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What is demand forecasting? Definition, benefits and tips

demand forecasting for an ecommerce business

Every business owner wishes they could predict the future. And while it would be nice to know exactly what’s on the horizon for the needs and wellbeing of your business, there is a way you can get pretty close: enter demand forecasting.

The primary role of demand forecasting is to make sure you meet customer demand, but it does so much more than that—it helps you allocate resources wisely, assess your business's resilience and devise strategic approaches to grab a bigger slice of the market.

In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about demand forecasting, including what it is, the different methods and why it's crucial for your business. Let's dive in.

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What is demand forecasting?

Demand forecasting is the practice of optimizing business operations and resources through predicting future demand. The process uses data analysis to predict the demand for your product or service in the coming weeks, months or even years. It doesn’t rely on guesswork; it's about using historical sales data, market trends and other factors to make educated estimates.

For example, let's say you plan to open a coffee shop. Demand forecasting would consider things like the time of day when most people buy coffee, whether there are any special events or seasons that affect coffee sales (like cold brew in the summer), and how your competitors are doing.

Doing this ensures you order the right amount of coffee beans, cups and pastries so that you're not wasting money on excess inventory or disappointing customers by running out.

Pro tip: You can manage product inventory from the “Store Products” menu in your Wix website dashboard.

managing inventory from website

How demand forecasting benefits your business

Demand forecasting is a valuable tool for businesses of all sizes and from all industries. Whether you're just getting ready to start a business or you're looking for ways to grow, demand forecasting improves operational efficiency, enhances customer satisfaction, reduces costs and provides a strategic advantage in a competitive marketplace. Some key benefits include:

  • Optimized inventory management: Accurate demand forecasting helps you maintain optimal inventory levels. You'll have enough products to meet customer demand without overstocking, which ties up capital and storage space, or understocking, which can lead to missed sales opportunities.

  • Cost savings: By having the right amount of inventory on hand, you can reduce storage costs and minimize the risk of products becoming obsolete or spoiling. You also won't tie up excess cash in unsold inventory, making more capital available for other business needs. This can lead to significant cost savings over time.

  • Better customer service: Meeting consumer demands quickly improves your reputation and customer satisfaction. You won't have potential buyers stuck waiting for products to be restocked or dealing with shortages, which can result in lost sales and unhappy customers.

  • Efficient production and supply chain: Forecasting helps streamline your production and supply chain operations. Manufacturers can schedule production more efficiently, reducing idle time and production costs. This also helps optimize supply chains to deliver products wherever and whenever needed.

  • Better-informed marketing and sales: With accurate forecasts, you can tailor your sales and marketing efforts more effectively. You can plan promotions and campaigns around expected demand, improving the return on marketing investments.

  • Reduced risk: Forecasting allows you to anticipate market changes and disruptions. You can prepare for seasonal fluctuations, industry trends and potential economic downturns, reducing your business's vulnerability to unexpected events.

  • Better strategic planning: Long-term demand forecasting provides insights into future market trends and customer preferences, allowing you to make informed decisions about product development, market expansion and overall business strategy.

  • Improved resource allocation: You can allocate resources, such as personnel and equipment, more efficiently when you have a clear understanding of future demand. This helps in optimizing resource usage and avoiding unnecessary expenses.

  • Competitive advantage: If your business excels in demand forecasting, you’ll gain a competitive edge. You can respond faster to changing market conditions, offer better customer service and make data-driven decisions that outperform competitors who lack this capability.

6 types of demand forecasting

There are several types of demand forecasting methods. The best approach often combines multiple methods to get a well-rounded view of future demand. The key is to adapt your forecasting techniques to your business's specific needs and market characteristics.

  1. Passive demand forecasting

  2. Active demand forecasting

  3. Micro demand forecasting

  4. Macro demand forecasting

  5. Short-term demand forecasting

  6. Long-term demand forecasting

01. Passive demand forecasting

This method relies heavily on historical data and automated processes. Passive demand forecasting looks at past sales, seasonality and trends to predict future demand based on what has happened before. Passive forecasting is suitable for businesses with stable sales patterns and those operating in relatively predictable markets. However, it may not work well for businesses in rapidly changing or highly competitive industries.

02. Active demand forecasting

With active forecasting, you take a more hands-on approach. You don't just rely on historical data; you use your expertise and insights to make predictions. Think of yourself as a detective, gathering information from various sources, including market research, customer feedback and industry trends. Active forecasting is crucial for startups and businesses in dynamic markets where relying solely on past data isn't sufficient to predict future trends accurately.

03. Micro demand forecasting

This approach zooms in on your business's specific data while using your internal compass to navigate your business's path. You analyze your historical sales, financial metrics and input from your sales team to predict demand for specific products or services. Micro-level forecasting is valuable for fine-tuning product inventory, optimizing pricing and aligning resources with your business's unique needs.

04. Macro demand forecasting

Macro-level forecasting looks beyond your business and considers broader factors that affect your industry and market. It examines the overall economic climate, industry trends and competitors' strategies. This type of forecasting helps you make informed decisions about market expansion, risk assessment and strategic positioning.

05. Short-term demand forecasting

Short-term forecasting focuses on predicting demand in the near future, typically within the next few months to a year. This method is essential for managing day-to-day operations, optimizing inventory levels and responding to short-term market fluctuations.

06. Long-term demand forecasting

Long-term forecasting extends your predictions several years into the future. While these forecasts are less precise due to uncertainties over an extended time period, they help in strategic planning. View it as building a roadmap for your business, considering different scenarios and possibilities. Long-term forecasts guide decisions about expansions, product development and overall business strategies.

See more: How to create a website with Wix.

forecasting demand in an ecommerce business

How to forecast demand

Now that you understand demand forecasting and why it's so important for your business, it's time to choose one of the methods above and get to work. Here are some tips for getting started.

Define your goals

Start by clearly defining what you want to achieve with your forecasts. Beyond wanting a better pulse on your inventory—are you looking to invest in research and development, plan ahead for your marketing campaigns or expand to another brick-and-mortar location? Knowing your objectives will guide the forecasting process.

Be specific about your objectives. For example, if you're a new business, your goal might be to estimate demand for the first year or identify peak sales periods for inventory planning.

Gather data

Even if you have limited sales history, gather any data you have. Even a few months' worth can be valuable. The data you gather could include past sales records, customer information and any relevant market data.

If you're a new business with limited sales history, market research is essential. Understand your target audience, their preferences and buying behaviors, and rely more on industry benchmarks as your starting data. Some level of relative data is always better than none.

If you’re a Wix user, an easy way to start gathering data is by keeping an eye on your analytics. For example, store owners can use various Wix Stores reports like “Slow-moving Inventory,” “Most Abandoned Products” or “Conversion by Product” to start shaping an accurate picture of their sales data. Meanwhile, Wix Restaurant reports can show you things like “Restaurant Conversion Funnel,” “Popular Dishes” and “Popular Order Times.”

Set the time horizon

Determine the period you want to forecast for. This could be short-term (weeks or months) or long-term (years). Your choice will depend on your business goals and the nature of your products or services. For example, in the short-term, it may be more important to focus on inventory management, while overall strategic planning is more of a long-term goal.

Build and test the model

If you're using quantitative methods, start with simple models. Test their accuracy using the available historical data. Then, adjust the parameters or the model as needed to improve accuracy.

A few examples of quantitative demand forecasting include the following:

  • Exponential smoothing: This uses weighted averages of past data to forecast future demand. It gives more importance to recent values, while the importance of older values gets exponentially smaller the farther you go back in time. Because it places more importance on recent data, it’s a useful method for newer businesses.

  • Naïve method: This is a straightforward approach to demand forecasting that assumes your business will perform in the future the way it has performed in the past. It is known for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness—however, it assumes that history will repeat itself, which may not always be the case.

  • Seasonal indexing: This method predicts changes in demand for a product or service throughout the year, influenced by seasonal factors like weather, holidays or events. This can be particularly useful if a certain season is either difficult or prosperous for your business, so you can adequately prepare ahead of time.

Validate, monitor and adjust

Demand forecasting is an ongoing process. Continuously monitor your actual sales against your forecast and adjust your predictions as necessary. This step helps you refine your forecasting process and improve accuracy over time. Be flexible and ready to adapt to changing market conditions.

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Factors that impact demand forecasting

When it comes to effective demand forecasting, you need to take into account various external and internal factors. Factors specifically relevant to you will depend on what type of business you operate, the size and location of your market, and current market trends or conditions. It's a dynamic process that adapts to changing circumstances, giving accurate insights into future demand.

Here are some key factors to consider when demand forecasting:

  • Seasonality: Seasonal patterns play a big role in demand forecasting. Holidays, weather changes, school schedules and cultural events can all affect when and how much customers buy. Recognizing and accounting for these patterns is crucial, especially for industries like retail and hospitality.

  • Consumer trends: Changing consumer preferences and trends can dramatically impact demand. For instance, shifts in health consciousness might boost the demand for organic foods or plant-based products.

  • Economic conditions: Economic factors such as inflation, unemployment and gross domestic product (GDP) growth will undoubtedly influence consumer spending. During economic downturns, people may cut back on discretionary spending, while during prosperous times, they might indulge more. In such situations, economic indicators help forecast demand and minimize some common small business challenges.

  • Competitive landscape: What your competitors do can affect your demand. Price changes, marketing strategies, product launches or innovations by competitors can shift market dynamics and alter customer preferences. Monitor your competitive environment to stay ahead.

  • Platform variances: Overall demand for your product can vary from platform to platform. For example, something that takes off on Amazon may not sell well on eBay. Pricing wars on certain marketplaces can also impact demand.

  • External events: Unpredictable external events, like natural disasters, political instability or global health crises (like the COVID-19 pandemic) can have sudden and profound effects on demand. Being prepared for these disruptions is essential for business continuity.

  • Marketing and promotions: The timing and effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and promotional offers can create fluctuations in demand. Make sure to properly coordinate these activities with your forecast to optimize their impact.

  • Product lifecycle: Where a product is in its lifecycle can affect demand. New products often experience a surge in demand, followed by a tapering as they mature. Understanding this cycle is crucial for managing inventory turnover.

  • Supply chain constraints: Challenges within your supply chain, like delays in shipping or shortages of key materials, can disrupt your ability to meet demand. Monitoring and addressing supply chain issues is essential for accurate forecasting.

  • Government regulations: Changes in regulations or policies can impact demand. For example, new environmental regulations might increase the demand for eco-friendly products.

  • Technological advances: Advances in technology can create new opportunities and drive demand for innovative products or services. Keeping an eye on tech trends is important for small business owners in industries where technology is rapidly evolving.

  • Demographics: The characteristics of your target audience, such as age, income and location, can influence demand. Understanding your customer demographics helps tailor your forecasting to their needs.

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