The just-in-time inventory method explained

Discover a streamlined approach to inventory management that improves efficiency by delivering goods precisely when they are needed.

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You’re at the helm of a small but thriving business – be it a cosy boutique, a neighbourhood hardware store, or a digital startup. In the whirlwind of day-to-day operations, one thing becomes abundantly clear: efficient inventory management holds the key to your business’s prosperity.

Enter Just-in-Time (JIT) inventory management – not just another industry buzzword, but a dynamic strategy that can revolutionise how you handle your stock. 

It’s all about having precisely the right amount of goods exactly when you need them. This removes the headaches of excess or shortages. It can be one of the most important processes for streamlining your business and managing your costs of goods sold.

In this article, we’re going to unravel the mysteries of JIT. We’ll cover what it entails, why it could change the game for a small business like yours, the obstacles you might face, and how JIT can empower your business to navigate the challenges of everyday operations with style.

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What is just in time inventory?

To understand Just-in-Time inventory, we must first talk about the conventional method you’re probably employing right now.

The risks of traditional inventory management

Traditional inventory management entails the practice of stockpiling larger quantities of goods to anticipate future demand. This serves as a safeguard against supply and demand fluctuations. 

Although this method may instil a sense of security, it has the potential to immobilise capital, inflate storage expenditures, and lead to the risk of inventory becoming obsolete.

To put that in simpler terms: let’s say you own your little boutique store, and you obviously want to get ahead with the winter clothing items. The problem is, you order a huge load of whatever you think is best. It’s particularly risky if this isn’t based on any customer research or specific demand, and you’re just getting a little bit of everything. 

So when spring rolls around, and people are no longer in need of winter items you didn’t sell, they’ll be stuck in your warehouse taking up space all the way until next year. There’s no telling if the fashions will be consistent the following winter, and also you’re already fighting to establish what customers want for the warmer months beforehand.

This has actively been one of the core failures of brands that went into administration recently and during covid, including large chain stores such as Wilko.

JIT is a dynamic inventory management strategy that prioritises synchronising supply with demand. It hinges on close collaboration with suppliers to ensure that inventory arrives just as it is required. 

This approach enables businesses to operate with minimal excess stock while meeting customer needs efficiently. 

In essence, JIT strives to strike the perfect balance between supply and demand.

How does just in time inventory work?

JIT is basically about keeping a much more measured approach to your inventory. 

As a retailer using JIT, when you see that something is hot, you keep your eye on it until it’s low in stock and only then do you order more. This ensures that there’s barely ever any stale, outdated inventory in your stores.

Effective inventory management is vital for several reasons. First, inventory represents a substantial investment for businesses, often accounting for a significant portion of their assets. Second, it plays a crucial role in cost reduction, streamlined operations, and overall profitability. 

By optimising inventory, businesses can enhance their cash flow and competitive edge.

How different retailers use JIT to make big money

Fashion designers: capitalising on immediate interest

Fashion designers can use JIT inventory management to capitalise on people’s immediate interest in their creations. 

In an industry where trends evolve rapidly, designers use JIT to produce fashion items in response to the latest buzzworthy styles. With their strong brand authority, they can swiftly adjust their production lines to match (or actively create) what will be in vogue. 

This approach allows designers to capture the excitement and urgency surrounding emerging trends. It can drive demand and profitability, and prompt potential customers to act right away to secure the goods.

High-end retailers: cultivating prestige value

For high-end retailers, JIT inventory management takes on a unique dimension. 

Some luxury brands intentionally use JIT to create a sense of exclusivity and prestige around their products. They may deliberately let certain items go out of stock for a while, creating scarcity and a waiting list effect

This scarcity marketing strategy can enhance the perceived value of their products, enticing customers to desire them even more. 

By carefully controlling inventory levels and timing product releases, high-end retailers can cultivate an aura of luxury and desirability that translates into higher sales and elevated brand status.

Dropshippers: fast adaptation to market trends

The JIT method is often the secret sauce behind the rapid success of dropshipping in certain instances. 

These savvy entrepreneurs thrive by staying at the forefront of consumer trends and harnessing data-driven insights to make precisely timed moves. They don’t invest in bulk inventory but rather keep their finger on the pulse of what people want, identifying emerging trends and hot products. 

By leveraging this real-time understanding of market demands, they can swiftly adjust their product offerings to match consumer preferences, ensuring that they have the right products at the right time. 

The challenges of inventory management

While inventory management holds undeniable benefits, it comes with its set of challenges:

  1. Forecasting demand accurately is difficult: predicting customer demand with precision is a complex task that can lead to overstocking or understocking issues.
  2. Inventory can be expensive to store: maintaining large inventories incurs costs related to storage, security, and insurance.
  3. Inventory can become obsolete or damaged: products may become outdated or damaged if not sold promptly, resulting in financial losses.
  4. Inventory can tie up cash: having too much capital tied up in inventory can limit a business’s financial flexibility and growth opportunities.

How JIT can help businesses overcome these challenges

JIT offers several advantages that can help businesses address the challenges of inventory management:

  • Reduction in costs: minimising excess inventory can lower storage and holding costs.
  • Improved efficiency: JIT streamlines inventory processes, reducing the time and resources wasted on inventory management.
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction: ensuring products are available when customers need them can boost customer satisfaction and loyalty.

10 “just in time” inventory practices to reduce costs

Implementing JIT effectively requires adopting specific practices:

  1. Work closely with suppliers: collaborate closely with suppliers to ensure inventory arrives on time when you do need to restock.
  2. Use forecasting tools: leverage forecasting tools to improve demand prediction accuracy.
  3. Use barcoding: these technologies help track inventory levels and improve efficiency.
  4. Implement a kanban system: a visual system that aids in managing inventory levels effectively.
  5. Reduce lead times: minimise the time it takes for inventory to arrive from suppliers.
  6. Use safety stock: maintain a reserve of inventory to address unexpected demand or delays, but be cautious not to overstock.
  7. Dispose of obsolete inventory promptly: remove obsolete inventory swiftly to reduce costs of storing it.
  8. Use a consignment model: in this model, suppliers own the inventory until it is sold, reducing the need for businesses to carry excess stock.
  9. Use a just-in-time manufacturing (JIT) system: This production system produces goods precisely when they are needed, reducing inventory levels and enhancing efficiency.
  10. Use a just-in-time delivery (JITD) system: Deliver goods on a just-in-time basis to meet customer demand efficiently.

Challenges of the just in time inventory method

This wouldn’t be a full and complete article unless we also informed you about the potential challenges you may face using the JIT method or trying to implement it. 

Difficulties with implementation and management

In the pursuit of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the path to JIT success may not always be smooth. JIT may seem straightforward in theory, but in practice, its implementation can be intricate. It demands meticulous planning, stringent monitoring, and a significant investment of time and resources.

Small businesses, in particular, might find JIT challenging to adopt, as it often requires substantial adjustments to existing processes and systems. This can be a daunting task for businesses with limited resources.

For example,  JIT necessitates a shift from a “just-in-case” inventory approach to a “just-in-time” one. This means rethinking how you order, receive, and store goods. It might involve changing the way you work with suppliers, which can be a significant adjustment if you’ve established long-standing relationships with specific vendors.

While JIT can ultimately lead to cost savings, its initial implementation may also require investments in technology, staff training, and process adjustments. For a small business operating on tight margins, this financial commitment can be intimidating.

Reliance and dependence on timely suppliers

One of JIT’s core principles is a close collaboration with suppliers to ensure timely deliveries of inventory. 

While this partnership is fundamental to JIT’s success, it also means that your operations are somewhat dependent on the reliability and efficiency of your suppliers. Any disruption in your supply chain, whether due to unforeseen events like natural disasters or supplier delays, can have a cascading effect on your ability to meet customer demand.

Understanding these challenges is a vital part of embracing JIT inventory management. It’s essential to weigh the potential benefits against these hurdles and develop strategies to mitigate them effectively. 

For many small businesses, the journey to JIT excellence involves a learning curve and a commitment to continuous improvement, but the rewards in terms of cost savings, efficiency, and customer satisfaction can make it well worth the effort.

With proper planning, guidance, and a step-by-step approach – the transition can become more manageable, ultimately leading to improved efficiency and cost-effectiveness.


Just-in-Time (JIT) inventory management can be a valuable strategy for businesses aiming to reduce costs, enhance efficiency, and improve customer retention and satisfaction. 

When executed successfully, JIT can be a game-changer for your business. As with anything however, it’s essential for businesses to carefully evaluate the benefits and challenges of JIT before jumping in and implementing right away – and to prepare yourself for a new style of business management.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is the benefit of just in time inventory?
    The benefit of just-in-time inventory is minimising carrying costs and reducing excess inventory, which can lead to cost savings and improved cash flow.
  • How does JIT improve efficiency?
    JIT improves efficiency by synchronising production with customer demand, eliminating waste, and reducing lead times.
  • What are the disadvantages of a JIT system?
    Disadvantages of a JIT system include the risk of supply chain disruptions, increased vulnerability to production delays, and challenges in managing fluctuations in demand.
Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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