It’s surprising how quickly an eCommerce business can grow. One minute you’re a one-person operation selling a single product from one location. The next, you’re running multiple product lines, you have staff that needs to be managed, and there are some big-hitting competitors to keep up with.
Analog management methods don’t scale well in any business, especially eCommerce; there are simply too many moving parts involved in staying profitable. That’s why automation is so important for a growing online retailer.
I’ve come across many automation tools in my years working in this industry and, in this article, I’m going to discuss six of my favorites.
1. Inventory management
If growth is your goal, automating your supply chain should be near the top of your list of priorities. Few areas of your business can spiral out of control faster than keeping track of your stock levels, storage locations, your relationship with suppliers, and cost prices. Having a solid understanding of important inventory metrics like inventory turnover, reorder point, and safety stock are critical to keeping an eCommerce business running smoothly.
Trying to keep all of these operational issues streamlined manually is impossible for a growing eCommerce company. And the risks involved in doing this badly are significant. Consider that:
- Running out of stock could result in a missed sale.
- Low stock issues could result in the permanent loss of a loyal customer.
- Ordering from the incorrect supplier could raise your cost prices and eat into your profit margins.
- Stocking too much of one item that isn’t selling results in unnecessarily high storage fees.
- Shipping an item from the incorrect location means that you, or your customer, are paying too much for fulfillment.
All of these risks are avoidable when using automated inventory management software. Implementing one is the first recommendation I make for any growing eCommerce company, and the rewards of doing this are almost instantly visible. Fortunately, there are some excellent cloud-based automation tools on the market to help you minimize, if not entirely eliminate, these risks.
2. Abandoned cart recovery
Manually following up on why a customer didn’t follow through with their intended purchase is not a task I’d wish on anyone, let alone myself or one of my staff members. Yet, recovering “abandoned carts” has become one of the most effective ways of boosting revenue in recent years.
Research from the Baymard Institute has revealed that an astonishing 69.57% of online purchases aren’t completed. These are documented cases where a visitor to an online store places items in their carts and then leaves the site or abandons the checkout process.
Many of these abandoned carts can’t ever be recovered because the visitor never had any intention of making the purchase. But, at the same time, many of these abandons happened for reasons that are absolutely solvable. Maybe the shipping cost was too high or the checkout process too complicated. Regardless, there are several ways to recover that shopper’s interest, and automation is the only way to do it effectively.
A tool like CartStack offers the basic functionality to recover these “in limbo” sales while also offering a host of features to make this tedious (but essential) process as effective as possible. From email reminders and push notifications to SMS reminders and on-site retention tools, CartStack has an impressive arsenal of integrated methods to help you maximize your conversion rates.
Repricing is all about the complex mechanics of finding a balance between competitiveness and a healthy profit margin. The reason automation is so important in this space is because, on platforms like Amazon, your competitors will be doing it.
Repricing isn’t an act that exists in a vacuum. It’s not about arbitrarily choosing a sales price that you think seems suitable without taking your competition into consideration. Repricing is ALL about having very granular insight into what your customers are willing to pay. And the only way to do that is to see what other successful sellers are charging for similar products.
Response time is critical to effective repricing. There is simply no way that even a dedicated employee can accurately trawl through the thousands of products on Amazon, find the lowest price, measure that against your cost prices, and then manually reprice in realistic timeframes. Especially not if you’re selling dozens, or hundreds, of products.
It helps you compete on larger eCommerce platforms
Amazon is an intensely competitive retail space. More than any other. If you want to win the buy box or ensure that you’re not pricing yourself out of the market, you need an AI-powered repricing tool that’s purpose-built for assessing the competition and responding instantly to fluctuations in the market.
Important to note that Amazon isn’t the only eCommerce platform where repricing is an important driver of growth. Shopify isn’t a direct competitor for the planet’s most successful online retailer, but that doesn’t mean that sellers can’t benefit from frequently adjusting their prices.
If you sell using a Shopify storefront, I’d recommend checking out an app called Prisync ‑ Dynamic Pricing.
4. Bookkeeping and accounting
Financial control and ensuring regulatory compliance isn’t the sexiest part of running a business. It’s tedious, time-consuming, but, sadly, critically important. Chances are that a small company is overly reliant on a specific person to take control of bookkeeping and that this person’s time is better spent on tasks that can’t be automated.
There’s no shortage of bookkeeping tools (like QuickBooks or Xero) that simplify the arduous tasks of remaining simultaneously profitable and tax-compliant. Still, the actual act of entering data consumes a ridiculous amount of time.
Enter automation experts like Webgility. According to their studies, effective automated data entry can result in savings of up to 94% in the budget you’ve allocated to accounting. On top of that enormous benefit, you’ll also be significantly reducing the likelihood of costly mistakes a human hand is likely to make.
Ensuring that your customers’ orders reach them in time and without any inconveniences is a major part of growing a successful eCommerce business.
Why is that?
Firstly, it’s because one of your customers’ biggest concerns is that they won’t get what they ordered. When this concern becomes a reality, you can kiss your relationship with that customer (and a large part of your reputation) goodbye.
Secondly, many of your competitors are ensuring minimum risk here because they’re implementing automated solutions. And this is an area where you cannot afford to be left in the dust. Making good on your promises isn’t just about delivering a quality product; it’s about making sure the customer has zero issues with every aspect of delivery.
Fulfillment is an aspect of eCommerce that many first-time business owners underestimate in terms of complexity and importance. It can make an ugly dent in your ability to focus on tasks that need your manual energy.
Automation in this space isn’t as cut-and-dried as in the other areas we’ve discussed here, mostly because fulfillment is often out of the hands of the business owner. So, unless you’re driving the goods to your customer’s address, it’s mostly already automated.
However, there are spaces between the interactions between you, your customer, and your delivery service where automation can play a huge role. Selleractive is an organization that specializes in automating many aspects of eCommerce and has written an excellent piece on the various roles automation tools can play in this space.
6. Project and workflow management
This area of automation is especially relevant for online retailers that have already experienced growth to the point where they employ a large contingent of administrative, technical, and support staff.
Knowing what your employees are focusing on and ensuring that they know where their attention should be is a cornerstone of maintaining successful operations.
Each eCommerce business will have its own needs. For instance, if you run a fashion business with many different designs and the need to work with creative teams for making visually appealing ads, social content and product imagery, a tool that facilitates creative workflow management is critical.
There are loads of tools that assist with project and workflow management. Each specializes in a specific aspect of this critical area of resource management, and I highly recommend checking both of them out.
A good workplace automation tool is powerful for creating sustainable, effective operating procedures.
Likewise, a scheduling and calendar maintenance tool can help your staff members manage their time as effectively as possible. By facilitating things like time-blocking and other techniques, these tools can help you and your team get the most out of the time spent at work.
I can’t think of a better motivation for eCommerce business owners to explore automation than saying, “Your competitors are doing it.”
There is a myriad of operational and strategic tasks that simply can’t be done by AI and third-party services. You and your staff’s expertise is vital in areas where software can’t intervene, and it’s absolutely critical that your time is dedicated to them. Filling the “daily-grind” gaps between these functions with affordable, purpose-built tools is a massive leap towards ensuring that your retail business is geared for maximum profitability and growth.