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11 Ways to Automate Processes in Your Ecommerce Business

As an entrepreneur, you’re hands-on in pretty much every aspect of your business. As soon as you wake up in the morning, you dive headfirst into the inventory, product fulfillment, marketing, and operations of your online business. Although it’s personally fulfilling to have a direct impact on the growth of your Ecommerce store, that direct involvement with manual workflows inhibits the scalability of your business. Hard work can certainly yield growth, but at some point, you need to step back and analyze your processes. Some of your tasks should be delegated, while others will eventually need to be automated or refined. If you’re too bogged down with the workload to have any measurable impact, growth will be incredibly difficult.   B1.3 (1)

Optimize and automate your most critical tasks
Optimize and automate your most critical tasks

While every business is run a little differently, Ecommerce operations (and many product-centric businesses) tend to have similar processes and workflows. These similarities present some of the best opportunities for improving efficiency and injecting automation. Keep these four principles in mind when you evaluate how you operate:

  1. Conquer repetitive tasks first, specifically the tasks that require a great deal of time but very little thought or value from having a person do them.
  2. List and prioritize your tasks to identify the ones that will have the most impact and are easy to deploy.
  3. Prioritize the optimization and automation of daily tasks before tackling larger tasks that are less frequent.
  4. Go after the tasks that aren’t scalable when performed manually. At first, these tasks were easy to do, but as your business grew, they turned into full-time manual jobs.

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If you want a lot more flexibility in your day-to-day, there are many areas where you can get the greatest benefit from either introducing automation or designing a more refined and efficient process. While every task listed here has a certain level of automation, there are still upsides to maintaining some level of human involvement, even if just periodically.

1. Cart Abandonment

Do you know how many of your customers abandon their carts before checkout?

Every online business, both large and small, is plagued by cart abandonment. It’s a natural part of running an Ecommerce store. On average, 68% of shopping carts are abandoned. The estimated global value of those abandoned carts in 2015 was nearly $5 trillion. One of the best ways to recapture those customers is through automated cart abandonment emails. An off-the-shelf Ecommerce platform like Shopify or BigCommerce typically offers built-in cart abandonment emails that you’ll need to turn on and configure. You can also use an email platform like MailChimp to create automated cart abandonment emails. Leads generally grow cold within the span of an hour, so the first email should be triggered immediately after a cart is abandoned. If they still don’t return after the first email, then follow up with another email just a few hours later and send a third email within 24 hours. It’s best not to exceed three abandoned cart emails to avoid being flagged with spam reports. The time it takes to set up a custom automated series is worth it:

When manual is okay:

Some carts are abandoned due to technical reasons or other issues outside of the consumer’s control. It can be worth it to spend a little time personally reaching out to consumers who don’t respond to cart abandonment emails. Ask them if there’s any way you can help. You might uncover a payment processing issue, a site bug, browser compatibility issues, or other items that you can resolve to recover the sale and prevent future tech-related problems from occurring for other customers on your site.  

2. Customer Support

Human connection is an important part of delighting customers
Human connection is an important part of delighting customers

Customer service is very much a person-centric division in any company. You never want to fully automate your customer service and remove that human element, but there are a few ways to supplement this department with automation, and streamline your interactions with customers. Rather than forcing a direct interaction with an employee of your company or managing a barrage of emails and tickets, use a customer service platform that provides multiple channels for automated service.

Tools like give you the ability to create an interactive Q&A segment of your site, as well as a FAQ section and knowledge base. These self-help tools take some of the strain off of your business and help resolve customer issues quickly and efficiently. Customer service platforms also allow customers to submit tickets, rather than contact forms turned into emails. Support tickets can be prioritized and assigned automatically, which gives your team a little more time to manage cases instead of trying to sip from the firehose of incoming email requests.

A live chat interface service like LeadChat lets you outsource and automate support for tackling the questions of prospective customers, which can help you close more sales.

When manual is okay:

Manual customer service is always the best approach. Focus on streamlining this department in a way that still leverages your team but also gives you room to breathe.  

3. Inventory Management

Eliminate human error with automated inventory management
Eliminate human error with automated inventory management

Even with a small selection of products, it can be time consuming to manually update and keep track of inventory in an online store. Some business owners choose not to track inventory at all, but that can lead to orders being placed when you’re out of stock, resulting in refunds and upset customers. As your business grows, manually updating inventory becomes an insurmountable task and errors will happen more frequently. Ideally, you want on-hand inventory to match online inventory, with product availability updated automatically when transactions occur, returns are processed, and new products are checked in. There are countless software platforms – both cloud-based and locally-installed – that can help with this process and offer integration with popular Ecommerce platforms and other operational software. Look for programs that can potentially scale with you, depending on your growth model, with options like:

  • Multi-channel selling through more than one online store
  • Multisite synchronization for multiple warehouses and fulfillment centers
  • Segmented reporting for each location and selling channel

Check out platforms like Ordoro , Finale Inventory and Fishbowl for automated inventory control.

When manual is okay:

You may still need to do some manual inventory control when you pull stock for promotions, giveaways, customer service freebies, or staff perks, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That takes considerably less time than trying to manually handle all of your inventory management.  

4. Online Activities

If This Then That is just one of many applications that help automate online activities
If This Then That is just one of many applications that help automate online activities

There are tons of small tasks that eat away at your daily productivity, many of which are repetitive and chain together across a number of channels online. You complete Step A, then move on to Step B on another site, which requires Steps C and D on a third site before you can wrap up Step E. Some tasks crop up less frequently, but when they do, they can be incredibly time consuming. For example, updating your profile picture on one social channel requires an update to all of your social profiles and business listings, which is no small task. This is where triggered automation can be helpful.

Tools like If This Then That (IFTTT) let you create or use existing workflow “recipes” (series of tasks) to automate and free up time. In the above example of the profile picture, a recipe in IFTTT can be triggered so that when you update your profile image on Twitter, it’s automatically updated across all of your other channels.

When manual is okay:

For more critical tasks that involve your brand and the public, it may be best to limit automation or monitor the process to ensure the end results are what you expected.  

5. Accounting and Bookkeeping

Automation can help streamline invoice payments and documentation
Automation can help streamline invoice payments and documentation

If you’re drowning in receipts, unpaid invoices and other documents while trying to juggle other accounting duties for your small business, then it’s probably time to try automating this process. Manually updating your ledger and keeping up on numbers with purchase orders, sales, and expenses will eat away at your time, and it can be a headache even for seasoned accounting professionals.

A number of software programs are available to help, with much of the more popular branded software (Xero or QuickBooks) capable of synchronizing with your online store through third-party apps. These will automatically pull sales (and even inventory) data into your accounting program to maintain accurate records, including taxes. Additionally, software like Shoeboxed makes it easy to digitize purchase orders, receipts, and other financial documents, and these programs can feed the data to your accounting software so you’re not forced to manually enter each line of data.

When manual is okay:

Even with automation in place, you still want to work with a professional accountant, either in-house or outsourced with a service like Indinero. They’ll be up-to-date on tax codes and government requirements so you can avoid making mistakes by trying to handle it on your own, and you can focus more on business growth in the meantime.  

6. Social Media

Buffer is a popular tool for automating content posts across multiple social channels
Buffer is a popular tool for automating content posts across multiple social channels

Marketing an online business can be time consuming. Not only do you need to create content for a blog, but you also need to promote that content. Your marketing will include consistent social posts on multiple channels while curating other relevant content for your audience to fill in the gaps of your content calendar. As you widen your reach, you’ll spend a lot more time monitoring your brand, engaging your followers, and creating content to keep them tuned in. Thankfully, there are a number of applications and services that dramatically cut down on the legwork for marketing your Ecommerce store:

  • Use Buffer to schedule your posts and curated content so they’re published automatically at a time and date you specify.
  • Quuu automatically curates content based on topics you choose, hand-picked by people to ensure the best quality, and pushes that content to your social channels.
  • Hootsuite lets you publish the same update on multiple social channels to minimize bouncing between sites for every new post.
  • Mention removes the process of manual monitoring, keeping a watchful eye on your brand and other key phrases that you target. You’ll get alerts when conversations around your products and services occur, so you can get involved and stay in the loop.

When manual is okay:

Automation can help you get the content published, but don’t just automate curated content. It’s important to manually create the right kind of posts and reply to your followers. Don’t remove the human element from your social media marketing or your followers will notice and they’ll disengage. Virtual assistants can be invaluable in this area, helping you to write and schedule posts, keep an eye on trending topics, and grow your social following.  

7. Product Launch Workflows

An automated workflow can minimize lags and downtime before a launch
An automated workflow can minimize lags and downtime before a launch

When you launch a new product that you created or you bring new products into your store, there’s a lot to get done before and after the release, such as:

  • Creating digital assets for promotion on your website
  • Product photos
  • Product descriptions and content for product pages
  • Populating the website with product data like SKUs, weight, and size, etc.
  • Creating email drip campaigns for the release
  • Social post content for organic and paid posts leading up to (and after) launch
  • Building stock and warehouse space

With everything you have to manage, it’s easy to fall behind or miss a step. To make sure your product launch goes off without a hitch, you can refine the process by adding approval processes that automate the workflow. Services like Tallyfy make it easy to define the steps within your process, triggering events as you achieve milestones and moving forward when approvals are made.

When manual is okay:

A product launch is primarily manual due to the number of people involved in deployment. In this case, it’s more about making the workflow more efficient and less about completely automating deployment. This greatly alleviates the stress of product additions.  

8. Customer Purchase Follow-up

Get more reviews with automated outreach to boost social proof
Get more reviews with automated outreach to boost social proof

Reviews can have a tremendous impact on your sales. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust peer reviews over traditional forms of advertising. As many as 90% of consumers say their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. Ideally, every customer will come back to provide a glowing review after making a purchase, but that’s rarely the case. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that only 24% of American adults post online comments or reviews about a product they purchase.

Even for a small Ecommerce store, it would be nearly impossible to manually track and contact customers to follow up on their purchases. Instead, use built-in tools with platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce to automatically send an email a week or two after a purchase is completed. Ask the customer to return and leave a review with a link back to the site or product page and invite them to contact you if there are any concerns. This completely automates the process of acquiring reviews, which improve product sales, and gives you the opportunity to handle any issues that are negatively impacting customers.

When manual is okay:

Let automation work in your favor, but tie in some manual engagement. Respond to negative feedback promptly and directly. For positive reviews, make it a habit to send a quick email in response to great reviews and personally thank them for taking the time to tell others about your product.  

9. Product Returns, Refunds, and Exchanges

Platforms like Shopify have built-in refund options to help automate the process
Platforms like Shopify have built-in refund options to help automate the process

When you sell a tangible product, you’ll probably get requests for returns, refunds, and exchanges. For many companies, these will come through your support center and require direct engagement with every case in order to reach a resolution. Some platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce have options within a customer’s portal or account to automatically flag an item for return or refund. Using these options can reduce touch points and speed up the process. You can also improve the efficiency of this process by having a clearly-written and visible return policy on your website. Having this information readily available online for customers can eliminate repetitive questions and minimize customer service contacts.

When manual is okay:

Don’t skip opportunities to delight your customers. The key is to reduce touch points but not eliminate them completely. Having someone involved in the process would make it easy to gather feedback on the nature of the return and use that information to further improve the business’ processes or solve the issue so a return/refund is no longer necessary.  

10. Analytics Monitoring and Reporting

Save time on analysis by running automated reports in your analytics
Save time on analysis by running automated reports in your analytics

Many Ecommerce businesses live and die by the data. Your traffic, merchandising, and customer metrics tell you a great deal about store and product performance. It’s something you want to monitor, but you also don’t want to be buried in reports on a regular basis. Google Analytics and other third party reporting platforms like Kissmetrics can be configured to automatically generate reports and provide the data you need at a specific date and time. This can save you the hassle of manually gathering data across multiple dashboards and channels, and instead have it delivered directly to you or pulled with a few simple clicks.

When manual is okay:

Don’t get into a “set it and forget it” habit with your automated reporting. It’s a good idea to still manually check your metrics from time to time to keep an eye on trends. If you’re gathering reports once a week, then set up a quick manual check of metrics in the middle of each week. This way, you can respond to anything that might need urgent attention.  

11. Competitive and Consumer Monitoring

Use competitive monitoring tools to avoid manual collection of competitor information
Use competitive monitoring tools to avoid manual collection of competitor information

Staying competitive in the ever-crowded online marketplace can be difficult. New competitors pop up every day, especially around popular products or niches. Keeping track of your competitors’ marketing, pricing, product launches, promotions, social outreach, and audience engagement tactics can be a full-time job, but it’s crucial for staying ahead of the pack. After all, 73% of online stores cite competitive pressure as one of the most important factors that go into price changes. For growing Ecommerce retailers, tools for competitive monitoring (for links and social media, for example), gathering consumer data, and pricing intelligence can be invaluable. Compete, QuickSprout, and SEMRush are all great tools to help you quickly analyze competitors’ data on the web, which eliminates the legwork of digging up the information manually.

When manual is okay:

Accumulating competitive data is important, but you’ll still want to spend time examining the data and understanding what created it. Personally looking into the activities of your competitors from time to time in conjunction with hard data makes it easier to spot opportunities and take action.  

Planning for Growth

Every entrepreneur wants to watch their business grow beyond their expectations. The best approach to starting on that path is removing yourself from the daily processes when you can. Automate various aspects of your workflows and fine-tune your operations. These actions will give you the freedom to focus on growing your business, as well as the opportunity to actually enjoy the fruits of what you’ve built. How do you use automation in your Ecommerce business? Has it helped you scale your operation? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. Image Source: YouGotToBeKidding, StitchLabs, MarketingLand


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