Imagine a typical day in the life of a retail business person. Every morning, they travel to their storefront, check the inventory, and prepare the shop to welcome customers. Once a customer comes by, they personally assist the shopper and settle the payment.
Now, imagine your life as an eCommerce business owner.
It’s 12 a.m., and while you are asleep, a curious shopper is already browsing your product catalog. They find a perfect pair of shoes but aren’t sure if they’ll be delivered to their location.
Thankfully, they find a chatbot in the nook of your website that resolves the query in seconds. They go through the checkout, find the estimated delivery date, and settle payment automatically using eWallet. And finally, they receive an order confirmation notification right after purchase. And happily, they drift off to sleep.
Seems simple, right? All you had to do was set a pre-programmed set of commands or use automated software to direct the entire customer journey. And voila, you have a streamlined workflow that functions in the backend to assist them. Meanwhile, you can pay attention to business areas dealing with growth and supply chain efficiency.
This article discusses eCommerce automation and the different ways it can help you create an optimized, customer-retaining business flow.
eCommerce Automation: Overview
eCommerce automation is the usage of technology to self-regulate certain repetitive tasks. In other words, it’s handling work that’s complex or repeatable automatically using technologies. This reduces reliance on manual processes such as manually inputting data, checking order statuses, and physically monitoring fulfillment.
A number of technologies are used to target these different eCommerce tasks. Such as Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing, Process Mining, Process Intelligence, Collaborative Robots, Computer Vision, and the Internet of Things (IoT) etc.
Automation is symptomatic of intelligent task execution. Using automated processes, businesses can segregate time-consuming work. Alternatively, they can relegate work that requires constant manual supervision and channel technology to run them mechanically. Some of these areas include marketing campaigns and lead-generation activities.
How Does eCommerce Automation Work?
Every automated workflow has three basic components that make up its framework. The first requirement is to set triggers for specific customer actions. The automated technology will spring into action when it identifies a certain task or query that has been generated by the user.
The second requirement is to identify conditions that correspond to the action. When a certain condition has been fulfilled, automation takes charge. For example, a customer who has yet to complete a transaction after 24 hours can receive a reminder email via automation.
The final component of the automated workflow is to prepare a pre-programmed response. This involves creating a seamless path that the automated program can take. For example, scanning barcodes of products to automatically store data, alerting businesses when inventory runs low, etc.
Given these processes, the best way to automate your business is to use automated software that converts manual tasks into mechanical processes. This software (often operating as SaaS models) effortlessly simplifies business processes like customer segmentation, carrier allocation, sending customer notifications, and order tracking.
5 Benefits of eCommerce Automation
1) Expedite repetitive work to save time and costs
Automation can save at least 4 hours in a workday doing manual work that would otherwise have to be done manually. Compare this to results such as 60 hours per week of work done by small business owners. It means automation can save 28 hours that can be dedicated to areas improving operational efficiency and business growth.
2) Enhance business interactions
Onboarding and interacting with both employees and vendors becomes a smooth uncomplicated process with automation. How? Vendors can work consistently when the system automatically places purchase orders with them or shares invoices. Similarly, an easy signup process reduces the hassles of a customer wanting to create an account with the brand.
3) Reduce errors and detect anomalies instantly
Removing human-made errors is one of the most interesting benefits of using automation. It takes over repetitive tasks, reducing drudgery and any oversights involved in the process. According to Gartner, a globally renowned consulting firm, automation can save the finance department 25,000 hours of redoing work in finding and solving errors.
More than this, automation can control the security aspect of the business and can detect anomalies as and when they occur. This protects your business from cyber threats.
4) Lower costs associated with business
About half of the IT departments of businesses deploying automation say that it can save 10% to 50% of costs in processing orders, forecasting sales, invoicing, and managing inventory. According to Gartner again, automation can save 878,000 USD recovered from detecting and solving errors.
5) Boost work efficiency and team productivity
Automation fosters and increases team productivity and enhances inter-team collaboration. Using automated communication software like Slack can especially improve inter-team communication. Apps like Trello can optimize collaborations for cross-team efforts.
Top 7 Areas in eCommerce You Can Automate
Now that we have an understanding of how eCommerce automation works and the benefits your business receives from it, let’s see the different areas of eCommerce you can employ automation:
1) Order Management
Order processing and management is the first step in fulfilling orders and getting your products ready to be shipped. Automating this process is central to achieving accurate order fulfillment and on-time, in-full deliveries. In other words, automated order management is digitally managing the lifecycle of an order.
1.1) Order processing:
Automatically confirm customer orders once inventory availability is checked and customer details and payment is received. Send the details of the orders, such as SKU number, quantities, packaging requirements, and the shipping label, to the warehouse. Warehouses can then fulfill orders as soon as they are registered.
1.2) Abandoned Cart Emails:
An incomplete checkout phase, if left alone, can mean an abandoned cart. Without automation, it would be hard to keep track of everything. You can monitor these instances and communicate with customers via scheduled email reminders using an automated system.
1.3) Order Confirmation Messages:
A good way to initiate an excellent post-purchase experience is through order confirmation. Autoresponders are an automated method that sends personalized notifications informing customers that orders have been successfully placed.
2) Inventory Management
One of the major letdowns in the customer purchasing journey is the message ‘out of stock’ once they’ve made the purchase. It not only drives customer frustration but also lowers their revisit rate. This nightmarish situation can be avoided if you automate inventory management.
Deploying automation can help you manage stock levels across multiple warehouses and sales channels. Here are two ways you can automate inventory management:
2.1) Track and count Inventory:
Keep track of inventory counts in real time across all your warehouses and sales channels. Automatically update them in your POS (Point of Sale) software to get visibility of stocks that have been purchased.
Automated inventory management software can regulate re-orders and re-purchasing cycles for businesses. It can keep a database of your vendors and suppliers so that it can trigger an alert for you when stock is running low, and you can immediately place an order with them.
3) Shipping and Delivery
Shipping and delivery can be heavily automated since they constitute the most repetitive form of tasks. More than that, automating shipping can result in better logistics results, lowered shipping costs, and streamlined fulfillment operations. Here are a couple of things you can do with automation to improve the shipping side of your business:
3.1) Estimated Delivery Date (EDD):
9 out of 10 customers expect an estimated delivery date (sometimes even time) before they go through a purchase. Displaying EDD enhances your chances of retaining customers in the future. Instead of manually visiting your carrier partners to gather EDDs for every order, you can automate the process using shipping software.
Enhanced versions of EDD tools can also involve data science calculations that predict accurate delivery times instead of the maximum date of order arrival. This further adds to your customers’ satisfaction scores.
3.2) Shipping and return labels:
Generating shipping and return labels is critical to the shipping commencement process. However, it's undeniably very time-consuming.
This is why a pre-programmed API can come in handy that retrieves the shipping labels from carriers during the order manifestation process. Doing so can significantly improve warehouse operations and order fulfillment time.
3.3) Order tracking and notifications:
Without proper order tracking and notification tools, your customer service can be inundated by ‘Where is my order’ calls. However, with automation, you can avoid situations of extreme customer frustration. How?
First of all, you can integrate with shipping software with robust API infrastructure that extricates order status from carriers in real time.
Secondly, you can inform your customers using a branded tracking portal that gives them visibility of their orders. At the same time, you can send them notifications to form a post-purchase mode of communication.
3.5) Self-serve returns portal:
Returns are sometimes a recurring issue for many retailers, given that 20-30% of all orders are returned to the brand during any given year. Return is already a negative customer experience. So, it's best to avoid a lengthy to-and-fro email with them to finalize the product return.
You can transform this frustrating experience into an easy process with an automated self-served returns portal. Usually, this portal can be integrated with your return policy and engineered to approve or reject return requests automatically.
4) Marketing Campaigns
You need to bring your A-game to stay on top of your marketing game, which is usually time-sensitive to what’s trending in the search results. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible when crafting, distributing, and analyzing campaigns manually. This is where marketing automation comes into the picture. Here are a couple of things you can automate:
4.1) Newsletters and emails:
According to HubSpot, 33% of marketers follow a weekly email delivery schedule, and about 26% send multiple emails monthly. On a subscription list with thousands of readers, sending emails manually becomes nearly impossible. Using in-built templates and scheduling emails to be sent in bulk can simplify and optimize the process.
Moreover, newsletter smart lists can categorize and group customers based on a number of metrics such as order status, purchase history, etc. Doing so can ease your process of demarcating customers for specific targeted campaigns.
4.2) Back-in-stock notifications:
Stock-out situations are scary reminders of lost customers. This is why you would want to inform them promptly of new arrivals and restocked goods before they look for a competitor.
Using an automated email management system can immediately trigger an email response to customers keeping the product on their wishlist or subscribed to a waiting list. All you have to give it is a pre-formed template and SKU number.
4.3) Scheduled social media posts:
Social media marketing requires constant engagement to ward off the possibility of your content being lost in a sea of images and text. This is why automatic scheduling tools can be the most efficient way to upload pre-loaded posts at regular intervals. Using such services is the most potent method of maximizing results with minimal effort.
5) Customer Service
One of the driving factors of customer loyalty is an outstanding customer service experience that values their time, efforts, and opinion. For a long time, customer service had solely relied on human agents. However, as the brand scales, it becomes vital to have a constant support channel. Automation can streamline customer support communication at a mass level.
5.1) Website chatbots:
Market research indicates that 58% of B2B companies use website chatbots to facilitate synchronous customer communications. The best uses of chatbots are quick replies to queries that give instant support to potential shoppers and increase their purchasing intent. Chatbots are known to generate high-quality leads.
5.2) Asynchronous Whatsapp Messaging:
WhatsApp Business APIs are a game changer in the customer service app sector for asynchronous and synchronous communication. With tools like quick replies, canned responses, and list messages, businesses can quickly and in real-time interact with customers.
WhatsApp Business API leverages natural language processing to create an intelligent bot that takes over customer service communications.
6) Business operations
Automation has a role in the overall processes of business and team management. Such areas include streamlining people-oriented processes like payroll and time-off requests. Here are a couple of areas where you can introduce automation:
Onboarding is an administrative area that can be partly automated and give the HR personnel more time to interact with the new employees. These include pre-programming profile creation, setting up a welcome email, and scheduling prior meetings.
6.2) Revenue and Expense tracking:
Automating the cost-tracking aspect of the business can drastically reduce errors while presenting real-time visibility. The areas where expenses can be tracked are shipping rates, fulfillment costs, insurance, and marketplace fees.
Your product prices can fluctuate due to market conditions and competitors’ changes in their pricing. This is why it pays to be vigilant and make immediate adjustments to your product pricing. This can be done in a number of ways.
One, you can use algorithms and rule-based automation to set prices when there is a general hike or dip. Two, you can use a price manager to maintain prices optimally across all sales channels.
7) Payments and Accounting
Accounting, perhaps, is one of the most intensive areas requiring manual day-to-day work. However, with technologies like ML propelling the accounting automation segment, it’s possible to mechanize certain parts of it. Here are two such areas:
7.1) Automatic payment processing:
Cloud-based accounting software can help you replace your general ledger to transfer data and store transaction details seamlessly. Some accounting software can completely automate the data-entry process. It can then streamline the on-time payment to vendors and track invoices.
7.2) Month-End Financial Settlements:
An essential but stressful accounting task of estimating the expenses and revenue at the month’s end, including settling pending accounts. Automation can optimize this process with data accuracy and settle outstanding balances after detecting them.
The Best eCommerce Automation Tool: ClickPost
ClickPost is a multi-carrier shipping solution that strengthens the logistics side of the business with its automation caliber. ClickPost has a robust infrastructure of APIs that moderates and completes repetitive tasks, saving you both business hours and costs. These include-
- Automated order manifestations and shipping label generation.
- ML-based carrier recommendation engine which is a smart way to allocate carriers based on custom business priorities.
- Push and Pull APIs for real-time order tracking and notification delivery via multiple channels such as WhatsApp, SMS, emails, etc.
- Data-science-backed automatic EDD calculation and real-time serviceability data for product pages and checkouts.
- Self-service returns management portal and automatic COD (cash on delivery) to prepaid conversion.
Automation has become a central force in the everyday processes of any eCommerce business. Be it for customer service or shipping automation has use cases in every major aspect of running your online store. This article has elaborated on the use cases that automation offers. We hope that it will help you generate better insights on how to implement the same in your business.
1) What is eCommerce automation software?
Automation software is a program that contains the code required to integrate automated processes in your eCommerce business. Most of this software targets a specific area of business. Some optimize the customer service arena, some handle fulfillment and inventory management, and others are useful in shipping and accounting.
2) What are some of the popular eCommerce automation software?
Here are some of the popular automation software based on its expertise. For shipping, it’s ClickPost, for customer service optimization, it’s Zendesk, for email marketing, it's Mailchimp, for content management, it’s HubSpot.