Automation takes over monotonous tasks no one wants to do like data entry — boring work that doesn’t encourage accuracy, either. As an eCommerce store owner, you probably don’t have time for this anyway. Luckily, the eCommerce automation software you’re using almost certainly has eCommerce automation tools that can complete routine tasks quickly and accurately.
So let’s talk about time-saving (and possibly sanity-saving) eCommerce automation tools starting with those that handle key items for running a smooth online operation.
Automate Inventory Management
If you’re selling goods (as opposed to services) online, it’s all about inventory. You’ve got to make sure your products are in the right categories, with the right information attached. If you have high product turnover, you also need to know when it’s time to order from your suppliers so that you don’t lose, or at the very least, disappoint customers.
Inventory management is the most obvious candidate for eCommerce automation. Here’s a list of must-have capabilities your eCommerce solution should offer:
- Product importation
- Product setup
- Product holds
- Low stock notification
- Customer notification of shipment
- Product display threshold
None of these require a particular amount of brainpower once the important decisions have been made like what to purchase and from what suppliers. It’s also a good idea to know how many products are being held for customers who have not yet paid, when it’s time to order new products, and when to rotate out featured products that await restocking. You decide your thresholds or minimum stocking needs: the tools put it all in place for you and tell you when you need to act.
I admit it can be fun to add inventory when it’s all still new and exciting. But that task gets old pretty quickly, so I recommend the WooCommerce Stock Manager, a free WooCommerce plugin that syncs with Excel if you don’t feel like going back and forth with CSV files. It does things like color-code stock that’s getting close to or at reordering status, sets regular and sale prices, and lets you set up SKUs. It also automates the pieces of online sales that make them happen so quickly:
- Thumbnail photos
- Tax status and class
- Shipping classes (in other words, weight categories)
If you don’t use WooCommerce, Orderhive is a very thorough tool (and it works with WooCommerce as well). Orderhive covers the same bases as WooCommerce Stock Manager, and adds additional useful functions:
- Integration with Quickbooks and Zero to generate invoices and process payments; here’s a good article from Liquid Web about how WooCommerce integrates with Quickbooks
- Displays real-time analytics and generates reports
- Automates purchase orders to suppliers
- Handles multi-currency transactions
- Works with barcode technology
Fees are based on the number of integrations you need per month, starting with two for $50/month. You can try it free for 15 days and see how it goes.
Other inventory management tools have features like custom domains for private wholesale orders, mobile apps, integration with Amazon, and the capability to track production costs such as raw materials and labor.
Guide Customers with Friendly Automated Shopping Tools
Of course, you’re setting up your eCommerce store for customer ease, but there’s nothing wrong with adding a little automation to guide them, particularly those who are visiting your site for the first time.
Use Sensible Pop-Up Greetings and Online Chat
I’m old-fashioned: I like to be greeted when I walk into a shop. I get why big-box stores hire people who do little more than greeting (and anyway I can never remember where stuff is; why won’t grocery stores do this?) So there’s nothing wrong with a little pop-up on the bottom right corner that says something like “Hi! Thanks for visiting. Are you looking for something in particular?”
Notice I said bottom corner. Pop-ups that shout from the center of the screen, whether a visitor is shopping online or reading something, are rude and distracting. Most of us, I think, have taught our children not to interrupt us when we’re speaking to other grown-ups or are on the phone (unless, of course, it’s a real emergency). So why do some websites act like two-year-olds about to have a tantrum if we don’t subscribe to their newsletters?
Be different. Put your pop-up greeting or another message somewhere where it will be seen but not distract your visitors from their goal: to spend money on your products or services! Hello Bar offers options like banner notifications and a bell that actually rings to notify customers that there’s a special message for them when they land on designated pages.
Chats are useful customer service tools as well. Live Chat is one of the best-known chat services and offers a free WooCommerce plugin. Automation kicks in when sellers go offline so customers who shop off-hours can leave questions you can answer via email, text, or social media. LiveChat requires a license; prices start at $16/month prepaid for one year (or $19 for monthly billing). You can try it free for 30 days.
Wish Upon a Wishlist!
Wishlists are effective shopping tools that are somewhat underused by sites that aren’t called Amazon. As eCommerce expert Chris Lema notes, they are excellent tools for first-time site visitors and help build trust in your online store.
Wishlists let registered customers and guests create shopping lists they can maintain on your site for a specified amount of days, usually 30 for those of us who aren’t Amazon-sized. Users can share them with others via email and social media for events like an upcoming wedding or baby showers (good for those who don’t want to be limited to store registries), birthdays, or charity drives like back to school backpacks and holiday gifting.
Most wishlists work with specific platforms like WooCommerce, GoogleShop, and Shopify.
Do You Want Fries With Your Order?
Yes, I do. And so do your customers if you’re offering complementary products like covers for those new earbuds or moisturizing conditioner to go with that protein-laden tea tree shampoo. (I live in a desert climate and I know what I’m talking about!)
You can’t stock goodies like candy and gum at your online registration, but you can offer fries, so to speak, at checkout. Just as fast-food and grocery stores figured out, customers make spontaneous purchases at that time if they complement what they’re already buying and aren’t more expensive than the initial purchase.
You can do this on eCommerce, too, without having to draw up placards. Plugins like Cart Notices display dynamic, cross-selling messages for those compatible products and other enticements to get customers to buy a bit more. Using their shortcodes, you can match products that work well together, establish free shipping floors, or beat a sales expiration.
Automate the Customer Conversation
Customer conversations don’t evaporate just because your business is online.
Email remains the #1 way to reach customers, Liviu Tanase writes for Inc. Tanase, who founded an email validation service, has looked at a lot of email data over the years. Email outperforms every other marketing channel and according to Campaign Monitor, generates $44 for every dollar spent.
Just about every eCommerce platform has some kind of email support, and WooCommerce is no exception. Many require editing a template, which is actually not all that difficult on services like MailChimp, which includes a “Forever Free” option for low-volume email blasts. Or you can go with a customer relationship management (CRM) system that integrates with your website and provides lead and other services.
Make a list of regular tasks your eCommerce business needs. Identify those that don’t require brainpower as much as accuracy, and check your software to see if it offers automated assistance for any of these. Let the automation do the routine stuff so you can concentrate on what you do best and continue to grow your online store and its revenue!