Business growth is exciting - after all the time spent on product development, marketing, and promotion, it’s incredibly rewarding to see your Shopify store’s sales tick up and more packages leaving your warehouse. As this happens, you and your team start to take on more and more tasks day-to-day to accommodate more sales. Those tasks scale up, and suddenly start to take up more time than you’d budgeted for. However they’re all invaluable to the running of your store, so how do you manage these whilst also finding the time to develop your business further?
If you’re looking to improve efficiency and free up your team’s time, then ecommerce automation is here to help. There are many ways you can automate your Shopify store, from marketing to order fulfillment to sales. Knowing exactly what ecommerce automation is all about, and where in your business it can add value is the first step.
What is ecommerce automation?
In a nutshell, ecommerce automation is software that takes tasks within your business and turns them into processes that execute when triggered by specified actions. By automating different aspects of your ecommerce business, you free up your team’s valuable time so that they can focus on higher-level tasks such as product development, working out ways to improve the customer experience, and marketing. Some simple examples of automation include:
- Welcome Email workflows for email marketing - a series of emails is sent, triggered by a new subscriber joining a mailing list
- Customer Service chatbots - the bot replies with different information triggered by the customer’s enquiry
- Shipping labels - When a sale is made, a shipping label is automatically populated with the order information
Automation can cover all different areas of your store, and can be as simple or as complex as required. You can automate a multitude of different tasks from marketing, to sales, to fulfillment, and inventory management.
Why should I automate my Shopify store?
Save your team's valuable time
A great way to convince yourself of how much your store needs automation is to speak to your team and calculate just how much time they spend on manual tasks and processes that have existing automations. By automating many of the manual tasks they currently have on their plates, they’ll be able to instead spend that time elsewhere in their roles. For example, automating customer service requests to handle any queries related to order status or common product questions. This means your support team can focus on more complex enquiries and developing customer resources.
Concentrate on new hires that add new value
As a business grows, small manual tasks grow and eventually become too much for one person. The typical solution is to hire more people to work on that task. However a better solution would be to automate tasks that are becoming time consuming, which would allow you to focus your hiring efforts on roles in different departments that will add new value. For example instead of hiring someone to manage manual sales and order processing, you could automate a large portion of the tasks associated and instead hire that new brand manager your team needs.
Work with accurate data
Ecommerce businesses run on data. Whether that’s order details, inventory levels and depletions, or sales data. However it’s also time consuming and can be subject to human error. For example, inputting the wrong number in an inventory count, or incorrect customer details can have a knock on effect on other areas of the business creating a huge headache for your team to manage. Automation significantly reduces the impact of these common issues - data is input into different systems automatically as needed, and is done with a greater amount of accuracy.
Improve the overall customer experience
Automation can seriously improve the customer experience of your store. It covers everything from the customer’s experience on your store, to managing their order, and even communication. You can automate customer service so that customers can get the information they need fast when it’s a basic enquiry such as their order status or product specifications, meaning they don’t need to wait for a response from your team. You can even automate fostering loyalty by setting up workflows that reward customers based on Lifetime Value (LTV) or Average Order Value (AOV), as well as sending emails when it’s their birthday or the anniversary of their first purchase. These small details can make all the difference when you want your customer experience to stand above the competition.
What can I automate?
Inventory is an area of your Shopify store that is tricky to manage and scale as your business grows. The bigger your catalog gets, and the more inventory you need on hand to fulfill more orders, the harder it’s going to be to manage and the more likely mistakes will happen. It’s a pain point not just for your in-house team, but for your customers as well - 31% say that the first time an item they want is out-of-stock then they’ll just go to a competitor, and this rises to 70% the third time it’s out-of-stock. You can mitigate this by using automations to manage inventory, and we don’t mean just keeping tabs on what you’ve got on hand at any given time. You can automate stock forecasting and reordering, as well as replenishing stock and sending back-in-stock notifications to customers.
Sending the right message to your customers and engaging with them on social media and owned marketing platforms is crucial to the growth of any ecommerce business. By using social media scheduling programs and owned marketing platforms for email and SMS, you can automate a large part of your marketing activity so that your team can spend more time focusing on developing new campaigns and initiatives. Especially when it comes to email and SMS marketing, automation software can tailor the content each customer receives to really personalize their experience and engage them in a much more direct and meaningful way.
Plus if you utilize automations for inventory management and sales forecasting, your marketing team can have a clear picture of what’s in stock and any new products or flash sales in the pipeline.
Providing amazing customer service is a huge part of the customer experience, and can impact retention and repeat purchases. However there are many issues when it comes to managing customer service - some customers only want order updates or product information, whereas other need to change an address on an order or process a return. There are a range of automations you can use to make the customer service experience quick and easy for your customers, freeing up your team’s time in the process. You can use apps such as Gorgias to create chat bots that will be able to automatically respond to certain customer enquiries such as order updates and product information. This saves your customer support team’s time for more high-priority and complex enquiries, ensuring those customers get the answers they need faster.
Efficient order management is one of the many growing pains that comes with more sales. The more orders you get, the more difficult they are to keep track of. There are many different steps that go into just one order from your store, and they aren’t always straightforward. Automating order management means that at each stage of the order fulfilment process, accurate data is being passed along to ensure that the right items are picked, the correct information is on all relevant documents and labels, and that shipping is booked and managed. This saves your team manually processing orders and potentially missing important details when they’re snowed under with orders during key sales periods such as Black Friday/Cyber Monday.
If you’re a Shopify merchant with a B2B channel, chances are you’ve got someone on your team managing these relationships. On average, sales people spend less than half of their work day actively selling with the majority of their time being spent on other tasks such as answering emails or chasing up information internally. By automating different aspects of their day-to-day role, you can free up more of their time to spend on building relationships and selling more.
How do I get started automating my ecommerce operations?
With so many different types of automation you could add into your business, how do you know where to begin? Understanding where your business could use automation, what you want to achieve, and then monitoring the impact of anything you implement is the key to getting started.
Identify pain points in current processes
First and foremost, you need to understand your current business operations. Look at each individual area, and work with your team to identify pain points in your current processes. Here are some areas to look at to get you started:
Which areas of the business see the highest number of errors in data management? Is it inventory? Order fulfillment? How much time does your team need to spend to manage any negative issues as a result of these data errors?
By understanding where data management is causing issues, you can start to look at automations that might eliminate or mitigate them. For example if you see most data errors happen in inventory, you can look into how to automate inventory management.
Customer service pain points are two-fold; the first are those experienced by your team, and the second by your customers.
For your team
What are the most common customer service issues? How much of your team’s day on average is taken up by these issues? When it comes to your team, you want to minimize how much of their time is spent on these common issues that could be resolved by an automated process for example checking in order status, or finding out more information about returns. Figure out also which issues take your team the most effort to resolve, and see if there are ways automation could help speed up the process.
For your customers
You should again look to those common issues - where are the issues coming up most frequently? If it’s in order accuracy, then you can look into ways to automate fulfillment for example how order data is passed to your fulfillment team. Or perhaps it’s just enquiries about shipping delays, could you implement automatic notifications to customers when an order is delayed by the courier? Figuring out your customers’ pain points in this area will help you to improve other areas of the customer experience across your entire store.
In what ways is your team utilizing automations for communication and marketing? If they’re using an email marketing platform such as Klaviyo, are they making the most of workflows? Are they using a platform to schedule social media posts? You want to take a look at email communication in particular, how could you use automations as part of communicating with your customers both about their orders, and to maintain a strong relationship. Are you dropping the ball on rewarding loyal customers? Could you do more to recover abandoned carts?
When it comes to your sales team, you want to understand how their day-to-day tasks are broken down. Where do they spend the majority of their time? Could any of these areas be automated or partially automated so that they can spend more time on more valuable tasks? You also want to understand what issues they commonly deal with on behalf of the customers they’re responsible for - where are the sticking points in the sales and fulfillment process that they have to troubleshoot on a regular basis?
Whether you use in-house fulfillment or a third party logistics partner, use a combination of data, team feedback, and customer feedback to understand where friction is arising in your fulfillment processes. Specifically, look at the reasons for returns and exchanges - what are the most common issues? If there are issues with picking and packing orders, then look at where in the process data is becoming confused and figure out if there’s an automation you could implement to help improve this. Look too at issues like dispatch delays - how frequently is this happening, and why? Is it missing order information? Inventory issues?
Set goals for automation implementation
Once you’ve identified these areas for improvement, it’s time to assess which areas to focus on and what you want to achieve with automation. It’s simple to say “we want to improve our processes”, but you need to have a specific reason and goal for it otherwise you won’t be able to accurately assess if that automation is actually working or helping your team in a significant way. If you’re implementing automations related to order fulfillment, do you want to increase the number of orders packed per day? If you’re looking into automating customer service, are you looking to reduce the number of requests dealt with manually by 20%? Having some kind of goal in mind helps you to better implement new processes.
Continue to monitor performance
You’ve identified what could be automated, you’ve got some clear goals, and your automations are implemented and ticking away. The most valuable thing to do now is to continue monitoring the performance of these automations. You should look to both measurable data as well as feedback from your team and customers. If you implement an automation related to order management for customers, look at the data to see if requests related to this issue have reduced and ask your customers to rate how useful that new feature is. After implementing automations related to sales, look at recent sales data and ask your sales team if it’s freeing up their time and making daily tasks easier. It’s important that you combine quantitative and qualitative data in order to get a full picture of how that new process is working in practice. If you find that these new processes aren’t performing as well as you’d hoped, or new issues are arising as a result then it’s important to look into the reason why this is the case.
Useful automation tools
Not sure where to start looking for the right automation tools? Here are a few suggestions of apps and integrations you can start using that will help automate your Shopify store.
Exclusive to Shopify Plus merchants, Flow allows you to automate a whole host of different areas of your Shopify store to free up your time and improve the customer experience. As well as being able to automate standard operations such as inventory management and fulfillment it’s packed with unique features that you might not realize you need. These include being able to create a support ticket when you receive a negative review, personalize marketing based on purchase behavior, automatically add rewards to high value orders, and even high-risk order management.
Fulfillment and order management are some of the trickiest areas in a business to get right, and are some of the areas that lead to the most amount of frustration both for your team and customers. Brightpearl offers a robust infrastructure to automate all your most crucial post-purchase operations such as inventory, warehousing, fulfillment, accounting, and CRM. It’ll also provide you with detailed data insights, allowing you to make informed decisions in growing your store.
A must-have in any Shopify merchants tool-belt, Klaviyo makes automating your owned marketing easy and straightforward. While it might be a breeze to use, it’s still incredibly powerful, allowing you to create complex flows that utilize your Shopify store data to drive conversions and connect to your customers in a meaningful way. Using fast and easy segmentation tools, you can create highly personalized content that will automatically send to the right customers to engage them and bring them back to your store time and time again.
Support is one of the most important areas for any Shopify store, and is key to ensuring customer satisfaction. Whether it’s about an existing order, questions about a product, or queries about the returns process, customers expect fast, personalized customer care. Gorgias gives your team automated tools to manage those interactions that could be easily resolved such as order status or shipping information. For those enquiries that require your team’s attention, the platform also pulls up customer order info as well as previous support tickets so they have all the information they need to deal with queries efficiently.
Implementing automations across different areas of your business helps to make your Shopify store more efficient and your team more productive. Instead of small data errors made by a team overwhelmed by orders during high sales periods, automated workflows will ensure that the correct items reach the right people leading to higher customer satisfaction. Instead of spending hours of your team’s time manually managing inventory or easily answered customer queries, they can instead look at new ways to grow your store and beat out the competition. At the heart of it, ecommerce automation allows you and your team to focus on what matters - developing new products, growing your business, and delighting your customers.