Inventory Management for Expiration-Dated Products... Not for the faint of heart

Hi everyone,
I’m looking for some insights on how to manage FBA inventory for products with expiration dates.

For years, we’ve primarily operated with FBM, but we’re looking to make a significant shift towards FBA. However, we are finding it challenging to decide how to handle this.

At first glance, it might seem simple to use different SKUs for each unique expiration date. However, challenges arise due to the complexities of the fulfillment network:
you know it… units can vanish for months or even years, only to reappear suddenly. Eventually, Amazon requests their removal because they’ve expired, or in worse cases, they somehow reach the customer, leading to claims.
So you might be stuck with several SKUs that clog Seller Central indefinitely, and if you have a substantial number of ASINs, it can become quite overwhelming.

There are other drawbacks to adopting this methodology, but I don’t want to bias your responses. I’m eager to hear about your experiences first.
Later, I’ll be happy to expand on that, as well as discuss alternative methods, of which there are only a couple, I believe.

It’s frustrating that Amazon doesn’t follow the FIFO for such critical items, leaving us to figure it all out on our own.

I’d greatly appreciate any insights or tips you can share.

Thank you!

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Where exactly is this written by Amazon? I find it hard to believe that’s true. We’ve shipped hundreds of thousands of units that have a shelf life since 2018 without a single issue.

  • We don’t use different skus by lot
  • We don’t let inventory run out before the next batch is shipped in
  • We do nothing and have no issues

How could the biggest logistics provider on the planet not have a system to manage perishable products? They ask for the exp date of the shipment upon creation. Doubt that’s only being done to ensure that the seller isn’t an idiot.

If Amazon wasn’t managing shelf life on inventory, then there would be a written doable process in place for sellers to use. There would also be TONS of reports on the NSFE of issues.

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So you track by volume? Or how else? :thinking: If you hit an expiry date with inventory at FBA, how do you specify it for recall?

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Personally I change SKUs once a year to avoid any expiration dated issues.

You don’t need to use a unique one for each lot unless they’re very short dated.

Maybe changing SKUs isn’t necessary but I don’t like to rely on Amazon to do things right.

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I should have prefaced that our products are 24-36 months from production so obviously we would never have inventory at Amazon that was that aged. We have launched the occasional bomb here and there and I do keep track of the exp dates on a spreadsheet and have them destroyed at FBA before they get even close to expiring.

With all that said, we have listings that are a few years old so if the inventory wasn’t rotated we would be seeing issues from customer reviews / feedback / getting expired product auto-destruction emails from Amazon. It’s never happened which leads me to believe that there are controls in place.

Again, nowhere on Amazon does it say that they do not make at least an attempt to rotate stock and it’s all on the seller to manage FBA inventory for Amazon for such products.

It’s 2023. Systems for this have been around for 40 years. It’s impossible to fathom that Amazon doesn’t use something to ensure rotation / consumers don’t get expired goods.

It would be nice to know what that is though…

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:sweat_smile: Ah, ok yes, important detail! For some reason I was thinking 6mo and how impossible it would be to be forced to sell out versus tracking to remove/restock.

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6 months would be tough in the category where Amazon mandates a 3 month buffer on top of the servings per container.

In the case of a supplement that had 6 month shelf life and a 2 months supply, it would be expired in Amazon’s eyes after just 30 days.

Example of one of our items:

36 months Shelf Life (verified BTW with real time stability tests that no one does but it’s the law and we do it) - 180 count (180 day supply).

Total Days = 1095
Total Servings = 180
Amazon buffer = 90

That product, if it got to FBA on the day of production (impossible of course) rolls into FBA in the hole by 25% of it’s shelf life value on day 1.

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Usually you use Inventory Management Software like sostocked or some such. You wouldn’t change the SKUs based on expiration.

You would have seperate batch stickers printed and upon creating shipments you would know which inventory was being pulled from which batch. As both your shipment receipt (from manufacturing) and your shipment to FC (Ship out of your warehouse) would be managed through said software.

And whilst true amazon doesn’t have FIFO for non-expired products - I can’t imagine it being the same for products with limited shelf life

In any case that is how scaling works and it helps you manage your batches and therefore expiration and you also know where your product ends up as I believe they have an inventory tracker in sostocked (not 100% sure) but you can reach out to them and find out.

They were bought out by 3colts so dunno if their pricing has changed.

Hope this helps.

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Hi @ASV_Vites, I’m glad to hear that you don’t need to take any special measures to manage your products. That’s very interesting.

Actually, I don’t believe it’s written anywhere that Amazon does not do FIFO. I based my statement on several comments I’ve read from other sellers, some of which seemed to be somewhat anecdotal (for example, they mentioned visiting a fulfillment center where they saw new stock coming in being put on top of the older stock).

It’s also an assumption based on the fact that Amazon ships the unit that is most convenient for them to ship to the customer. This means the unit located in the closest fulfillment center, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the closest-to-expire product in that fulfillment center or that they have a bunch of stock for each expiration date in each fulfillment center.

Additionally, their guidelines mention that they calculate inventory age on a FIFO basis, but it is done at the ASIN level (it refers to all kinds of products, not only perishables).

In their own words:

“We calculate inventory age on a first-in, first-out basis across the entire fulfillment network. Items that are sold or removed are deducted from the inventory that has been in the fulfillment network the longest, regardless of which unit was actually shipped or removed. For example, if an associate picks and ships a unit that arrived in the fulfillment center only recently, we will still deduct that unit from the oldest inventory in stock.”

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I like this idea @GGX ! I haven’t thought about this. Sounds like a good trade-off.
Thank you for sharing

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Bottom line is if you have an item that sells OK, and you manage the inventory well (never keeping more than 120 days at FBA), you should be OK.

I’m one of those people that refuse to except the fact that FBA could be that dumb. Also hoping that exp date items are restocked from the back which would really remove most of the risk and if that was, (not sure if it is), the SOP at FBA in the associate training, then it’s also OK.

Really common practice when restocking pretty much anything in the CPG industry / logistics world.

There is no “restocking from the back.” Your inventory is thrown into 100s of random bins every time you send stuff in.

Your approach sounds interesting but I wonder how you can keep track of the expiration dates and have the items destroyed…
…If you use only one SKU for your products, to me it implies that you can’t actually know if you have units close to expiration (assuming that you are constantly restocking and not discontinuing the ASIN) because that way you are commingling batches.

For example, suppose you send 1000 units to Amazon today that expire on 12/2025.
Of course, you don’t want to run out of stock, so when you have 100 units left, you send a new shipment of 1000 units to the fulfillment center (this new batch expires on 02/2026).

You keep repeating this process tens of times per year, so the low inventory left before each new delivery can accumulate and you may end up with units belonging to the first batch that are close to expiring. This is because:

  1. Amazon ships units to customers based on convenience, meaning the units that are closest to the customer, not the units that are closest to expiring.

  2. Amazon loses or misplaces some units, which may not show up for months or even years.

The key point in what you said, is the fact that in your whole experience, you have never encountered any significant issue.

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Thank you @Tried_Tested
so this would be the approach with different FNSKUs for each batch

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You may be right, that is what I have also read on seller forum.
1 unit just under the roof on the North side.
1 unit at the floor level, South,1 mile away :face_with_monocle:
and so on

no; since the software tracks your inventory - you’re not tracking it through excel and sellercentral like a peasant

Imagine if you were a 8 figure seller; with 50 asins at least - how would you track it all?

Would you then change the SKUs of all 50 items everytime there was a new batch? Unfeasible.

You would need an overlay inventory management system that talks to your inventory, warehouse, and sales platforms.

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I’m talking about launching an item and it not selling out of the gate. It’s a single batch of product with a known date. Clock starts ticking the moment you launch it.

When the time comes to destroy, it all goes in the trash and if you made more than one batch of a dog, then IDK what to say… :laughing:

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You make a lot of assumptions on this forum. You work / worked at FBA? How do you know how they do things?

Please enlighten the group.

If this is correct then it’s obvious that Amazon knows the dates in each location of perishable items and will pick them FIFO as they send associates or robots to go get the inventory for an order through the algorithm.

Sellers must enter the exp date of all perishable goods sent to FBA. That information IS VERIFIED during the receiving process which I know for a fact. You don’t think Amazon uses this data for anything after it’s received? Give me a break.

A lot of people make comments on the FBA operation with ZERO knowledge of the truth. They rely on what they read on Reddit and Amazon forums posted by losers that have no idea what they are doing OR talking about. If you think things are just random at FBA and there are no SOPs or people with best in class logistics experience running the show, then IDK what to say.

Amazon didn’t capture 37.8% of all ecommerce sales in the United States by just “Winging It”…

95% of the issues sellers have with FBA are user error by the seller and I might be light on that number.

We ship well over 150K units a year through FBA and FBA’s receipt rate with us is a factual 99.86%. This has been consistent since 2018.

If you follow the simple rules Amazon lays out, you will have no issues. If you like to indulge in conspiracy theories on what might go on behind closed doors, then have at it. That’s everyone’s right.

Sheesh…

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Alright, know I see the reason why you are able to track the inventory.
It’s a simplified situation, that unfortunately is not like our case, or like the majority of other consumables on the market.
Thank you for sharing your experience!

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I am afraid it doesn’t work like that.
What I mean is that there is no way to track items once they get in the fulfillment network. The only way is by having different FNSKUs, because the barcode on the product is the only thing Amazon scans when moving the units.

So even if you separate batch stickers as you suggested above, but then you have a single FNSKU, you have no control on what unit is moving and where exactly that unit is at a given point in time.

But maybe you meant something different, which I may not have grasped.

Additionally, a couple of weeks ago I received an answer right from SoStocked about this same topic, and they only suggested me to have a into the inventory ledger to try to see if I could find any insights. (which leads me to believe there is not a proper solution to this matter).
I can confidently say there are no insights in the ledger if you don’t separate by FNSKU.

Thank you!