserve any stock. Only when the renewal order is paid is the stock deducted. Up until payment, renewals don’t feature anywhere in the stock management.

Another potential pitfall is that renewals are processed regardless of stock levels. With standard orders, products can be set to disallow backorders so you never sell more than you have. But renewal orders are coded to ignore this setting and will renew regardless.

So what does this mean for you as a shop owner? The first decision is whether to track stock on products at all. If what you sell can be readily restocked, keeping the product as “in stock” with no quantity tracking is the easiest approach.

If that’s not an option for you, the next consideration is whether your products are only available on subscription, or also as one-off purchases. One-off purchases can happen at any time and use up stock you had intended for renewals.

There are a few strategies you can use to make sure that you can fulfil renewal orders:

  1. Run renewal orders x days in advance of fulfilment. Let’s say you deliver groceries every Friday, then you can consider running renewals on the previous Monday to give you sufficient time to bring in stock.
  2. Delay sending out orders after renewal. Similar to above, with this method you process the renewal order and delay sending out items. For a magazine subscription, this could mean processing renewals at the beginning of the month, then printing the magazine and sending out at month end.
  3. Shops that sell items as both subscriptions and one-off need a way to handle the conflict between the types of orders. For one of my clients I created a plugin which reserves stock for active subscriptions, therbey guaranteeing that renwals will always have sufficient stock. The plugin taps into the WooCommerce “reserved stock” functionality and has provided an effective solution to ensure subscribers get priority.
  4. After renewals, the next step is restocking. This could be done manually, via a bulk editor or through a CSV bulk update tool like WP All Import, which you can schedule to restock at regular intervals. Or for a client of mine I’ve recently added custom functionality that adds a restock quantity field for each product and runs the restock at set intervals automatically in the background, with all options easily managed from within WP Admin.
  5. Lastly, consider asking clients whether they are happy to accept substitutes. This is especially important if you sell groceries where customers may rely on you delivering their weekly shopping. A customer who needs bread, fruit, veg, milk etc may very likely prefer to receive a similar substitution than having to go out & shop for the missing items. This could be a simple “do you allow substitutions?” checkbox, or a sophisticated item-by-item substitution list which can also be combined with a “don’t like” list so your customers never receive the veg their kids won’t eat.

These are just some of the issues to consider for managing inventory. How you handle stock will greatly depend on the type of products you sell.

Have you had to overcome problems managing stock for subscriptions? Share your insight in the comments section below, I’d love to hear from you!

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