In the present day, running an ecommerce store is not a child’s play. As your store gets busy, so do you. At times you wish a day would’ve some extended hours. In our caffeine filled daily schedule, as we try to increase the limit of our potential, a time-saving tool is a true blessing. The ideal qualities of a time-saving tool would be maximum output with minimum manual intervention, minimal learning curve and less susceptibility to errors.
While there’s a lot to gain when automation goes well, there’s, even more, to lose when it doesn’t go as expected. Thus, in this article, I shall draw a fine line between tasks which should be automated and which shouldn’t be.
The content of this article would be relevant to every ecommerce platform, but the plugin examples used would be relevant mostly to WooCommerce.
Tasks That Can and Should Be Automated
- Tasks which involve accumulation and use of data without any analysis or very minimal analysis.
- Are repetitive and its iterations are not very distinct from each other.
- Well-defined and each of its steps can be answered by a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
- A chance of being error-prone when put under manual intervention.
- Involves a number of computations which can get delayed when done by a human.
The opinions regarding the relevance of email marketing in today’s world are diverse and contradictory. It’s being one of the oldest marketing tools doesn’t necessarily make it perishable. Yes, I am one of those strong believers in email marketing!
My reasons are pretty straightforward which are backed by data and my personal liking
- As per 2018’s reports, there are 2.8 billion email users all over the world!
- On an average, business users send and receive around 140 emails per day!
- Some emails are actually a pleasure to read. They are informative, fascinating and leaves you with the impression of reading a story! Yes, that’s the power of email marketing when done right. And what’s more interesting to note is that 90% of those fascinating, personalized emails you receive as a part of your subscription are automated!
Let’s try to break down the activities involved in email marketing
- Collecting emails through a form placed at a suitable place on your site.
- Verifying the emails and identifying the email ids which are suitable for the email you are planning to send.
- For instance, you have customers who have purchased a helpdesk plugin from your store. If you plan for an email marketing campaigns which would contain the list of new features you have included in the latest version of your plugin, then you would better restrict the email to the customers who have purchased the helpdesk plugin. You might think that sending the email to all your customers would be a good idea since that might increase your chance of acquiring a new customer! Wrong, that would, in fact, increase the chance of your email getting identified as a spam! Sure, that might earn you some new visitors to your product page or maybe 1-2 buyer. But, it has a higher chance of getting your email content marked as ‘spammy’. And a spam record of 2-3% is high enough to completely jeopardize your email marketing campaign.
- Once you are ready with the email content and have selected the email ids, you would have to set out to address the mail to each of the recipients. Because, without a touch of personalization, there’s 70% chance of your email marketing campaign to fail.
Doesn’t this look like a lot of repetitive tasks? How about automating this entire process? That’s always a good thing! But, remember to keep on checking the stats and reports from you automated email marketing campaign at least thrice a week. Because there are lots to lose if you let your automation to run on its own without any manual intervention from time to time, you might find yourself heading downhill towards disaster in no time!
MailChimp is undoubtedly one of the best tools to be used for email marketing automation. Right from collecting your subscriber’s, it would help you segment them and trigger the appropriate mail for the users. If you’re searching for a solution which is much more affordable and easier to use, SendX is an excellent Mailchimp alternative. If you‘are searching for a solution for more advanced ecommerce marketing automation, Omnisend is a good MailChimp alternative.
Customer Service is another sector of an ecommerce store which is usually seen to be automated at certain levels. Chatbots, automated replies based on words in your query are a few examples of customer service automation.
It’s not a very good idea to employ chatbots or send automated replies to customers who are seeking your help in resolving the issues they are facing with your product. But, at hours when it’s not possible to employ humans, a chatbot is a must. In fact, using chatbots for answering the FAQs is one of the most preferred technique in order to ensure customers of your dedicated support. Basically, that’s how you can ensure 27 x 7 availability.
Customer service is meant to provide solutions and the interaction can vary with the customer. Every customer may or may not be convinced by the same words. You might have to use different explanation techniques after manually studying the emotions, intent, and problems of the customer. Thus, automation here is a big no!
Well, the process of providing a customer support should not be automated. But, you can definitely setup certain automation in order to ease the process. For instance, auto-assigning of support tickets in order to save the time involved in manually assigning the tickets based on the description.
The other kind of automation that can be used on your helpdesk is auto-closing of tickets when no activity is observed for days.
WSDesk would be a good tool for automating ticket assigning, status update, email notifications. The plugin offers a “Triggers & Automation” feature where you can set one or multiple conditions and decide the automate actions to be taken.
Setting Up and Managing Products
Product setting up and managing involves the following functions –
- Creating new products; Setting up feature images; Setting the product types; Configuring its stock and other properties.
- Updating stocks and other properties from time to time.
How about automating them? A definite yes, in this case. Thankfully, WooCommerce has an inbuilt functionality to bulk import and export products in CSV. And if you need some advanced feature, you can go for the premium options.
How many times can you check you order dashboard and manually mark all the pending orders as “Completed”? It’s an unnecessary arduous task. In fact, the entire process of order management and fulfillment should be automated (In most of the cases).
Sure, at the onset of your business, you can do the entire task from “Marking your order as complete” to “shipping” and “printing invoices” manually but it’s next to impossible to continue doing this when you get more than say 50 orders per month and sell worldwide.
Fortunately, the default WooCommerce feature allows auto-completion of orders for virtual-downloadable products on payment completion. But, in order to extend these functionalities to other products, you can take the help of some code snippets or plugins. For instance, this article would guide you on how to auto-complete all your WooCommerce orders.
In case of Refund, it can still be kept manual because of some complications which can arrive.
There’s another bit of the Order Management which can be automated. Which is invoice generation? In the current era of commerce, you would rarely find someone who wouldn’t ask for an invoice in return for any payment they make. Why would you take the burden of creating an invoice manually every time an order is completed? You can, in fact, leave this task to automation and relax. PDF Invoices plugin for WooCommerce would do this for you by automatically attaching a PDF invoice to every completed order.
Offers and Discounts
This can be taken as an illustration of Marketing Automation. WooCommerce allows you to create coupons and allows you to configure and restrict its usage to specific email ids, products, dates etc. You can automate in order to give discounts to specific customers and also automate the starting and ending date. Then there are plugins like Smart Coupons, which would allow you to automatically generate coupons and mail them to the customers. But, it makes sense to further automate it by using plugins like Dynamic Pricing and Discounts for WooCommerce.
Rather than configuring discounts for every user, you can simply set up discounts for your “Wholesale” user role and the begin and expiry dates. You can further setup min/max order limits for the discount to be applicable. So, any user with the right credentials can just login and directly avail his offer rather than having to use the coupons code.
The most important step is to identify the tasks which are required to be automated. Automate only the tasks, which would save your time and productivity. Most of the tasks mentioned above require a correct proportion of manual intervention and automation. In today’s scenario, you can’t just completely put your online store on autopilot because automation is capable of taking care of only the predictable tasks. But, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, there might come a time when this idea sees the light of the day.
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