What is eCommerce Automation?

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I recently had coffee with a colleague who was telling me how well business was going for them. But after telling me how well everything was going, she started telling me about a number of new initiatives she was running because, as she said, “It can always get better.”

And it can, can’t it? When it comes to eCommerce, even Amazon only controls 49% of the market share - even Amazon can get better. Yet many companies often find that they hit a catch-22 that stalls their growth: the more they sell, the harder and more expensive it becomes for them to sell. 

Hundreds of tasks go into selling a single product: promoting it on Instagram, updating availability across platforms, and boxing the package up for shipping, to name a few. Those tasks eat up your expensive person hours, and the more you sell, the more people you have to hire to run those tasks, effectively stalling your growth.

And that’s where automation comes in. People don’t scale well. Your workforce is expensive and, more importantly, highly intelligent. In the modern era of retailing and business in general, many repetitive tasks can be run by software, freeing your people up to focus on what software can’t do: innovating.

Automation is the use of machinery or software to run repetitive, often simple, tasks. More importantly, automation is the skeleton on which modern businesses need to build themselves because automation is the best foundation for scaling.

Automation through software is typically done by creating a workflow of rules. A simple workflow is composed of an enrollment trigger or rule, followed by an action for the software to take. For example, “If a customer spends $500 in one purchase, tag them as high-value.” The if statement is the enrollment rule, the second clause is the action.

A more complex workflow may perform multiple actions and further segment a group. If we take the previous workflow, an action following the tagging may be to separate customers who bought shoes from customers who bought tables, and then to send each respective group a thank you note personalized to that type of purchase.

What can be automated?

Any repetitive task can be automated. Automating tasks often enables you to take those tasks further than is possible on human power. For instance, email marketing automation allows you to not only send out emails to a large list of contacts, but also enables you to send one-to-one emails at crucial points of the contact’s journey, such as a welcome email, that would be virtually impossible to attempt with human power.

How to determine what needs to be automated?

As a marketing automation expert myself, I have always advised people to wait to automate processes until it’s too painful not to automate them. I say this because automation is never cheap, though it is cheaper than human labor. Otherwise, many, many businesses end up spending precious dollars on a system that goes to waste. For instance, if you’re only going to use a Hubspot or Pardot the way you would use a MailChimp, why get the upgrade?

While there are no hard and fast rules about what should be automated (other than a software needs to exist to do it), there are certainly some guidelines to follow as to what processes should be automated:

1. It requires three+ humans to complete manually.

Once three or more people are actively working on a single process, it becomes harder to run that process with efficiency. It also raises the likelihood of human error, as communication becomes more difficult to achieve.

2. Time sensitive activities.

Activities that completed at a certain time each day are often ripe for automating. Software excels at completing activities on time.

3. Triggered by particular actions.

Do you have a number of processes that are completed in reaction to a previous action (even one taken by a customer)? These processes can likely be automated. The action the process reacts to will simply be used as the trigger for the process.

4. Needs to be transparent.

Non-automated processes are difficult to audit after-the-fact or to optimize. An automated process, however, is great for both of those things.

5. Takes place across multiple platforms.

It’s common for growing companies to create manual processes that involve moving data from one platform to another. After all, the perfect systems for you don’t often natively integrate. That said, though, processes like these make for great automation candidates with the right software.

6. The process is a time-suck.

If you have processes that occur with some frequency, that fill up too much of one or more of your employees’ days, chances are, it can and should be automated.

7. Human error is adding up.

With any process run by a human, there is room for human error. It is only natural. If the errors are beginning to pile up and cost your business, it’s probably time to have a computer take over running the tasks.

Do not automate processes:

  • With multiple decision points
  • Of quality control
  • With low ROI on the automation
  • That requires creative thinking

Start Automating

Stay tuned for the next two topics in this series: how to automate and automation best practices.

Ready to start automating your tasks? Check out our intersystem automator, Mesa.

Cara Wood

Cara is the digital marketing manager here at ShopPad. She's passionate about eCommerce, marketing automation, and great wine. When she's not hard at work innoventing new marketing automation techniques, you can find her trying to stop her beagle from getting into the trash.