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ABC Analysis for Retail Stores: Categorizing Inventory for Efficiency

by | Mar 6, 2024

Efficient inventory management is a vital component of success for any retail store. While different kinds of shops may find success with a variety of strategies that fit their businesses, some time-tested strategies have proven to be effective across industries, such as ABC Analysis. This method entails categorizing items in a store’s inventory into three or more categories based upon their importance to the business.

Categorizing a store’s inventory allows the owner to make quicker and more informed decisions about ordering new inventory. Offering more of what sells and less of what doesn’t increases efficiency by minimizing overstock and accelerating inventory turnover, leading to higher profits. This strategy also leads to enhanced sales forecasting and improved resource allocation.

Understanding ABC Analysis

ABC analysis is a technique used to categorize items based on their value to a business. These categories could be designated as A, B, and C, for example, with “A” items being top sellers and “C” items being items with the least sales. This method has roots in the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. 

In the early 20th century Vilfredo Pareto theorized that the majority of results in a system are caused by a minority of the efforts. Following this theory, you would expect to find 80% of the strawberries to be grown on 20% of strawberry plants, for example. This theory also applies to retail sales, where often a small fraction of product offerings accounts for a large percentage of sales. Because of this common disparity, an ABC analysis allows business owners to track which of their products account for the most sales and modify their product offerings accordingly to maximize profitability.

Separating a store’s product offerings into three or more categories allows owners to take a wider view of a business’ inventory and make choices based on an entire category, rather than considering each individual product. This reduces the time necessary to make decisions and frees up time for you to manage your store and help customers.

Improving inventory management can seem like a daunting task, especially for a small business with relatively few employees. Using an ABC analysis is a simple way to ensure inventory management is continually prioritized in your business, so you can make the most of your efforts and resources.


Categorizing Inventory

Items are typically categorized based on their financial success, but there are various criteria to measure this. For example, product segments could be divided based on units sold, total revenue, or contribution margin.

Regardless of which financial measure you choose, all ABC analyses follow a similar framework. Category A items should be defined as high-value or high-demand products that contribute significantly to revenue. Category B items are of moderate value or moderate demand and have a moderate impact on revenue, while Category C items are of low value or low demand and have minimal impact on revenue.


Benefits of ABC Analysis for Retail Stores

If done correctly, conducting an ABC analysis will lead to improved inventory management. Categorizing your business’ product offerings allows you to identify high-value items that the business can lean into. Knowing which products sell the best help a business owner understand what attracts customers to the business and how they can supply these customers with the most value. These high-value items are often the cornerstone of a business and require closer monitoring and strategic management.

Conducting an ABC analysis can help you optimize your resource allocation. More resources should be devoted to your high-value items than on your low-value items. However, each business is different, the solution probably isn’t just to reduce your inventory to your top sellers. Perhaps some customers come to your store because they like the variety of products you offer. In some industries, replacement parts with certain specifications are frequently requested, and there can be dozens of variations. Leaning into the most successful products and offering your customers some level of variety are good practices, and an ABC analysis will help you to strike the right balance in your retail strategy.

Categorizing your inventory will also provide insights to enhance sales forecasting for your business. Paying close attention to past sales data and monitoring changes over time allows business owners to more accurately predict their future sales, helping them avoid frustrating and costly obstacles. If a popular product goes out of stock due to underestimated sales, customers may become frustrated and look elsewhere. Overstock in your store takes up valuable space, distracts customers, and detracts from the shopping experience. Both of these issues can be minimized with insight-driven sales forecasting.

The ultimate purpose of an ABC analysis is to increase profitability for retail stores. Identifying your most profitable products allows you to determine why they are so successful and perhaps implement those strengths to other areas of the business. In some instances, the least profitable products may need to be discontinued. Paying attention to trends and adjusting accordingly will allow you to refine your strategy.


Implementing ABC Analysis in Retail Stores

The first step to implementing an ABC analysis in your business is to gather data. You’ll need to track sales volume, revenue, and inventory levels for each of your products. The easiest way to keep track of all of this is with a robust point-of-sale software that automatically tracks this data. Rain Retail Software’s platform offers these features and more.

Next, you must analyze the data. This step requires insight and involves a variety of factors. While you may bring in more sales revenue from one item than another, if that item costs more to produce, the second item may be more profitable. By accounting for units sold, revenue, profit margin, inventory level, and other factors, you can determine which products are the most profitable, categorize the products, and modify your strategy as a result.

Once you’ve gained some experience with ABC analysis, it may be helpful to you to set policies and procedures for how products will be analyzed and categorized in the future. Perhaps you have a certain threshold of sales a product must achieve to be an A item, or perhaps a low profit margin automatically designates a product as a C-item. This can further improve efficiency of product categorization.

An ABC analysis is a valuable strategy, but it isn’t a one-time solution. Your product categorization will require regular review and adjustment based upon changing market conditions, customer preferences, and inventory performance. We’ve all witnessed certain products surge in popularity, only to be replaced by something else a few months later. Capitalizing on the trends while they last, while adjusting if something goes down in popularity will help you maximize sales and avoid overstock.


ABC Analysis in Practice

Some of the most successful retailers in the world use ABC analysis to manage their inventories. According to, Walmart has made this strategy a standard practice across their thousands of stores. They prioritize high-value A items and devote significant resources to ensure these remain in stock, while keeping lower-value B and C items at lower inventory levels. Other corporations like Amazon, Toyota, and Dell reportedly use this strategy as well.


Now It’s Your Turn

Implementing an ABC analysis at your retail store will require diligent effort and attention to detail. It will require gathering data, analyzing the data, determining the policies you will follow as you implement the system, and regularly reviewing and adjusting your strategy. If this process is executed correctly, it will yield numerous benefits to your business. These include improved inventory management, optimization of resource allocation, enhanced sales forecasts, and of course, increased profitability.

If you own a retail business, an ABC analysis can help you achieve greater success. Rain Retail Software offers a sophisticated point-of-sale software platform that will provide you with the data and tools you need to perform this analysis. Contact us today to see how you can take your store to new heights.

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