WooCommerce Stock Management Explained

In the past, you had to manually maintain the inventory of your physical products, but not anymore! WooCommerce gives you all the tools you need to automate the stock management of your online store.

This post contains an ultimate guide on how to easily modify inventory settings inside your WooCommerce store.

We’ll start with a brief overview of the inventory management system and how it can help increase your productivity. Then we’ll move on to a step-by-step guide on how to use each setting in the latest version of WooCommerce 4.0. Finally, we’ll take a look at some real-life use cases of automated stock management.

What is Stock or Inventory Management?

In simple words, an inventory provides us information about the total number of each product that a company holds at any point in time.

There are several ways to calculate or maintain the inventory of a shop. If you look at your local market, you might find that a lot of businesses still manage their stocks through the paperwork. This is no doubt an error-prone process that badly affects the scalability of a business.

With the WooCommerce plugin, you just need to provide the inventory values once and it will automatically manage stuff like remaining products in stock after a sale.

WooCommerce Inventory Configuration

Firstly you must enable stock management in the WooCommerce Global Settings. Then each product can be have managed stock enabled. Let’s go through each setting.

Global Settings

Screenshot of Global inventory settings in WooCommerce
Global inventory settings in WooCommerce

The WooCommerce plugin has a separate section inside its settings page that is used to specify global stock management configuration. It’s a pretty simple and straightforward process because it’s got everything clearly laid out on the page. 

To open this specific section, go to WooCommerce => Settings => Products tab and click the Inventory link below. We’re at that tab in the above screenshot. 

Then simply fill out each section according to your needs. 

Let’s move on and look at the functionality of each option in this form.

1. Manage stock

Tick the checkbox if you want WooCommerce to handle the management of stock automatically. It works by decreasing the available number of an in-stock product after someone purchases it. 

You need this setting turned on to manage stock on an individual product level. If this setting is off, the only option you will have on individual products are to mark them in stock, out of stock, or on backorder. We’ll take a look at the individual product settings a bit later in this post. 

2. Hold stock (minutes) – Important – Lots of people get caught out here

By default, WooCommerce will only decrease stock levels when an order has been created. The hold stock minutes refers to when an order has been made but is unpaid. This happens when customers go through the checkout and create an order, but haven’t paid yet (it does NOT relate to the cart). 

The amount of time you set here will be the amount of time customers have to complete payment for their pending order before the order is cancelled and the product is returned into stock for other customers to buy. 

By default, the value is 60 minutes. But you might need to set it according to your specific use case because this is something that varies across eCommerce stores.

If you want product stock to be reduced when customers add it to cart, check out our Cart & Stock Control plugin. 

3. Notifications

This is where you tell WooCommerce whether you want to receive notifications by email about low stock or out of stock products. This is based on the low stock threshold and out of stock thresholds we will be setting in a second. This can be handy if you want to know when to order more stock. If you’re selling unique products that aren’t mass produced, you might want to turn this setting off. 

Notification recipient(s)

Here you can specify the email addresses of users who will be notified. This is helpful if you’ve got admin staff who deal with product ordering and want them to be notified about low stock levels.

4. Low stock threshold

This threshold is a limit used by WooCommerce to check whether the item has low stock or not. You can decide whether low stock for you is 5 or 100, depending on how fast your particular stock moves. 

A low stock message will be displayed on the product page to let customers know when the product is within the low stock threshold.

5. Out of stock threshold

This threshold specifies the number of products at which it will be considered as an out of stock item. Generally you’d set this to 0, unless you also have a physical store and you always want to have a couple of items on hand. 

6. Out of stock visibility

If this option is checked then items that are currently out of stock will no longer display in your online shop.

We personally recommend that you leave all product visible. If customers are looking for a product and can’t find it anymore they could leave your store in frustrating.

7. Stock display format

The way you display the number of items remaining for a product is really helpful in attracting customers to make a purchase. For example: 30 in stock, or only 1 left in stock, or you can choose to hide it altogether.

Finally, remember to hit the save changes button.

Individual Product Settings

Screenshot 1 of Product inventory settings in WooCommerce
Product inventory settings in WooCommerce part 1

You must enable stock management in the global settings if you want your inventory to be managed by WooCommerce. Products stock level decreased only when a customer creates an order with that product. The stock level is then increased again when an order is cancelled or refunded.

In order to apply settings on an individual product level, you first need to create a new product or simply edit an existing one. After that, find the product data metabox in the create/edit product page. It will be somewhere below the main product description text field. Then open the Inventory tab.

Let’s briefly go through each of the options that are mentioned in this section.

1. SKU

SKU stands for Stock Keeping Unit and its basic purpose is to provide a unique identity to a product that can easily be scanned through barcode readers. Use the products phyical SKU or the SKU that your manufactur provides. The SKU is optional if you don’t have one.

2. Manage stock?

Screenshot 2 of Product inventory settings in WooCommerce
Product inventory settings in WooCommerce part 2

Tick the manage stock checkbox so that you can manage stock at an individual product level, you can leave the option off for products that don’t need stock management, like vitural products. More options will appear once you enable manage stock.

3. Stock quantity

Here you can define the quantity available for this specific product. This is the amount of product you have available to sell online. This number will change as stock is purchased.

4. Allow backorders

Through this option, you can allow the customers to select products that are temporarily not available in stock. These products can then be shipped when you get supplies from the supplier. This is handy if you know you’ve got regular shipment of stock coming in and won’t disappoint customers with long wait times by allowing backorders.

5. Low stock threshold

You can use this option to specifically set the threshold on this product. It will trigger an email notification whenever the quantity levels meet the threshold.

6. Sold individually

Do you want to sell only one quantity of this product per order? If so, you can do it by enabling this checkbox. This is handy if it’s 2020 and you’re selling toilet paper, for example. 

Stock management on variable products

Each of the above settings are also available to variable products. It’s important to note that you can enable or disable stock management for each variation of a variable product. Why might you want to do this?

  1. You’re selling a t-shirt and you have a different quanity of each color variation in stock.
  2. You’re selling a physical book that requires stock management, but you’re also selling an e-book version without any stock.

Taking inventory a step further with plugins:

Cart & Stock Control – Reserve stock in cart

Since WooCommerce only deals with product stock levels after orders have been completed, we’ve developed a plugin that allows you to control stock levels as soon as customers add a product to their cart. This means your customers won’t be disappointed when they go to check out and someone else has purchased the last remaining stock of an item they already had in their cart! 

Stock Reports

Stock reports was originally in the WooCommerce Admin plugin, but the improved reporting is now included inside WooCommerce 4.0. It’s free and ready to go.

Learn more about the Stock Reports.

ATUM Inventory Management

The ATUM Inventory Management plugin gives you complete control over handling and bulk editing stock in the backend of your WooCommerce store.

Learn more about ATUM

WooCommerce Stock Synchronization

There are a lot of WordPress plugins that can automatically sync your inventory across multiple WooCommerce stores. The only requirement is that you must enable stock management inside your WooCommerce settings. A great option is to use WooCommerce Stock Synchronization. It will automatically update the inventory of all your stores if an item is sold in any one of them.

What’s next?

We hope this has helped you to use automatic inventory management to save yourself a bit of time, after all, time is money! Let us know what else you’d like us to explain in our next post!

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Puri Team

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