Posted: Mon 8th May 2023
Ah, the joy of running an e-commerce business. Ones and zeros pecking at your brain from 513 different Excel sheets. Margins tighter than a Houdini straitjacket. And a bunch of rabid competitors snapping at your ankles, ready to put you on your backside.
Hold up. Why did you choose to do this again? Alas, you did, and here we are. But all isn't lost. Because we're here to toss you a life-raft, just like Jack did for Rose in Titanic.
The raft I'm talking about is e-commerce automation. And in this guide, we'll tell you exactly what it is, how it works and why you should invest in it.
What is e-commerce automation?
E-commerce automation is the process of using software to automate repetitive tasks. This could include anything from your point-of-sale (POS) system, to dropshipping and returns, to your email campaigns.
The main purpose of e-commerce automation is to reduce heavy lifting for e-commerce owners and make tasks more efficient and cost-effective. In other words, you have more time to focus on improving customer experience and refining your business strategy.
11 types of e-commerce automation that save blood, sweat and tears
As we hinted at above, there are tons of ways to leverage e-commerce automation. Here are some of the most important:
1. Point of sale (POS)
Digital POS systems allow you to take orders and sell online without physically using a till. Plus, by integrating with your order management and supply chain management systems, you can automate reordering and stocking of items.
2. Customer relationship management (CRM)
Contact management, lead management and documentation management can easily spiral when they're not automated, losing you prospects and customers. But with automation, your internal teams can quickly and effectively communicate with customers, action leads and drive revenue.
3. Order management
Automated order management removes all the manual inputs entailed in receiving, tracking and fulfilling orders. Because of this, human error doesn't get in the way of customers receiving their orders.
4. Inventory management
If you want to improve your demand forecasting, reduce your dead stock and costs, increase customer satisfaction and oversell less, automating your inventory management is a no-brainer. It does this by providing real-time analytics that automatically adjust your stock when you make sales.
Instead of handling your dropshipping relationship through endless email chains, you can automate the entire process, taking care of order sending, approval, picking and packing.
7. Product feeds
Manually uploading product feeds to your site is painful, tiresome and requires a ton of optimisation. Especially when you're dealing with a wide range of products.
By automating, there's no need to manually build your feed, while reporting and analytics are made easy, allowing you to promote your top performers.
When integrated into your existing e-commerce tech stack, accounting automation eliminates the stress of manual accounting, allowing you to better analyse your financial data and identify opportunities for growth.
Much like returns, manually handling invoicing is a time drag on both you and your internal teams. Automation allows you to send repeat invoices at pre-programmed dates and times, ensuring you're never out of pocket.
Are customers constantly asking where their orders are or if they've been confirmed? Then sending automated emails triggered by purchases will save you a ton of tedious work. Adding order tracking info will also help free up your customer service teams.
Automatically sending personalised promos to new and existing customers helps you build brand loyalty at scale, enticing customers back when they didn't even know they wanted to buy again.
Why should you invest in e-commerce automation?
Like anything worth having, you'll have to part with some of your hard-earned cash to unlock the benefits automation can bring. But as we've said already, these are too significant to turn a blind eye to, as you can see in the infographic below:
How does e-commerce automation work?
Now we know what e-commerce automation is all about and why it's important for your online business to consider, it's time to cover what actually makes it tick. And that, of course, is software.
Specifically, all-in-one or highly customised software that connects your business-critical automations and allows you to realise the benefits above.
The solution your organisation needs, though, depends on the size of your business and whether or not you're online already. Let's dive into which one is right for you.
Entrepreneur or SME: Online selling platforms
Online selling platforms tick most of the boxes for early stage e-commerce vendors. That's because they help you create apps and websites optimised for selling online, while including things like order management, dropshipping and secure payments as standard.
As out-of-the-box solutions, these platforms also allow you to start selling quickly. All you need to do is add your branding to the templates provided, plug and play.
What you will need to do yourself is create marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies to ensure your customers can discover your products.
On the other hand, you can, in theory, skip investing in any software at all by choosing to sell on marketplaces. These handle key automations like order fulfilment and marketing, while giving you instant access to a global audience.
That said, there are some issues with this approach, including that your chosen marketplace will:
take a cut of your profits, eating into your margins
own customer data, so they can optimise their own feeds, which could negatively impact how your products are listed
take charge of the customer relationship, building loyalty to their platform, rather than your brand
Scale-up or enterprise: Custom retail management software
For businesses looking to either scale or streamline their operations, out-of-the box solutions don't cut the mustard. Especially when 1% efficiency gains can be worth hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of pounds.
And that's where custom software comes in. This is robust enough to handle order management on an industrial scale and is tailored to the specific workflows of your organisation.
The beauty of e-commerce automation is that it allows any company of any size to work smarter, not harder. That allows you to transform your business processes from tedious and bloated to simple and lean. And because of that, you can scale.
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