Automation and eCommerce
Automation isn’t a dirty word. At first thought, the term might bring to mind your subpar experiences with automated customer service menus. But, when used well, there is so much beauty in automation. In fact, automation and ecommerce go hand-in hand.
Without innovative tools that enable automation, it would be nearly impossible for people to build scalable ecommerce brands. So how can automation help your ecommerce business, and what should you automate next? Read on to learn key principles and advice for automating every area of your online business.
Principles and Advice for Automation
1. Systemize the predictable.
Look for repetition. What are the repetitive tasks in your business? Create a list of items that fit this category, whether the tasks repeat daily, weekly, monthly, or even annually. Prioritize the most expensive and time-consuming tasks. Using this list, look for automated solutions that can perform those tasks as well or better than your current solution.
Both menial and intricate tasks can be automated, at least to a point. Sorting and replying to emails, for example, can largely be automated – and can vastly improve your customer response time.
2. Opt for simplicity and repeatability.
Automation should favor simplicity over complication. The more complicated a system is, the more vulnerable it is to breaking down.
3. Centralize information.
In the interest of simplicity, fewer systems are better than many. Where possible, choose automation tools that take over an entire portion of your operations instead of just one task. For example, a great customer relationship management (CRM) software can become a central location for inventory management, customer management, order management, and returns management as well as various aspects of reporting.
4. Implement AI and machine learning.
By collecting your business metrics, you can convert them into data points which can be given to artificial intelligence engines. The AI can then optimize those data points to help you further create efficiencies in your business.
5. When you can’t automate, create repeatable processes.
When full automation isn’t possible, create standard operating procedures (SOPs) to create further efficiency and make processes easy to repeat.
For example, in customer service, canned email templates can be created in Gmail to answer almost every type of customer inquiry. Instead of having every Customer Service Representative spend countless hours writing the same email responses over and over, they can simply copy & paste a reply and then personalize it. Simple solutions like these are an easy way to cut hours of repetitive tasks and free up precious resources.
For more advanced processes, record your screen and audio of you explaining what you’re doing by using a tool like Loom while you’re performing a task. A virtual assistant or team member can use the video to break it down into a step-by-step written procedure for others to repeat.
What can you automate in your ecommerce business?
Read on for examples of opportunities for automation in your ecommerce business. While the list below is not exhaustive, it includes various ways to create efficiency in your company while improving your customers’ experience of your brand as well as your bottom line.
Some ecommerce niches are heavily targeted for fraudulent activity. Verifying that your customers are who they say they are – and ensuring that their addresses are valid – is an important step in the sales process for many ecommerce companies. This can often be completely automated through your payment gateway, such as PayPal or Authorize.net. This will allow your inventory manager to focus on personally verifying only the orders that have been flagged for further verification.
Billing & invoicing
When a customer orders from your e-commerce shop, their pending payment should merely be an authorization. Once an order is shipped out, the authorization can be turned into a billed payment. With the right fulfillment software, this step can be automated so that no human resources are involved.
Inventory Management & Order Fulfillment
Setting up and managing products in your inventory can be a painstakingly long process if you have a consistent flow of new products – or if you constantly update your pricing to match competitors. Much of this process can be automated by utilizing CSV imports to add or update product data within your inventory management system.
For small business owners, managing orders manually can take up so much time that it may cause a delay in shipping – especially if your business uses multiple sales channels. By integrating your sales channels with a multichannel ecommerce fulfillment company, your orders can be seamlessly processed, picked, packed, and shipped on time every time.
Your order management system should also automatically send post-purchase communications to customers. This sequence should include:
- Order confirmation email
- Backorder notification email (when applicable)
- Shipment confirmation with tracking information
Many ecommerce brands miss a great opportunity to create a stellar customer experience post-purchase. In addition to the three email types listed above, consider automating these emails:
- Check in with your customers to ask how they liked their products, and remind them how they can reach your customer service team with any questions or concerns. This proactive approach shows customers you really care about their experience.
- Ask customers to leave a review of their experience on your social media channels or review services such as TrustPilot.
- Offer customers an incentive on their next order to encourage them to purchase from your e-commerce shop again.
Shipping & Fulfillment
If you or your team members are still making trips to the post office, consider outsourcing the entire process to a third-party logistics company such as ShipMonk. Allowing a team of experts to automate and manage this aspect of your business can save you money while empowering you to focus on product creation, sales, and marketing.
Great fulfillment partners like ShipMonk utilize highly-efficient software that can automate the decision of which shipping method to choose, saving you money on each shipped order. Even better, when working with a 3PL that ships packages at scale, your business can benefit from heavily discounted shipping rates.
While it’s not appropriate to automate 100% of your customer service emails, automation can be used to create a better user experience. For example, when a customer sends an email to your business, they can receive an automatic reply confirming that their email inquiry has been received and will be responded to. This can make customers feel taken care of, even though they haven’t received a full resolution to their inquiry.
One way to foster good customer communication is to include some answers to your most frequently asked questions inside the automated email. For example, your automated reply could say:
“Thanks for your email! We have received your inquiry and will reply within the next 24-48 hours. If your question is in regard to order delivery, you may view your order status at any time by clicking here and inputting your order number.”
Operations, Data & Technology
Backing up files is vital precaution, but it doesn’t necessarily need to involve any human resources. Set up a cloud-based backup such as DropBox and schedule automatic backups to ensure your website updates are never lost.
Using a tool like Google Analytics, it’s easy to set up an automatic report that can be sent to you weekly. This will save your team time and help avoid the inevitable distractions that come along with logging into a new tool.
Tools like Gusto can automate payroll so your employees are paid on time without the need for your HR department to take time out of their day.
Apps like Concur take the hassle out of expense reporting by automatically categorizing and mapping expenses based on receipt images. It’s a beautiful thing when technology takes the pain and monotony out of doing business, and no busy ecommerce CEO wants to spend precious time creating expense reports.
Marketing & Re-marketing
Once you know your orders are shipping reliably and your customers are being served well, you can begin to put more pressure on marketing to ramp up sales.
One way to automate your marketing efforts is to utilize ads (such as Facebook ads, Google ads, or YouTube ads). With some experimentation and dedication in the beginning, proven high-performing ads can essentially be set to automatic, then increased and monitored. However, it’s vital to have a high level of confidence in an ad set before drastically increasing your ad spend on a specific campaign. For example, when creating a campaign to sell a specific product, it’s best to create multiple variations and test each variable. Once the highest-performing ad is determined, the ad spend can be increased and tested for a longer period of time. If the cost per acquisition is clear and reliable, you’ll be able to create more sales with high precision.
Abandoned cart emails
When shoppers abandon their cart after inputting their email address or while logged into their account, you can encourage them to complete their purchase by sending automatic reminder emails. A simple follow-up sequence can boost your sales significantly. We’ve seen clients add hundreds of thousands of dollars per month to their bottom line by implementing an automatic abandoned cart sequence.
Beyond direct sales, ads can also be highly useful in collecting email addresses of ideal customers. After collecting contact information, new leads can be segmented depending on the reason they opted-in to receive email communications from your brand. Using these email list segments to create targeted campaigns will allow your company to remarket to leads and nurture them into a sale. For example, if a shopper has opted to receive a discount code but doesn’t utilize it, you can create further email sequences to send better offers to that shopper until they become a customer.
While you don’t necessarily want to completely automate social media for your brand, content management systems such as HootSuite can allow your business to aggregate and schedule content with ease.
What will you automate in your business?
Remember: The human element is still highly important to your company’s ability to retain happy customers and create loyal brand advocates. First, automate the parts of your business that will improve your customer’s experience, such as speed and efficiency of receiving their orders. Next, automate proven processes for sales and marketing to increase your volume of orders. When it comes to customer service, you’ll always want to keep the human touch in the process in order to delight your customers and humanize your brand.
What will you automate next in your business? Tell us in the comments! We’d also love to hear about your favorite tools and tips for automation and ecommerce.