When you start selling your products online, you usually do most of the tasks on your own. As your business grows, new employees join the team to help deal with orders, marketing, or packing. After some time, it turns out many processes are not as effective as they used to be. Running an online store brings fewer and fewer profits. Automation may be a solution to that problem.
Automation improves the management of your online store and may reduce the risk related to delays in fulfilling orders or factors that may have an impact on customer satisfaction. This is because thanks to automation, staff members don’t have to do repetitive tasks. They can focus on activities that require more human attention. Of course, it entails integration with external systems, but it is getting easier and less expensive today, thanks to the development of modern technologies.
In e-commerce, automation is very often associated with marketing automation, which means automating marketing activities. There are, however, many more processes that you can automate, partially or entirely. These include stock management, processing orders, warehouse and logistics processes, customer service, and finally, marketing.
If you improve your performance in those fields, you will enjoy many benefits, such as:
less workload and more time that can be spent on more demanding tasks,
increase in the effectiveness of your business and the possibility to develop further,
fewer human errors,
improved customer satisfaction.
Automation of offer management and order processing
No matter what stage of business development you are at, when choosing an e-commerce platform, check what it offers in terms of stock management, inventory updates, product pricing, and integration with external wholesalers. It is time-consuming to add products manually or monitor stock levels. Of course, if you sell a small number of products, you may not be interested in those features. But as your offer and your company grow, you may need such improvements.
When planning optimization of your stock management, you should consider the following:
integration with external wholesalers,
automatic price-setting based on purchase prices and agreed margins,
data exchange between wholesalers and your warehouse system, allowing you to update the data in real-time,
generating and updating an XML file that lets you integrate with marketplace platforms, price comparison sites, and advertising tools such as Facebook Ads.
It is also essential to control minimum prices so that, if a failure or error occurs, products will not be sold below purchase prices or other pre-determined limits. Other processes worth automating are: getting prices from suppliers, ordering products from best-selling wholesalers when their offers are updated, and getting information about significant changes in suppliers’ price lists.
Automation of order processing makes the process more effective. It also improves communication with customers regarding the status of their order and well as the post-sale service, including returns and complaints.
By integrating your online store with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, you can automate such activities as:
checking payment status and payment registration,
tracking orders that require you to add products and let customers know about available products,
handing paid orders over to the warehouse for dispatching,
printing waybills with order details,
printing invoices or sending them to customers via email.
As a result, your employees will not have to monitor the bank account, and money transfers manually. You also automate the process of sending emails to customers to let them know about their order status. And if a customer cancels their order, the process gets more manageable, too, as money is automatically sent back to their account or the card they used to pay for the order.
There are many payment gateways in the market, for instance, DotPay, PayU, or Przelewy24. If you collaborate with them, you bring profits not only to your online store but also to your customers. First of all, they ensure immediate money transfer. They also enable customers to choose a payment method they prefer: credit card, quick online transfer, or a traditional transfer.
The systems keep developing, and new features like installment or delayed payments, one-click-payment, or multi-currency payment are being added. Security concerns still discourage customers from online shopping and payment gateways ensure your transactions are secure. And because they offer various payment methods, they encourage users to purchase online.
What is also worth mentioning is that integration with payment gateways allows you to set reminders about a due payment if a customer fails to make it. A message they get contains a link that makes the quick transfer much easier. If you run both brick-and-mortar and online stores, you can be sure that both channels are connected into one coherent system.
Another element worth optimizing through automation in order processing, and, to a large extent, warehouse processes, is the handling of complaints and returns. First of all, what you can implement on your user account is a special feature that allows them to easily report they want to return a product or make a complaint.
Automation of complaint management should support different processing ways within the system and, depending on why the complaint was made, it should associate complaints with proper orders, as well as monitor their status and ensure they are handled on time.
Automation of logistics and warehouse processes
Automation of warehouse services and logistics is strongly related to order management, generating shipment documents, and handling complaints. These are all based on the exchange of information about the order status and the process of sending documents for orders that are ready for processing, as well as invoices and waybills to the warehouse.
You should also consider integrating your online store system with courier and transport services or use logistics brokers. The latter, due to their scale of operations, often have very competitive rates with couriers. Besides, thanks to the cooperation with brokers, you can offer your customers different forms of delivery, which is an essential factor that encourages them to shop online.
And if you run an online store, consider outsourcing of all warehouse and logistics processes. It becomes more and more popular to use logistics centers as it often allows you to reduce costs and improve the performance of your online business. In most cases, logistic centers offer safe and on-time shipping. They will pack your parcels in line with your guidelines and can also manage returns, complaints, and repacking.
Customer service automation
As for introducing automation to your customer communication – be careful with it and do not automate it fully. There are situations when your customers need to get in touch with another human being. While you should not forget about it, you can still optimize some of your activities.
Consider preparing a FAQ page with the most frequent questions and problems customers report. Thanks to this, they will be able to easily find answers themselves and save both their own and your employees’ time. In the form on the contact page, you can also implement a feature that will suggest articles from the FAQ section, or you can make the topic field compulsory. As a result, based on the topic, an inquiry will be immediately assigned to a proper person.
You can also improve your telephone service thanks to IVR systems, in other words, helplines. They will help you reduce the number of customers’ phone calls because, in many cases, they can guide them step by step to the solution of the problem they report.
If customers report recurring questions and inquiries, you can integrate your online store with a chatbot. For instance, chatbots on Facebook Messenger are a top-rated solution. There are plenty of ready-to-use systems that let you introduce chatbots on your e-commerce website or your Facebook page. To learn more about chatbots and benefits they may bring, take a look at our previous article: Do customers like chatbots? Chatbots in e-commerce.
Another interesting solution is the integration of different communication channels (email, telephone, chat on your website) and caller identification based on the data from the system. If a customer calls to discuss a topic they have already reported but via a different communication channel, thanks to synchronization, they will not have to explain what they are calling about once again. Some systems that enable customer service automation let you queue queries, inquiries, and tasks.
As part of marketing automation, you can usually automate your email marketing communication and personalize your offer on a store’s website. Depending on a selected system, you can implement the following features:
activities that help recover abandoned checkouts through emails that prompt customers to complete their order. Pop-up windows can also be displayed if a customer is about to abandon their cart,
re-engaging inactive users; you can set a timeframe after which customers who didn’t buy or visit the website during that time will get a message,
sending newsletters with product offers based on customers’ behavior – i.e. products they viewed or purchased,
presenting the product category customers have frequently visited on your website or goods that complement the ones they added to cart.
There are many scenarios of automating marketing activities, and there are even more ways to improve them – primarily because technology keeps developing, and so do marketing automation systems. The topic is broad, and we are going to cover it in more detail in one of our future blog posts.
To sum up, thanks to automation, you can implement countless improvements and optimize your company’s processes in numerous ways. It will let your employees save time, as well as it will allow you to reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction. Remember, though, to carefully consider the tasks you want to automate and take into account such issues as the costs of the system, your customers’ needs and the stage of your business development.