What Is Ecommerce Automation? An Introduction to Shopify Flow

What Is Ecommerce Automation? An Introduction to Shopify Flow
This is a special contribution from David Moellenkamp, Director of Product at Shopify Plus

There are three keys to growth. Save time, save money, and sell more. While most businesses focus on the third ingredient, the irony of high-volume ecommerce is that selling more can be its own worst enemy.

The problem is dead simple: as a business scales, the demands, complexity, and repetition mount. Systems that used to work become increasingly inefficient and break down. In response, companies turn to piecemeal workarounds that require time and attention from employees. Time spent on what’s important is sacrificed for time spent on what’s urgent, even when that’s just pushing buttons.

Or, companies turn to new hires. Unfortunately, people don’t scale. Even more painful: people are costly. Neither of those statements undercut the value of people. If anything, they reinforce it. People, especially their time and energy, are your most powerful resource.

Yet there’s a third option, and it lies in ecommerce automation.

Ecommerce automation is about giving your people and yourself the most important thing you can: time. Shopify Flow is the first ecommerce automation software that streamlines those manual tasks and simplifies complexity.

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    What Is Ecommerce Automation?

    Ecommerce automation is software built to convert tasks, processes, or campaigns within your ecommerce business to automations that intelligently execute exactly when needed. It also enables experimentation and creativity without the typical time investment.

    Shopify Flow does this using automation software built natively into the Shopify platform, allowing you to create automation across your online store and apps.

    • Start automating in seconds with easy-to-use templates
    • Reduce manual tasks by filling the gaps between systems and apps
    • Grow your business with the flexibility to put new campaigns and ideas into action

    This can take a host of different forms like tagging customers for segmentation and marketing, standardizing visual merchandising, streamlining tracking and reporting, halting high-risk orders, and more. With each, the goal is the same: to offload the demands, complexity, and repetition high-volume ecommerce inevitably creates.

    How? Shopify Flow uses a simple visual builder so you can specify triggers, conditions, and actions which are stored and executed without any coding.

    Shopify Flow can also be combined with two other automation tools. First, Launchpad for scheduling, preloading, and monitoring events like major sales campaigns, product releases, and seasonal celebrations. Second, Shopify Scripts, which adds automatic discounts, relevant payment options, and specialized shipping options to create a customized checkout experience for each customer.

    Where Does Ecommerce Automation Work Best?

    In any organization, there are hundreds if not thousands of small tasks that take between two and five minutes to execute. Individually, they never appear to be a significant time-waster. Together, however, they devour productivity and stunt growth. Automation simplifies these tasks, drives efficiency, and allows you to experiment.

    Here’s a sampling of where ecommerce automation works best:

    • Schedule sales — i.e., price changes and promotions — for predetermined time periods
    • Preload new products and publish them to your store, social media, apps, and sales channels simultaneously
    • Tag high-value customers and notify customer service to send personalized welcome messages
    • Unpublish out-of-stock products and send a Slack message or email to your marketing team so they can pause advertising
    • Adjust prices at checkout based on product combinations, quantity, or customer location
    • Show and hide payment options relative to customer criteria like order history, location, and device
    • Flag and notify internal security teams of high-risk orders instantly
    • Identify, tag, and segment customers who buy from specific sales channels, such as Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest, and more
    • Apply discounts or specialized shipping rules to customers with email addresses or tags like “Loyalty Member”
    • Rollout and rollback entire theme changes for seasonal promotions or product drops

    Automating tasks like these wins back time, energy, and thousands in expenses. More than that, it unleashes your teams to invest where they do their best work: experimentation, creative endeavors, product iteration, sales and marketing, and personal development.

    Who Does Ecommerce Automation Benefit?

    Ecommerce automation works best when adopted by interconnected roles and departments within an organization. Just remember, this is far from a comprehensive picture. The following examples represent a small sample of the automations you can create with Flow.

    Operations Managers

    Ecommerce operations can use automation for a host of inventory, shipping, and product-related workflows. To standardize visual merchandising and make discoverability easy, products can be automatically tagged and added to collections based on their title, SKU, or type.

    When stock gets low, Flow can send you alerts or be used to email a supplier to reorder. In a similar vein, out-of-stock or discontinued items can be automatically unpublished and then republished once the inventory arrives.

    Customer Service

    Flow lets you tag customers based on conditions like order value, acquisition channel, and specific products. Beyond simply creating segments for later marketing and retention, customer service can be instantly notified over Slack or email to reach out with a personalized thank you message or loyalty program invitation.

    Likewise, when an item is returned, customer service can be prompted to follow up on whatever communication channel the customer last used — email, social, Messenger, or phone — to ensure your relationship remains strong.

    Fraud Prevention

    To safeguard order fulfillment, Flow can be used to augment Shopify Plus’ existing risk analysis. Already, when high-risk orders are identified — through an IP address check, address verification system (AVS), or Shopify’s own database — they’re automatically halted or flagged for review.

    In addition, ecommerce automation can then be configured to notify your own security or fraud-prevention specialists for hands-on review, potentially saving you thousands of dollars in chargebacks and lost revenue.

    Marketing and Advertising

    When new products are added to a storefront, marketing departments can be notified, forwarded product details, and prompted to start advertising. Advertising teams can also be notified when inventory is running low on specific products to pause promotion and optimize ad spend.

    Scheduling sale changes in advance allow marketing teams to better plan promotions and reduce errors and downtime. Best of all, customers may be tagged at checkout based on a host of criteria for personalized marketing.

    Design

    For merchants who specialize in customized products, order specifications can be sent directly to the design team’s workflow, eliminating the need for designers to run reports or perform unnecessary administrative work.

    Designers themselves can use Flow to leverage a host of marketing tactics — “back-in-stock” banners, overlays, and action-oriented visual cues like “buy now - limited quantity remaining" — all of which are published and unpublished automatically based on tags referenced by the theme.

    Web Development

    Next to operations managers and security, development may actually stand to gain the most from automation.

    Theme changes, merchandising opportunities, email captures when an item goes out of stock, free-gifts on selected purchases, and displaying the best payment or shipping options can all be customized through ecommerce automation. Once created, these rules remove the need to code and recode repetitive updates that bog down dev’s resources and time.

    Ecommerce Automation Checklists

    For a more detailed and practical look at automation, download the Ecommerce Automation Checklist

    How Can You Automate Your Ecommerce Operation?

    Automation represents the future of commerce. Unfortunately, creating your own in-house systems or engineering your own connections between your platform and tools requires a lot of work. That’s why we’re working with our partners to increase the number apps that work with Flow, so you can easily connect your business with the services that help run it.

    Automation should also be simple. To accomplish that, Flow follows a trigger, condition, and action logic created through an easy-to-use visual builder. Workflows can be built and deployed in minutes, or you can use pre-made workflow templates, both without ever writing a single line of code.

    Shopify Flow utilizes pre-made workflow templates.

    Since it was introduced in 2017, over 3,500 businesses have put automation to work. Even more impressive are the hard numbers behind those businesses: 1.1 billion workflows — e.g., decisions offloaded — each one eliminating a process that used to be manually operated. In aggregate, that amounts to 9.2 million hours in time saved (or over 1000 years).

    Home furnishings retailer Scandis has created seven active workflows across three different Shopify storefronts, including one to track commissions from their in-store associates at 32 brick-and-mortar locations.

    It’s also created flows to …

    • Automate employee discounts
    • Manage their inventory and reordering processes
    • Optimize their refund reports saving them hundreds of hours every year
    • Unpublish and publish products due to availability, warehouse movements, and returns

    What Is Ecommerce Automation The Future Of Scaling Your Business Is About Freeing Your Time For What Matters Most

    “Flow has saved hours already in the two weeks we’ve been using it. It’s allowed us to run three Shopify stores without needing to hire an employee for each one.”

    “The more you automate with tools like Flow the more money a business can make. It’s an exciting time and we see a lot of opportunity. The more we use Flow the better off we’re going to be tackling the more important parts of our business.”

    Julio Giannotti, Web Manager at Interline
    (Parent Company of Scandis)

    Shopify Flow

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    About the Author

    What Is Ecommerce Automation The Future Of Scaling Your Business Is About Freeing Your Time For What Matters Most

    David Moellenkamp is the Director of Product at Shopify Plus, where he is focused on building products to solve the problems of Shopify’s highest volume merchants. Prior to joining Shopify, David worked at BlackBerry where he helped build mobile device management solutions for some of the world’s largest and most demanding organizations.