AML Blog - The Scan

Inventory Control vs. WMS: What’s the Difference?

Let’s be honest to say that the larger your distribution operations, the harder it is to effectively manage every stage of the product life-cycle, as well as your different lines of business. As the retail industry changes, warehouse management is increasingly under pressure, due to fast-paced e-commerce outlets like, to use the correct system to fulfill orders accurately and as quickly as possible.

As this evolution occurs, warehouse operations are becoming more complex. So you might consider upgrading your warehouse management methodology. Two primary applications businesses can use to streamline processes are inventory control and warehouse management software systems. There is a fine line between the two, and they are sometimes confused.

The following is a simple breakdown of the similarities and differences between both systems as well as the benefits that can result.

Let’s start with the basics…


Both Inventory Control and Warehouse Management Systems can:

  • Monitor product quantities.
  • Perform cycle counting (e.g. checking the quantities of some products in cycles and not all at once).
  • Utilize barcodes to track parts and products.
  • Pick, pack, and ship items.
  • Manage multiple locations.
  • Receive orders into inventory.
  • Warehouse management divides warehouses into many compartments and bins.
    Inventory management takes a broader approach to tracking inventory by location.
  • Warehouse management allows you to find specific items in a warehouse.
    Inventory management simply informs you that they are somewhere in that warehouse.
  • Warehouse management is not always a standalone service, and it is often connected to an inventory management or ERP system.
Why can’t I just use a spreadsheet and call it a day?

Anytime you make the move from pencil pushing or out-of-date technology to a modern management software system, you are bound to see an uptick in business productivity and efficiency. But if you really want to see tangible results, a modern inventory control or warehouse management system is a must – especially as retail warehouse operations are under pressure to pick up the pace, while still maintaining a high level of shipment accuracy. Here is a breakdown of the benefits you’ll realize:

  1. Inventory is Accounted for
    Yes, this seems like a no-brainer. But if you’ve been using outdated methods to track your inventory, then you may not have quite the inventory accuracy you once thought. Even the use of spreadsheets can open your business up to administrative errors – which cost time and money.
  2. Use of data collection devices
    When you have the advantage of a barcode scanner – for either type of system – it virtually eliminates those manual data entry errors and can significantly improve inventory management within your warehouse operations.
  3. Increased supply chain visibility
    Many WMS offer a feature that allows warehouses to track exactly where each inventory load is located, including that which has been received, but not put away or ready for order fulfillment.
  4. Real-time execution
    A full WMS solution vendor will many times offer enterprise application integration (EAI) tools to increase visibility, not to mention supply chain expertise and technology necessary for effective use of the WMS. It’s beneficial to have this knowledge available so you know that you are using your system effectively.
  5. Cost Control
    Of course, the bottom line to adopting new technology solution is… your bottom line. When integrating a new system, cutting costs and boosting profitability is the ultimate goal. Even a small percentage of improvement could yield thousands of dollars per year in cost savings. Who doesn’t want that?

Whether you choose an inventory control or warehouse management software system, be sure to choose one that is relatively easy to use, which translates into less training time and limited downtime in your operations. All these points add up to more effective and productive business processes for your warehouse.

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