Beginner’s Guide to eCommerce Automation

As your eCommerce business grows, there comes a point where you can’t keep up with your current processes without automation. Your incoming orders outpace your ability to process them. You start to oversell because you can’t update inventory levels fast enough. Updating pricing or product information on your site can take hours.

These are some of the common growing pains eCommerce merchants face. If you don’t deal with them though, you’ll end up ruining your customer experience. You’ll spend more time in customer service apologizing for your own mistakes (stock outs, late or wrong deliveries, and more) instead of enhancing your product.

If these problems sound familiar, then you’re ready to consider integrating your eCommerce business to automate your daily processes. To get you started, here’s our beginner’s guide to eCommerce automation: what it is, what you should automate, and how to pick to the right solution for your business.

What is eCommerce Automation?

eCommerce automation combines the right people, software and processes necessary to automate the order lifecycle, from the point of checkout to delivery. It takes a lot of work to gain a new customer. Merchants must first attract them among competition, convince them to make a purchase, deliver the product as promised, and then encourage them to purchase again. In short, merchants have to:

  • Maintain rich product information to attract customers
  • Update pricing of products on your website
  • Display accurate stock levels for products on your website
  • Process online orders in ERP/accounting or Order Management System
  • Pick, pack, and ship inventory
  • Send shipping/tracking status to customer  

That means there’s multiple data types (orders, inventory, customers, products, and shipping/tracking) that must pass between multiple systems like your eCommerce platform, accounting system, order management system, 3PL, supplier’s systems and more. Without automation, merchants are stuck with manually entering the same order and customer data from one system to the next. This mundane task is slow and error-prone. Therefore, merchants turn to integration to connect their business systems to automate the data flows between them.  

For example, automation allows for your order fulfillment process to kick off as soon as a customer places an order on your website – no need to press buttons or manually enter data. Once that online order is placed, the order is sent to your order management system for processing and then sent back to your eCommerce platform with relevant shipping/tracking data and inventory quantities are decimated in your webstore.

Automation can save you time and precious resources. Some merchants have multiple team members spending several hours a day processing orders between their eCommerce platform and backend system like an ERP or accounting systems. Do you know how much this is costing you annually in staff time? It could be several thousands of dollars!

What eCommerce Data Points to Consider Automating

It’s easy to understand the benefits of automation. You’ll save time and money, while increasing operational efficiencies. The next step is considering what parts of your business you may need to automate.

Let’s look at the different data points of your eCommerce business and how automation can help through integration of your eCommerce platform with your backend systems like an ERP, accounting, POS or 3PL systems.

Order Fulfillment

If you’re spending several hours a day hand-keying orders from one system to the next, your processes are ready to be revamped. With automation, you can cut down order processing from 15-20 minutes for each order to milliseconds. What else could your staff be doing other than manual data entry?

  • Eliminate manual order entry from eCommerce platform to backend system
  • Offer faster shipping times and keep guaranteed delivery times
  • Eliminate errors that can result in orders being shipped late, wrong, or lost
  • Automate drop ship orders with suppliers
  • Integrate with 3PL providers for smooth fulfillment process
  • Automate the returns process to keep it easy for customers

Inventory

If you’re having trouble keeping up with constantly changing inventory levels, then you’ll want to integrate your inventory data. After, your inventory will manage itself.

  • Keep inventory levels accurate across all online sales channels
  • Prevent overselling or stock outs on your website

Products

Rich product information on your website is crucial for attracting and convincing your online customers to make a purchase. Unfortunately, product data is one of the hardest tasks for retailers to maintain and publish. With automation though, you’ll be able to automatically push updated product catalogs to your website so you don’t have to worry about stale or incomplete listings.

  • Quickly push updates to product information on website to keep listings fresh and accurate
  • Quickly push pricing updates to products

Customers

How well do you know your customers? To win over today’s shoppers, they expect a personalized shopping experience. With integration, you can gain the customer data you need to make the right decisions for them.

  • View purchase history for each customer
  • Have purchase data to leverage for product recommendations

Shipping/Tracking

Customers have high expectations for online delivery of their items. They want transparency throughout the process. With integration, you have the order information you need to do just that.

  • Send shipping/tracking updates to your customers

What to Look for an eCommerce Automation Solution

Deciding to automate your eCommerce business is only the first step. The next step is finding a solution that’s the right fit your business. There are many different solutions to pick from that range in functionality and price, but here are a few capabilities that you don’t want to forgo in your solution.  

Pre-built Connectors

Look for platforms that leverage pre-built connectors for the systems you need to connect. This will keep your costs down since you won’t have to pay for a custom-built integration from scratch. Pre-built connectors should help get your integration off the ground and running more quickly.

Real-Time Data Processing

Your data should sync in real-time, as soon as an event happens like an online order being placed. Some solutions will only sync in batches every 30 minutes or once a day. Don’t settle for anything less than real-time to ensure you don’t oversell or have any delays in order processing, especially during times of high volume sales.

Experience

Check out the vendor’s prior experience with integration. eCommerce automation is no longer a new idea. Look for reputable companies with a depth of expertise and market history.

Designed for Retail

Not all integration companies are designed for retailers like yourself. All types of companies need data integration. You want a solution that was designed for retail’s unique processes.

Support

Be critical of their support offering. While integration eliminates many of your errors and problems, there are still exceptions to your data that can mess with your integration. The faster their support team can help you, the faster you can help your customers.

Take Your Business to the Next Level

Evaluating whether you need eCommerce automation and selecting the right solution can be overwhelming. But don’t let that get in the way of automating your processes.

If you want to compete in today’s competitive online space, then you must provide a killer customer experience. eCommerce automation can revamp your daily processes and get your team back to focusing on enhancing your product and better serving your customers.  

Author:
Jillian Hufford is a Marketing Analyst for nChannel, provider of the simplest integration software to automate multichannel processes. Using both her writing and analytic skills, she assists the Marketing and Sales teams. Jillian performs competitor market research, provides analysis of key sales metrics, and writes informative posts on multichannel commerce trends. You can connect with Jillian on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jillian-hufford-a2173888/