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1. What is dead stock?

What is dead stock? How to prevent unsold inventory

Ecommerce businesses, with their immense catalogs and dynamic product lines, often grapple with the issue of 'dead stock.' This problem, characterized by unsold items gathering dust in warehouses, can cripple your online venture. Dead stock doesn't merely tie up valuable capital but also impedes the introduction of fresh inventory, creating a stale shopping environment that could deter potential customers.

However, there is light at the end of this tunnel. Leveraging smart inventory management strategies and targeted sales methods can prevent the accumulation of dead stock and rejuvenate your existing unsold inventory. 

This article provides actionable solutions to help you eliminate dead stock efficiently.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • Dead stock, or unsold inventory, is a major issue for every online store, tying up capital, consuming storage space, and potentially hindering growth.

  • Common causes of dead inventory include overstocking, changing market trends, poor inventory management, misjudgment of product life cycles, and seasonal fluctuations.

  • The financial implications of dead stock are significant, including tied-up capital, storage costs, depreciation and obsolescence, opportunity costs, and increased handling and disposal costs.

  • Calculate the cost of dead stock by adding direct costs (purchase and storage costs) to indirect costs (opportunity cost and cost of obsolescence) to uncover hidden costs and missed opportunities in inventory management.

  • Strategies such as regular inventory auditing, adopting advanced forecasting techniques, leveraging inventory management software, enhancing supplier communication, and engaging customers help prevent dead stock and optimize inventory turnover.

  • Strategies to get rid of dead stock include dynamic pricing, offering unsold merchandise as gifts, bundling products, and running targeted discount promotions.

  • Print on demand platforms like Gelato offer a powerful solution to eliminate dead stock, providing a sustainable, scalable, and successful way to run an ecommerce business.

What is dead stock?

02_What is dead stock

Also known as obsolete or excess inventory, dead stock refers to products that a business has been unable to sell and, therefore, remain stored in a warehouse or stockroom. The term 'dead stock' is often used because these items can 'weigh down' a business much like a dead weight. They tie up capital, consume storage space, and potentially incur holding costs without generating any revenue in return.

In the case of ecommerce businesses, the dead stock could also be items that have been returned by customers and cannot be resold due to damage or other issues. Regardless of the cause, dead stock is generally considered a liability for a business, and effective strategies need to be in place to minimize its occurrence.

Understanding the causes of dead stock

Overstocked inventory

In ecommerce, several factors can contribute to the accumulation of unsold inventory. Below, we delve into some of the most common causes:


Overstocking is one of the most common causes of dead stock. This occurs when a business purchases or produces more units of a product than it can sell. This can happen due to inaccurate sales forecasting, where businesses overestimate the demand for their products, or due to bulk purchasing, where businesses buy large quantities to avail discounts but fail to sell them.

Changing market trends

In the fast-paced world of ecommerce, market trends can change rapidly. Products in vogue today may lose their appeal tomorrow, leaving businesses with a surplus of items that consumers no longer desire. The inability to keep up with shifting consumer preferences can result in poor sales and a growing pile of dead stock.

Poor inventory management

A lack of a proper inventory management system can lead to dead stock. Without accurately tracking what is selling and what isn’t, businesses can continue to invest in products that aren’t moving. This includes not regularly reviewing sales data or failing to adjust ordering practices based on past sales trends.

Seasonal products

Seasonal products, typically in demand during a specific time of the year, can often become dead stock once their peak season ends. If these products are not sold in time, they are left to sit in warehouses, taking up valuable space and capital until the next season if they remain relevant.

Product life cycle misjudgment

Every product has a lifecycle, which, if not correctly estimated, can lead to dead stock. If businesses fail to phase out or reduce orders for a product nearing the end of its lifecycle, they might be left with an unsellable inventory. This is particularly relevant for technology or fashion items, where new models or styles can quickly render older ones obsolete.

By understanding these common causes, ecommerce businesses can take the necessary steps to prevent the buildup of dead stock and maintain a healthy, revenue-generating inventory.

The financial consequences of dead stock

03_The financial consequences of dead stock

Dead stock poses substantial financial implications for ecommerce businesses. The cost is not merely limited to the purchase price of the unsold goods, but it spirals into multiple other areas that can significantly impact a business's financial health. Let's delve into the various financial consequences of dead stock:

Tied-up capital

Dead stock's most immediate financial impact is the capital tied up in unsold goods. This represents funds that could otherwise have been invested in profitable inventory or business growth opportunities. Instead, the money is essentially frozen, providing no return on investment.

Storage costs

Storage space in warehouses is not free. Dead stock takes up valuable warehouse space that could be used for products that sell faster and generate revenue. For ecommerce businesses that lease warehouse space, this translates into additional holding costs, including rent, utilities, and insurance, all for products that aren't contributing to the bottom line.

Depreciation and obsolescence

Over time, products in stock can lose their value due to depreciation, especially for trend-sensitive or technology-based items. This depreciation is a direct financial loss, as the products can only be sold at discounted prices. In some cases, products can become obsolete, rendering their value zero.

Opportunity costs

The opportunity cost of dead stock is often overlooked but can be significant. These are potential profits a business could have made if it had used the capital tied up in dead stock for other profitable investments. This could include investing in marketing, buying and selling high-demand products, or expanding the business.

Increased handling and disposal costs

Finally, the costs of managing and eventually disposing of dead stock can add up. This includes the labor costs of handling and maintaining these products and potential disposal costs for items that cannot be sold or donated.

How to calculate the cost of dead stock?

Calculator and financial charts

Understanding the costs of dead stock gives businesses the key insight needed to handle their inventories more cost-effectively and efficiently. Here's an easy method to uncover all those hidden costs and missed opportunities.

Calculating the cost of dead stock 

The first step to calculating the cost of dead stock is to understand that it includes both direct and indirect costs.

Direct costs 

Direct costs consist primarily of the purchase cost of the product and the storage costs associated with holding the product in inventory. The formula to calculate direct costs is quite straightforward: 

Purchase cost + Storage cost = Direct Cost

Example: If you paid $20 for a product, and it costs $10 to store it for a year, the direct cost is $30. 

Indirect costs

Indirect costs are a bit trickier to calculate. They include things like the opportunity cost of not being able to invest that tied-up capital elsewhere or the cost of the product becoming obsolete. 

One way to calculate opportunity cost involves determining the profit you could have generated if that tied-up capital was invested in a profitable product. The impact of obsolescence, on the other hand, depends on the speed at which your product loses its value in the market. 

Opportunity Cost + Cost of Obsolescence = Indirect Cost

Let's consider an example: If there is a new, more profitable product you could have invested in which might offer 10% returns, and if your product loses half of its value due to obsolescence, the indirect cost could look something like this: 

($30 10%) - (50% $20) = $3 - $10 = -$7

Adding up both direct and indirect costs gives us the total cost of the dead stock.

Direct Cost + Indirect Cost = Total Cost of Dead Stock

Environmental consequences

The dead stock also has significant environmental consequences. Unsold items often end up in landfills, contributing to waste generation. Manufacturing these goods typically involves using natural resources and energy, leading to unnecessary carbon emissions. Additionally, transporting these items from manufacturers to warehouses and disposal sites generates further greenhouse gasses. For items like electronics and certain clothing materials, their decomposition can also release harmful substances into the environment. Dead stock exacerbates environmental problems, including climate change and pollution, and compromises our planet's sustainability. Therefore, managing dead stock is a financial priority and an environmental responsibility.

Strategies to prevent dead stock

Planning inventory strategy

Let's look at a few actionable strategies that can help you avoid the burden of unsold items and optimize your inventory turnover, thereby enhancing your business potential.

Regular inventory auditing

One of the key steps to preventing dead stock is regular inventory auditing. This means systematically checking your inventory to track the sales pace of each product. Doing so lets you identify slow-moving items early on and adjust your purchasing decisions accordingly. Regular audits using inventory management software also help improve sales forecasts' accuracy, enabling you to match your stock levels more closely with demand.

Adopting advanced forecasting techniques

Foresight is crucial in preventing dead stock. Advanced forecasting techniques, such as using analytics and artificial intelligence, enable you to accurately predict market trends and consumer behavior. This prediction will allow you to tune your stock levels perfectly with demand, reducing the unsold items. 

Leveraging inventory management software

Real-time inventory management software provides a hands-on solution for today's digitized businesses. It provides immediate, round-the-clock updates on your stock levels, helping you make well-informed buying decisions. By monitoring your inventory in real-time, you can minimize the risk of overstocking and understocking, both linked to the dead stock issue. 

Enhancing supplier communication

Developing good supplier relationships provides flexibility in your inventory replenishment. By keeping in touch with your suppliers, you can negotiate better terms and conditions. These terms can allow for a more dynamic inventory that responds to market trends and fluctuations, thus preventing dead stock. 

Engaging your customers

Preventing dead stock isn't just an internal operation. Engaging your customers through surveys and feedback can build strong customer loyalty and help you understand their needs better. Align your product offerings with the current demand by listening to what your customers want. This customer-centric approach will help you mitigate the risk of dead stock.

How to get rid of dead stock

Discount sale sign

Preventing the buildup of dead stock in your ecommerce business involves proactive inventory management strategies and innovative sales tactics. The following strategies can help avoid dead stock:

Dynamic pricing strategies

Implementing dynamic pricing strategies can help prevent the accumulation of dead stock inventory. As an ecommerce business, you can adjust prices based on demand, season, and market trends. If certain products aren't selling well, consider lowering their prices to increase their appeal. You can even create a 'Clearance Sales' section on your website to allow shoppers to find all discounted products in one place. Conversely, if items sell fast, adjust their prices upward to improve profit margins.

Offering unsold merchandise as gifts

Another effective strategy is to offer unsold items as gifts or bonuses when purchasing other products. This not only helps to clear out slow-moving stock but can also encourage customers to make additional purchases. Moreover, it can enhance customer satisfaction by offering them added value for their money.

Bundling products

Product bundling involves selling multiple products together at a discounted price. If you have items that aren't selling well, consider bundling them with more popular products. Customers perceive such bundles as good value, which can help move slower-selling items out of your inventory.

Running targeted discount promotions

Discount promotions can be particularly effective when they're targeted. Using customer data, you can identify groups of customers who may be interested in the items you're trying to sell. You can then offer these customers special discounts, helping to clear dead stock more efficiently.

By implementing these strategies, you can prevent dead stock from piling up in your inventory, ensuring the financial health and sustainability of your ecommerce business.

Eliminating dead stock with print on demand

Print on demand is an order fulfillment method where items are printed only after a customer purchases. In other words, your unique designs are printed on products only when there's a confirmed order. This eliminates the need to hold any inventory, let alone deal with dead stock.

As a leading global print on demand platform, Gelato takes this concept further by providing a locally focused, sustainable approach to order fulfillment. With its vast network spread across 34 countries, Gelato ensures that your creations are produced closest to your customer's location. This not only leads to faster delivery times but also reduces carbon emissions.

Moreover, using a print on demand model like Gelato, you can explore your creative freedom without worrying about minimum order quantities or the fear of unsold products. It allows you to test new designs or products, like t-shirts and wall art, with zero inventory risk. If a particular design doesn't sell, there's no surplus product to worry about. You can simply move on to your next creative masterpiece.

Additionally, Gelato offers a range of flexible pricing options, including a free-to-use base tier and two subscription tiers—Gelato+ and Gelato+ Gold. These subscriptions provide additional benefits such as discounts on shipping, access to premium mockups and fonts, advanced personalization tools, and more, enabling you to scale your business while keeping costs under control.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up for Gelato today.

Dead stock FAQs

Does dead stock mean new?

Dead stock does not necessarily mean new. It refers to inventory that has not been sold and is not likely to be sold in the future, irrespective of its condition or age.

What is included in dead stock?

Dead stock includes any items in your inventory that are unlikely to sell or haven't sold. This could be due to changing trends, overstocking, or obsolescence.

What is another word for dead stock?

Another term for dead stock is "obsolete inventory." It refers to items in a company's stock that have become obsolete due to lack of demand or overstocking.

Should I sell dead stock?

Selling deadstock can help recoup some of the investment made in these items. Techniques such as discounting, bundling, or offering them as gifts can help move these items.

What causes a dead stock?

Dead stock is often caused by overstocking, poor inventory management, changing market trends, misjudgment of product life cycles, or purchasing excess stock of seasonal products.

What is the difference between dead stock and non-moving stock?

The difference between dead and non-moving stocks lies in the likelihood of a sale. Dead stock is unlikely to be sold, whereas non-moving stock simply hasn't sold yet but still has the potential to be sold.

How frequently should inventory audits be conducted to prevent dead stock?

Inventory audits should be conducted regularly to prevent dead stock. For many businesses, a monthly audit can provide a timely overview. However, for sectors dealing with perishable goods such as groceries or fashion, a more frequent schedule, like weekly, may be necessary to ensure proper inventory management and reduce the risk of dead stock.

What is the difference between dead stock and obsolete stock?

While both dead stock and obsolete stock refer to unsold goods, they differ in their potential for sale. Dead stock items, given the right strategies and market conditions, can still be sold to mobilize cash flow. On the other hand, obsolete stock, usually due to extremely low customer demand or outdated technology, loses its potential for sale, calling for disposal or liquidation. 

How to decide when to liquidate dead stock vs. sell it off?

Think about selling your dead stock when the cost of keeping it is higher than the potential sales profits or when the items have no consumer demand or appeal. If items are still of interest in the market and lower prices could entice customers, selling them at a discount could be a good way to recover some of your initial investment and clear some storage space.


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