E-commerce: What is automation and how to do it

TL;DR Powerful experiences can be delivered through intelligent use of automation: from making product recommendations to ongoing customer communications via email. In this article, we highlight what is possible and share ideas on how to get the best from automation.

Automation can be a valuable weapon for e-commerce businesses to create added customer value and save precious time – but where do you start and what should you focus on?

The simple answer to both of those questions is with the customer in mind. Yes, automation is a clever use of technology but at its heart it needs to drive value; make life easier for customers or deliver them an impressive experience.

Take Moonpig’s example of allowing customers to create an annual reminder to buy a birthday card. It’s such a simple solution but so effective and a lesson for all e-commerce players: automation shouldn’t confuse or get in the way; it needs to be automatic for the people.

E-commerce techniques and solutions

It wasn’t long ago when Amazon’s ‘customers also bought’ automated cross-selling technique was being held up as something of awe and wonder. Now, it’s almost a prerequisite for any e-commerce store.

And, like any good business, Amazon continually strives to improve its platform and its customer experience. Its recommendation engine now includes such areas as ‘frequently bought together’, ‘compare to similar items’ and the personalisation element ‘recommended for you’ based on your purchase history, 

All of this is automated – and needs to be. Can you imagine how many man hours would be required to deliver these recommendations to the millions of Amazon customers?

And, boy, does it deliver. McKinsey has reported that 35% of what consumers buy on Amazon comes from recommendations driven by the platform’s algorithm.

Delivering personal online shopping experiences delivers an increase in sales. Accenture reports that 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who provide them with relevant offers and recommendations, and 83% are willing to share personal data to benefit from such a personalised offering. 

Those numbers are too big to be dismissed if you’re serious about growing your e-commerce business. Each and every customer needs to be treated individually and platforms are using artificial intelligence to not only deliver this granular level of personalisation but to do it automatically.

Developers are creating personalisation engines for big e-commerce platforms such as Shopify to aid with upselling, cross-selling and customer retention on an individual level. 

It’s clever stuff and is transitioning the ‘customers also bought’ message to a ‘customers like you also bought’ message, and beyond.

Updating the user manual

A significant benefit of automating manual tasks within e-commerce relates to stock control to drive operational efficiency.

Systems integration now means that the platform storing your inventory can talk to your e-commerce platform, therefore providing customers with real-time stock level numbers. 

This benefits the customer and business alike.

Customers receive a message when products are out-of-stock thus avoiding the annoyance of thinking they’ve bought themselves something new only to be told that their purchase isn’t possible, while businesses deliver a good level of customer service.

Add on the option for customers to request a message when the product is back in stock and you’ve got a neat experience.

And it’s also been reported that displaying stock levels can result in more sales, particularly when it’s clear that a business is running low on a product. We’re all aware of a spot of FOMO these days.

In this Shopify article on e-commerce automation, Good American’s executive vice president of digital and commerce, Mehmet Dokumcu, says: “It’s an extra incentive or nudge to buy when customers see we’re running low on a product.”

The article also highlights other areas of e-commerce automation including:

  • Automatically tagging high-value customers or members of a loyalty scheme and sending discount offers or exclusive invitations to check out new products 
  • Applying automatic discounts on bundles or combinations of items at the checkout stage
  • Automatically tagging and segmenting customers who have bought from different channels such as Amazon, eBay, Facebook

Intelligent use of email

Automation within email has been commonplace for some time and most companies provide some level of this – from scheduling to a degree of subscriber segmentation.

But there’s so much more to email automation – it goes way beyond greeting customers by their first name – and a lot of it is going untapped.

As we’ve already highlighted, segmentation is developing into personalisation and delivering individual customers their own product recommendations. Combining this type of website journey with appropriate email messaging has the ability to deliver a more rounded customer experience and, with that, comes the likelihood of increased sales.

For example, a fashion e-commerce retailer can follow-up a customer’s purchase of a dress with an email of suggestions for matching shoes and accessories. And, again, an automated process can be created for such a tactic to deliver more sales while also making the customer feel special.

Savvy e-commerce businesses send out ‘cart abandonment’ emails to shoppers who have added items to their basket but didn’t go through with their purchase with some even offering a discount as a carrot to complete conversion.

Added to that is the potential to make more use of automated marketing emails. These range from a straightforward welcome message to new subscribers to offering them a discount on their first purchase through to using data to increase their lifetime value to your business.

Imagine you’re a children’s birthday party venue…how can you help your customers while also driving sales?

Well, you have on record when they booked your venue for their daughter’s party which means you know they’ll likely be looking for venues at the same time the following year. An automated email to them 12 months after their booking offering a discount on using your venue again is a simple way of gaining their repeat business. If your system flags that the venue is already booked then the email doesn’t go out.

The majority of email platforms have an API that you can connect to, thus making much lighter work of what would be cumbersome and easily-forgotten manual tasks.

Roll up and place your bots 

If you’ve used a website’s live chat service or contacted a business through Facebook Messenger there’s a chance that you’ve been communicating to a non-human. Customer service chatbots are being regularly employed to direct people to solutions, begin conversations to save time and help navigate a stepped, defined funnel.

In a manner of speaking, customer service has been automated for years. Humans have been provided with scripts and pre-defined response templates albeit without the use of technology. 

Now that technology can get close to replicating this level of customer service, businesses are welcoming chatbots to improve efficiency and free up staff’s time so they can carry out higher value work.

There needs to be a note of caution here because the human touch is obviously very important in a number of scenarios with customers, but if an e-commerce website is receiving a high volume of similar queries and a bot can be programmed to direct users to the solution then why wouldn’t you use one?

Bots can be used to take online bookings by asking a series of questions, assign sales opportunities to the right person and even create games.

To learn more about them and how to create one, there’s a guide packed full of information at Mobile Monkey.

While traditionalists will argue against their use, bots are here to stay and they will only get more advanced. It’s only when they start talking to each other about their plan to overthrow the human race should we become worried.

Summary

As with all aspects of the digital revolution, automation is continually advancing and I’m sure that, in five years’ time, we’ll look back on some of today’s technology and have a little chuckle at how primitive it seems. 

This is why it’s important for you to have your e-commerce strategy in place and then use automation to help. If you allow technology to take over and look to it to provide all your answers then you’ll forever be chasing your tail; always looking for the next upgrade or the latest tool.

If your customer service needs streamlining, automation can help. If it’s something your business is known for and you’re proud of it then automation might do more harm than good.

If your customer retention is poor, automation can help. If you’ve already got a loyal customer base, automation might erode that.

Automation is a powerful weaponry in your digital armoury and can drive big improvements if used right. Know what can be done, what value can be delivered and then make the call on how and where to implement it. 

Events & Insights

To keep improving you need to continually sharpen the saw. We run events across the UK to share knowledge, encourage peer to peer learning and to help you, our customers to stay one step ahead of those around you.

Here is a sneak peak of some of the events we have coming up next.

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