Sales forecasting is important in maintaining a successful e-commerce business. An accurate forecast helps you budget and plan ahead, but forecasting can be tough. Having an organized approach and tracking certain metrics are critical and can give you a recipe for success.

Sales forecasting is a hard task for most e-commerce shops, but it’s incredibly important. Being able to accurately estimate how much your shop will earn in the next months, quarters or years is critical to creating an e-commerce strategy and growing a successful business.

If you aren’t able to predict the demand your store will experience, how can you be sure you’ll have enough stock? If you overestimate the demand, you’ll be left with a ton of extra products (and lose money from storing it) and if you underestimate, you won’t be able to meet your customer’s demands (and lost money)! How can you avoid problems like this? By learning how to accurately forecast your sales and inventory.

Sales forecasting and why it matters

Sales forecasting is simply the act of estimating the amount of sales you expect in the future. This can be broken down more specifically into forecasting for the next month, the next quarter, or the next year.

It’s often a best practice to forecast monthly and then aggregate your forecast into quarters and then into years. The more detailed you can be when you’re forecasting, the better because it’s easy to closely track your progress and update your forecast as things change.

Sales forecasts are often used in inventory management and budget planning, which is why they’re so important. Running an e-commerce store comes with quite a bit of uncertainty because it can be heavily affected by seasonal products. Checking your visitors’ search history can help you identify which seasons are great for your business and which are a bit slower. By knowing this, you can accurately plan your inventory.

In order to keep your store in the black year-round, you need to carefully plan, but without being able to accurately estimate your income or inventory, this task can seem nearly impossible. That’s where sales forecasting can help.

E-commerce stores often make money seasonally and some seasons are much more lucrative. Without knowing how much you can expect in each season, you can’t accurately plan your yearly budget and might run out of money in a slow season. If that doesn’t convince you it’s important, I don’t know what will.

What to track when forecasting sales

There are quite a few ways to format your forecast and different metrics to track, but we will cover the most comprehensive (and simplest) way. Of course, if you’re just about to open an e-commerce shop or your store is brand new, you won’t have data to work from, but you can try to check your competitors’ information and estimate a forecast or benchmark where you think you should be.

Table 1. Sales forecasting

 

Channel 1

Channel 2 (optional)

Channel 3 (optional)

Number of products sold (monthly)

 

 

 

Average number of products in cart (monthly)

   

 

Average number of visitors (monthly)

   

 

Number of customers who complete a purchase (monthly)

   

 

Percentage of sales from new customers (monthly)

   

 

Percentage of sales from repeat customers (monthly)

   

 

Monthly revenue

 

--

--

Monthly cost of all goods sold

 

--

--

Monthly gross margin

 

--

--

Source: Author’s own work

Before you can begin actually forecasting, you have to define your forecast period. You can plan most effectively if you forecast 12 months in advance – however, the smaller the time interval you forecast, the more accurate it will be. Additionally, when making your forecast, think about all the channels you sell products on and break your metrics down this way – this will also improve accuracy.

If you have an online store, but your products are also re-sold by others, make sure to note this down and differentiate your forecasts. It’s easiest to make your forecast on an Excel spreadsheet.

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