In the second quarter of 2020, the U.S. eCommerce sales increased by 43.7%. This growth decreased slightly in 2021, but it’s not the point. The point is, how to remain in business and compete with such giants as Amazon, eBay and Walmart. What I suggest is that entrepreneurs reduce operating costs and improve customer service by automating business processes. In this article, I’ll give some recommendations on how to automate small businesses.
An automated online store is one of the main prerequisites of a successful business. Increasing sales volume, attracting new customers, working with regular customers, accounting – these are just some business processes that need automated management.
Certainly, no online store can be launched without manual work. During the initial period, there are still only a few clients, so the owner can provide his or her services personally. Basic operations, such as calculation of revenue and earnings, can be handled with the help of a calculator and Microsoft Excel. However, automation of the online store becomes an urgent task when the turnover exceeds 50 thousand dollars per month.
What business processes should be automated first?
#1 Control of finances
Owners of small companies can handle their financial transactions without automation. But as the turnover grows, it is more reliable to control finances using special software – this will help one avoid the mistakes in calculations.
This task requires implementing an ERP system or a separate Accounting Software.
#2 Document management
Sustainability of any business depends on proper document management. Each store operation is accompanied by the set of corresponding documents: consignment notes, receipts, contracts and invoices. There is no reason to spend your time on this work when there are special programs developed for it.
Automation of this process requires implementing ERP.
#3 Updating prices from suppliers
It’s better to automate this boring yet important task without delay. Obviously, when the assortment is small, the prices can be updated manually. But as the product range expands, this process takes more and more time.
To solve this issue, integrate your ERP with the supplier’s database.
#4 Maintenance of turnover
To control the balance and turnover of goods in the online store, one needs to implement an ERP with a Warehouse Management System module. In simple terms, this system allows you to create a unified information database, which collects data about the status and movement of orders, methods of delivery of goods to the customer, shipment, inventory balances, persons responsible for particular orders, etc.
#5 Working with customers
Forget about Excel and use CRM as soon as possible. By creating a customer database from the first day of your business you will be able to structure the information properly. Just imagine yourself having to transfer thousands of clients from the spreadsheet to the CRM system – what a boredom!
CRM allows you to collect all the information about a particular customer in one place, configure notifications about future orders and send birthday greetings.
#6 Email notifications
This element is closely related to the previous one. Integration of a CRM with an email service helps you set up automatic communication with your customers. Sending invoices, informing about successful payments, providing personal discounts, congratulating on holidays – all these processes may be and should be automated.
3 essential programs for eCommerce business automation
Having read the first part of this article, any business owner will ask, “That’s great, but how much does it cost”? And that’s the right question. Next, let’s talk about the tools and services that are used when automating processes.
Enterprise Resource System (ERP)
This one allows entrepreneurs to automate calculation of finances and inventory balances, document flow, as well as exchange other data with suppliers and logistics contractors. Additional modules, customization options and API make it possible to expand the range of functions of your ERP.
Of course, you can use separate programs for different tasks, e. g., QuickBooks for the finances and Acctivate Inventory Software for inventory control. But what’s the point of multiplying programs if you can integrate just one?
There are two types of such programs:
- Paid: Acumatica, Sage, NetSuite;
- Conditionally free: Odoo, ERPNext.
Client Resource Management (CRM)
This software is designed to automate the processes of the relationship between the customer and the company. Data about each customer is displayed in a separate card, which allows you to quickly check the history of communication. Control over the work of employees, collecting analytics and reporting are some other advantages of CRM. What should you use? If you work with ERP, then connect the ready-made CRM modules to it and employ ERP customization specialists. Alternatively, you can start with HubSpot or ZohoCRM.
Automatic emailing services
Such services facilitate communication with leads, and with both new and regular customers. The program assists in returning customers who were hesitant to use the service, reminds other customers of the collected and unpaid orders and helps them with technical issues. In other words, this is an automation of email marketing.
All customers are assigned to target groups, and the system sends letters relevant to each group. The letters usually contain commercial offers, sales invitations, promotional codes, useful information, congratulations, etc.
You may start with such programs as MailChimp, CampaignMonitor or GetResponse.
Shortlist “Hot to start automating”
To conclude, let me put forward a three-step plan on how to start automating:
- Integrate your website with ERP and CRM;
- Set up order receiving and processing;
- Set up inventory balance control and price updates.