Commerce Automation: An Evolution

Automation today is not the same automation that we thought of years ago. We used to think that all we needed was a website, a shopping cart, and a payment processor to create an automated experience for our customers. Today, we need so much more than that if we want to keep up with the rapid innovation of technology. In a world where we value speed, efficiency, and convenience, automation has taken a larger role in our society. So many of us enjoy the use of automation and the time it saves us. We rely on it more than I think we realize.

With the rising popularity of services like IFTTT, Zapier and other similar services, automation exists everywhere and it’s at your fingertips. As entrepreneurs, marketers, developers, and the like, we can weave automation into our day-to-day to make our lives easier and create a frictionless experience for our customers.

I recently attended a Shopify Plus meet up hosted by one of our favorite technology partners, Klevu, where I had the opportunity to be part of a panel with other industry professionals where we discussed the possibilities and trends in automation, and how you can use automation to not only improve the efficiency of your business but how you can improve the customer experience. Today, I’ll discuss some of the topics from that discussion and how they can help you to find the right mix of automation for your business.

Automation Classics

When we think of automation, our minds immediately travel to email automation. Email automation was the first marketing automation tool to really make its way into the eCommerce world, and it’s still one of the most common forms of automation. I remember 5 years ago when Abandoned Carts were all the rage, the new “thing” to do to attempt to recapture lost revenue. It was (and still is) one of the simplest automation examples to “set and forget” and recapture anywhere from 5-10% of the revenue that you otherwise would have seen disappear when a consumer abandoned their cart.

During the panel, we discussed email automation extensively. I brought up a case study Gauge conducted last year with a client of ours and our partner, MailChimp. We studied the use of automation by measuring the success of timed emails (birthday reminders), welcome email series, and abandoned cart emails. These emails combined brought in roughly $100K in revenue that would otherwise not have captured. The abandoned cart email alone accounted for $50K. This automation brought in a huge return on investment with minimal effort. Efficient and successful while creating a good customer experience.

Beyond Email

In recent years, commerce automation has exploded. Today automation has warped into a vast abyss of different automation techniques to capture revenue and engage your customers and sometimes, the choices can seem overwhelming. We can automate social media posts, personalize and automate promotional banners on our websites, automate merchandising based on consumer purchase behavior, and more. The possibilities are endless. Our CMS platforms are evolving to include these features out of the box and SaaS solutions have been created with the sole purpose being able to marry automation and personalization together to offer a frictionless and relevant customer experience.

A question of “how much automation is too much automation” was proposed to me during the panel discussion. This is an excellent question with a complex answer. To really understand how much automation your business should use, it’s important to know your customer. How many emails do you want to send? How much data will you need to collect? How engaged are your customers? These are pretty common questions to ask yourself when you are in the market for an automation strategy. But something else to consider is what will save you time and serve your customers? Automating the merchandising experience not only helps you, but it delivers a relevant experience. Automating social posts when you introduce a new product allows you update your customers and drive sales without a manual process.

The point is that when you’re thinking about automation and trying to figure out how much is too much, try to balance priorities.

  1. Test, test, test. I can’t stress this enough. There are so many automation choices, and finding what works for you and your business means testing. Before you start an automation, set a goal and evaluate what success looks like. Don’t be afraid to experiment and accept that some automation choices won’t be successful.
  2. Remember what you’ve promised your customers. If you have sent a welcome email that promised not to bombard their inbox, then don’t set out on an automation strategy that sends them 5 emails a day. Think about your customer and what kind of experience they want. What have they asked for in the past? What has been a roadblock to conversion?

Below are some examples of popular marketing automation workflows (some I’ve mentioned before) that you can consider working into your business:

  1. Send VIP emails to top spenders
  2. Show special promotions to top spenders
  3. Schedule social posts when new products are added
  4. Schedule promotional content ahead of time (Shopify Plus launchpad app is great for this)
  5. Set up flash sales

The options are endless, just remember to test and see what works best for your business.

Automating Back Office Operations

Automation is not just on the customer-facing side of your business, automation can play a key role in your back office as well. You can drive revenue for your business by saving people time in manual processes. This was also a pretty popular topic during the panel. The Shopify Plus platform is a great example of how automation adoption can create efficiency in operations. Tools like Flow and Launchpad are features baked into the platform and allow business owners to create automation workflows that can make their operations more efficient. If you’re wondering where to start, here are a few things to think about when deciding what back-office operations will help your business.

  • Start with what you hate doing the most. Try to think about what tasks take you the most time (and don’t like doing) and try to pair that with what will drive your business revenue by automating it.
  • Identify tasks that take time away from your team working on strategy. Examine how your team spends their time and find ways that you can get your team back to driving sales to your business.
  • Eliminate redundant manual processes. If there are any tasks that are repetitive and rarely change – see if you can automate them and save yourself some time.

Here are a couple of examples of common back office automation flows that can help your team be more efficient:

  • Fraud detection. Set up an automation to alert customer service when certain factors appear in orders. For instance, for orders over $300 when the billing and shipping address don’t match, have the order pause so that customer service can be alerted to reach out to the customer and confirm the order before it ships.
  • Inventory Management. Setup a reorder sequence for items that reach a certain inventory level. Automating reordering eliminates the time spent checking inventory. Or make sure that items that reach a certain stock level are removed from the site.

For Shopify Plus users, there is a list of common workflows that you can setup in Flow. This is a great starting point and will get you in the mindset of how you can optimize your back office operations.

Wrapping Up

Automation is changing the way we do business, plain and simple. The more efficiency we are able to create in our business the better. This is especially true for small businesses, where each minute is precious and the more time-saving activities you can implement, the more time your team has to focus on driving revenue. Platforms like Shopify Plus are at the forefront of automation and making it easier for you to integrate automation into different aspects of your organization. Be an early adopter and capture the customers looking for the convenience of personalization through automation. Create relevant experiences for customers and get products in front of them when they are looking to make a purchase. Success is at your fingertips.

Shopify Plus Panel Discussion

Pictured from left to right is Natasha Murphy (Nicely Built), Robin Smith (VLOmni), Kali Keesee/Me (Gauge), Miles Tinsley (Klevu), Carly Horn, Loyalty Lion, and Greg Bauman (Bronto).

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