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The Ultimate Guide to Inventory Shrinkage: How to Calculate and Prevent it

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Inventory shrinkage is a common challenge faced by businesses across industries. It occurs when the actual inventory levels don’t match the recorded inventory levels. This can happen due to various reasons, such as theft, vendor fraud, breakage, or human error. Inventory shrinkage can lead to financial losses and impact the bottom line of a business. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the concept of inventory shrinkage, learn how to calculate it, explore its causes, and discover effective strategies to prevent it.


Table of Contents

  1. Understanding Inventory Shrinkage
  2. Calculating Inventory Shrinkage
  3. Common Causes of Inventory Shrinkage
  4. Preventing Inventory Shrinkage
  5. Tracking Inventory in the Supply Chain
  6. Conclusion

1. Understanding Inventory Shrinkage

What is Inventory Shrinkage?

Inventory shrinkage occurs when the actual inventory levels of a business are lower than the recorded inventory levels. It can be caused by a variety of factors, such as theft, vendor fraud, breakage, or human error. For example, if a business’s accounting department records 1,000 pieces of inventory, but upon physical counting, it is found that there are only 995 pieces, the inventory shrinkage is 5 pieces.

Why Does Inventory Shrinkage Matter?

Inventory is a valuable business asset, and any shrinkage can result in financial losses. When inventory levels are lower than recorded, it means that the business has invested money in acquiring or producing inventory that cannot be sold to customers for a profit. According to Forbes, inventory shrinkage costs the US retail industry approximately $46.8 billion per year. It is essential for businesses to address inventory shrinkage to prevent financial losses and maximize profitability.

2. Calculating Inventory Shrinkage

The Inventory Shrinkage Formula

Calculating inventory shrinkage involves a simple subtraction. The formula is as follows:

Total Value of Inventory Recorded by Accounting - Total Value of Inventory You Actually Have = Inventory Shrinkage Value

This formula helps determine the value of inventory shrinkage, which represents the amount of inventory that cannot be accounted for.

An Example of Inventory Shrinkage

Let’s take an example to understand how inventory shrinkage affects a business’s bottom line. Suppose a business sells knitted hats through an eCommerce platform. Each hat costs $50 to make, including $30 in wages per hat and $20 worth of materials. The warehouse holds 100 hats, which amounts to a total inventory value of $5,000 ($50 per hat times 100).

Unfortunately, a moth infestation damages ten hats. After physical counting, it is found that there are only 90 hats in storage instead of the recorded 100. Using the inventory shrinkage formula, we can calculate the inventory shrinkage value:

Total Value of Inventory Recorded by Accounting - Total Value of Inventory You Actually Have = Inventory Shrinkage Value
$5,000 ($50 value per hat times 100) - $4,500 ($50 value per hat times 90) = $500 Inventory Shrinkage Value

Therefore, the business has $500 worth of inventory shrinkage, which represents the hats that cannot be sold to customers.

Calculating Inventory Shrinkage Rate

To better understand the impact of inventory shrinkage, it can be useful to convert the inventory shrinkage value into a percentage, known as the inventory shrinkage rate. The formula for calculating the inventory shrinkage rate is:

Inventory Shrinkage Value / Total Value of Inventory Recorded by Accounting = Inventory Shrinkage Rate x 100 = Inventory Shrinkage Rate Percentage

Continuing with the previous example, let’s calculate the inventory shrinkage rate:

$500 / $5,000 = 0.10 x 100 = 10%

The inventory shrinkage rate in this case is 10%. This percentage helps businesses compare and track their inventory shrinkage over time, enabling them to identify trends and take necessary preventive measures.

3. Common Causes of Inventory Shrinkage

Inventory shrinkage can occur due to various factors. Understanding these causes is crucial for implementing effective preventive measures. Here are some common causes of inventory shrinkage:


One of the primary causes of inventory shrinkage is theft. Employees may steal items if they have access to them in a warehouse or storage facility. Shoplifting by customers is also a significant contributor to inventory loss. Implementing security measures, such as trackable barcodes, security cameras, and alarms, can help deter theft and reduce inventory shrinkage.

Supplier Fraud

Supplier fraud occurs when vendors deliver less inventory than what was contracted or paid for. This can happen when a business relies on external suppliers for inventory instead of producing it in-house. Performing regular checks and audits on supplier deliveries can help identify and prevent supplier fraud.

Breakage or Spoilage

Inventory shrinkage can also occur due to breakage or spoilage. Accidents like flooding, mishandling, or dropping can cause damage to products. Similarly, perishable goods may spoil if not stored or handled correctly. Proper storage facilities, secure shelving units, and appropriate packaging can help prevent breakage or spoilage-related inventory shrinkage.

Human Error

Human error, such as clerical mistakes, can lead to inventory shrinkage. For example, someone in the accounting department may miscount or misrecord inventory, resulting in discrepancies between recorded and actual inventory levels. Regular inventory counts, double-checking procedures, and rotating inventory duties can minimize the impact of human error on inventory shrinkage.

4. Preventing Inventory Shrinkage

Preventing inventory shrinkage requires a proactive approach and the implementation of effective strategies. Here are some practical steps to reduce the risk of inventory shrinkage:

Track Your Inventory

Implementing a robust inventory tracking system can help decrease employee theft and improve material handling. Digital barcodes can be scanned at every step of the supply chain, making it easier to identify any discrepancies and hold individuals accountable. By tracking inventory, businesses can ensure that the recorded inventory levels match the actual inventory levels.

Regular Physical Inventory Counts

Performing regular physical inventory counts is essential to identify and address inventory shrinkage promptly. Counting inventory at various points, such as after delivery by a vendor, can help detect any discrepancies and prevent supplier fraud. Establishing a schedule for inventory counts and involving multiple employees in the process can minimize errors and increase accuracy.

Double-Check Inventory Counts

To ensure accuracy, it is crucial to double-check inventory counts regularly. This involves comparing the recorded inventory levels with the physical count. Having a daily or weekly schedule for double-checking counts can help identify any discrepancies and take corrective actions promptly. Distributing inventory duties among multiple employees also reduces the risk of errors or theft.

Boost Security Measures

Enhancing security measures in warehouses and storage facilities can deter theft and minimize inventory shrinkage. Trackable barcodes, employee access codes, security cameras, and alarms can act as deterrents and help identify any suspicious activities. Keeping high-value inventory locked up and restricting access to authorized personnel can further enhance security.

Protect Your Products

Safeguarding products from damage or spoilage is essential to prevent inventory shrinkage. Storing inventory in safe, dry spaces and using secure shelving units can minimize the risk of breakage. Choosing appropriate packaging materials and shipping methods can protect products during transportation. Proper handling and storage of perishable goods can prevent spoilage-related inventory shrinkage.

Invest in Inventory Management Tools

Utilizing inventory management tools and software can streamline inventory tracking and management processes. These tools can automate inventory counts, reorder notifications, and capacity planning. By efficiently managing inventory levels and automating processes, businesses can reduce the likelihood of errors, improve efficiency, and prevent inventory shrinkage.

Work with a Third-Party Fulfillment Company

Outsourcing inventory management and fulfillment to a third-party company can relieve businesses of the hassle of tracking and managing inventory. These companies specialize in handling inventory, storing it securely, and fulfilling customer orders. They utilize inventory management software to track inventory levels and generate detailed reports, facilitating the identification and prevention of inventory shrinkage.

5. Tracking Inventory in the Supply Chain

Importance of Tracking Inventory

Tracking inventory at every stage of the supply chain is crucial for efficient inventory management and inventory shrinkage prevention. From the moment inventory is received from suppliers to the final delivery to customers, accurate and real-time tracking provides visibility into inventory levels and ensures accountability.

Last-Mile Delivery and Inventory Protection

The last-mile delivery stage, where inventory goes from a warehouse or shipping center to the customer, is critical for inventory protection. Proper packaging, shipping labels, and forms play a vital role in ensuring that products reach customers safely and intact. Implementing secure and efficient last-mile delivery processes minimizes the risk of damage or loss during transit.

Introducing RoadWarrior for Efficient Deliveries

RoadWarrior is a powerful tool that helps businesses optimize their last-mile deliveries. It offers features such as real-time delivery tracking, route optimization, proof-of-delivery, and delivery time windows. By utilizing RoadWarrior, businesses can ensure efficient deliveries, reduce transportation costs, and enhance customer satisfaction. The software integrates seamlessly with inventory management systems, providing end-to-end visibility and control over inventory during the last-mile delivery stage.

6. Conclusion

Inventory shrinkage can have a significant impact on a business’s financial health. By understanding the concept of inventory shrinkage, calculating it accurately, and implementing effective preventive measures, businesses can minimize losses and maximize profitability. Regular physical inventory counts, robust security measures, proper inventory tracking, and the use of inventory management tools are essential for preventing inventory shrinkage. Additionally, optimizing last-mile deliveries with tools like RoadWarrior ensures that inventory reaches customers safely and efficiently. By adopting these strategies, businesses can protect their assets, improve operational efficiency, and deliver exceptional customer experiences.