How to Perform Inventory Tracking for Free? Top 4 Solutions
Inventory tracking is a non-negotiable element of smooth operations for businesses of all sizes. But if you are a small or micro business owner with a limited budget, you may be looking for tools that enable inventory tracking for free.
Many advanced inventory management solutions are currently available, but a majority of these products may be too expensive and unwieldy for businesses with limited inventories. Micro or small companies that are just starting out don’t necessarily have any use for the complex functions provided by these advanced tools.
If you’re a small business owner with a similar dilemma, this guide is for you. Keep reading to learn about the best free inventory tracking solutions and the pros and cons of using them.
Top 4 Free Inventory Tracking Solutions for Small Businesses
Whether you’re prioritizing scalability or want a quick and easy setup, our list of varied solutions can be used for inventory tracking for free.
1. Paper and Pen
Perhaps the easiest method of inventory tracking for free is using a simple paper and pen. Other manual options include a whiteboard and marker, spreadsheet, or blank document.
The pen-and-paper method is appropriate for small businesses with very limited inventories—ideally, fewer than 50 items that are easy to track and manage. Limited employees should have access to manual inventory to ensure transparency.
Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the pen-and-paper method:
Advantages of Pen and Paper
- Easy and quick setup
- Free of cost
- No technical knowledge is required
- No software or special equipment is needed
Disadvantages of Pen and Paper
- Lack of accuracy
- No backup options
- Difficult to share or collaborate on
- Constant manual updates are required
- Time-consuming to maintain
- Doesn’t interpret data or generate reports
- Cannot be combined with QR codes, barcodes, or photos
- No alerts or reminders
2. Google Sheets
If you want to avoid the disadvantages of the pen and paper method but still need something simple, Google Sheets is your next best option for inventory tracking for free.
Google Sheets is great for businesses with more than 50 but fewer than 100 inventory items. However, it isn’t ideal for tracking raw materials for finished goods.
Here are some advantages and disadvantages to consider before going for Google Sheets:
Advantages of Google Sheets
- Easy to use
- Easy to understand
- Quick to set up
- Can track many inventory items
- Customizable platform
- Minimum equipment required (computer only)
Disadvantages of Google Sheets
- Manual entry and updating process
- No real-time tracking
- Prone to manual errors
- Incompatible with barcodes, photos, etc.
- No alerts or reminders
- Requires stable internet connection for collaboration and remote access
3. Excel Spreadsheets
Excel spreadsheets are an option worth looking into for inventory tracking for free. It may take a while to get used to the platform if you are used to the pen-and-paper method, but there are lots of benefits to reap.
For example, you can use Excel to record and organize all inventory data. The information that you record can be as detailed as you want it to be. You can even add inventory formulas and calculations to track metrics such as inventory turnover ratio, cost of goods sold, etc.
Note that the free web version of Excel has limited functionalities, basic editing and viewing features, and limited cloud storage. And if you get a paid version of the program, Excel may not continue to be the best option if your business expands to hundreds of inventory items.
Not sure if Excel is right for your business? Here are some of its major advantages and disadvantages that will help you make the decision:
Advantages of Excel
- Can track a variety of products
Disadvantages of Excel
- Requires manual entry and ongoing maintenance
- Setup can be time-consuming
- Limited automation
- Unreliable backup
- Prone to errors
- Doesn’t provide real-time data
4. Free Inventory Tracking Apps/Software
Despite all the benefits of pen and paper and spreadsheets, none can support long-term scalability. Even if your inventory is small at present, planning for growth now will ensure a better future for your business.
Some inventory tracking apps and software solutions offer base plans so you can do inventory tracking for free. These free plans enable advanced tracking features that help businesses streamline their overall inventory management.
For starters, inventory software automates a range of manual tasks, including data entry, real-time data syncing, report generation, and more. They provide much better visibility into metrics related to inventory, sales, warehouse management, marketing, etc.
Nest Egg is an excellent example of this. It is a next-generation inventory management solution that easily handles inventories of all sizes, from dozens to the thousands. While Next Egg offers a variety of pricing options for its business plans, there is also a free subscription option that is a great deal for small businesses.
With the free subscription plan, businesses can manage an inventory of up to 100 items forever. All data is automatically backed up to cloud, which is particularly valuable for small businesses that want to add strong functionality to their inventory management.
From barcode scanning and inventory tracking to stock level alerts and purchase tracking, Nest Egg includes attractive features in this free subscription plan.
Most apps and software options that offer base plans with inventory tracking for free will come with the following advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of Inventory Tracking Apps/Software
- Easy and quick setup
- Can be accessed from anywhere and at any time
- Saves time and money
- Wide range of inventory management functions
- Stores data securely with backups
- Traceable data
- Customizable platform
- Time-saving automation features
- Can be shared among team members for collaboration
- Compatible with barcodes, QR codes, photos, etc.
- Allows users to set reminders and alerts
Disadvantages of Inventory Tracking Apps/Software
- Some technical knowledge is required
- Setup for extensive inventories can be time-consuming
- Special software required
Are There Any Free Apps That Keep Track of Inventory?
Nest Egg’s free subscription plan allows businesses to keep track of their items and enjoy key inventory management functions. Its main features remain the same across all its free and paid plans, only differing in the number of devices supported, item limits, and such.
Can I Use Excel to Track Inventory?
Excel can be used to track inventory in an organized manner. While there is a learning curve, almost anyone can get accustomed to using the platform to track inventory, record detailed product information, categorize/tag/label items, track and calculate purchasing/sales data, and share data among employees.
Is Excel Good for Inventory?
Excel is a good solution for managing a limited inventory with a small team, especially if you’re only just setting up your business. The program requires some technical knowledge, but there are many helpful guides to help beginners. Users can run inventory on Excel with the help of pre-made templates or customize one for their needs.
How to Create a Tracking System in Excel?
To create a tracking system in Excel, open the software and input new column headers for the items you want to track. These headers can include the item name/ID, status, descriptions, and other vital details. Once the headers are created, add the relevant information under the columns for each item. The next step is to select filters using the “Sort & Filter” icon on the right side of the Excel taskbar. You can do this for every set of data that you want to track with relative ease.
What’s the Best Free Inventory Tracking Solution for Your Business?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to inventory tracking for free. Business size, inventory type/complexity, budget, workforce—many factors should be considered.
The best inventory tracking solution for your business should meet all of your needs, be easy to use, and deploy quickly. You should also consider the equipment required and your staff’s technical expertise.
At the end of the day, you want to select the best inventory tracking app or software regardless of whether you’re going for a free or paid option. To make the right choice, consider the following:
- Look for an app with a user-friendly setup process and interface
- Compare the inventory tracking features of each option
- Confirm whether your software of choice will help you gain insight into your inventory data
- Check how many devices are supported
- Confirm if there are any options (barcode/QR code scanning) to identify products
- Take a look at the integration and collaboration capabilities
If you own a small or micro business, getting accustomed to software that offers inventory tracking for free is a great start. This way, you can learn how to manage multiple items and develop efficient inventory strategies and techniques.
By the time you’re ready to scale your business, your team and budget should be prepared to handle more advanced inventory management software solutions.
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