The end of the year is a great time to conduct a full physical inventory count.  You should start planning the annual physical inventory count at least 8 weeks before the count date.  You should also avoid planning around holidays when employees will take vacations.

Three methods for conducting an inventory count

Bar-Code Readers: This is the most accurate and most expensive method because you need a bar code reader and your items/bins need to be labeled.  You also need a software program that can register the counts.  The benefit, however, is that your inventory levels are more accurate because human error is greatly reduced.

Count Cards: These are generally index cards that contain the individual product and bin location.  The cards are placed on the shelves or bins before the count begins, so you can go through and count each bin in sequence. 

Count Sheets: These are usually letter-sized pieces of paper that list the inventory items to be counted.  If you use count sheets, make sure the counters also take into account misplaced material and products not listed, rather than just focusing on only the items listed on their sheets.

Who should count the inventory?

If you use the bar-code method, that can be handled by one person.  If you use cards or sheets, you should put together two-person counting teams.  The teams should consist of an experienced employee, paired with someone with less knowledge. Let the experienced person count and the inexperienced person record.  This method will also help your inexperienced employee become more familiar with your merchandise.

Preparing the stocking area

Cleaning your stocking area is an extremely important task that gives you the perfect opportunity to make sure that every inventory item is in its proper bin or location and not floating around somewhere else. If you start out with all of your items in the proper place, it will make the counts much faster and the quantities more accurate.

Executing the Count

Step 1: Break up your Counting into Small Groups

The first step in getting ready to count is to break up your counting into small groups.  This eliminates your employees from becoming too overwhelmed at the thought of having to count thousands of parts all at once.

Step 2: Create a map of your stocking area

This should include every shelf, bin, drawer, receiving dock, and return area.  All of the products in your inventory must be counted for this to be worth your time, and a success.

Step 3: Divide your stocking area into counting areas

Your counters should be assigned to geographic areas because this way will make sure that all items are counted. A couple other things you should implement into your pre-counting plan:

  • Pull all materials that are needed for your current production or sales orders.
  • Pull or ship everything on order.
  • Don’t move misplaced material while you count.
  • Do not ship or receive materials during the count process.

Step 4: Start counting

When your counters are finished with a small section of bins, let your designated manager verify the counts.  It’s best to first start with your items that bring in the most money and are your fastest movers.  Focus on these items first, because they are the items that are most likely to contain counting errors.  As soon as the counts are verified, enter them into your inventory management system, or spreadsheet.

After your count is completed, you must print and review discrepancy reports in your inventory management system (if applicable).

You should also review your whole counting process and document your procedures.  Meet with your employees and determine what worked, what didn’t, and what you can change for future counts.  This should make your next full physical inventory count run much smoother.

If you want to break up your counting in the future, you should consider the method of cycle-counting.


If you’re looking to ease the burden of conducting an annual inventory count, you should consider cycle-counting.  It’s a method where you take counts of different areas of your inventory in different time during the year.  This will makes your inventory more accurate because you are paying attention to specific areas more often, rather than everything as a whole.

With cycle-counting, you aren’t going to be able to take the time to count inventory items during your busiest months of the year, but there are other months that you can do the counts.  The best way to conduct your cycle-counting is by using the “Ranking Method.”

The Ranking Method implies that you count your inventory items with the larger number of dollars flowing through your inventory more often than your slower-moving products.  You should break your inventory levels, or “rankings” like this:

  • “A” rank items (those responsible for the top 80% of sales) count six times per year.
  • “B” rank items (responsible for the next 15% of sales) count three times per year.
  • “C” rank items (responsible for the next 5% of sales) count once per year.

An advantage of cycle-counting is that you can basically put the full task of inventory counting in the hands of your warehouse personnel, which is beneficial for maintaining more accurate counts. 



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