A proprietor of an online shop checks her phone for an address before adding a shipping label to a parcel. Behind her are additional boxes waiting to be shipped.
When deciding which aspects of your business you want to automate, begin by selecting some key areas where simple changes can have a big impact. — Getty Images/svetikd

E-commerce is booming: One estimate projects that by the end of 2023, 1 in every 5 retail sales will be made online.

To meet demand and stay ahead of the competition, small business owners need to find ways to work smarter, not harder. E-commerce automation software can help you do just that.

Bain & Company estimates that companies achieve an average cost savings of 20% by implementing automation.

E-commerce automation tools connect online storefronts, e-commerce platforms, shipping partners, digital marketing campaigns and social media, accounting solutions, and more. These platforms automate repetitive tasks like order processing, inventory management, and customer support. Here’s how to deploy automation throughout your e-commerce business to stay ahead of the curve.

Look for repetitive, time-consuming processes

Automation cannot replace your employees. Customer satisfaction is predicated on great customer service, which requires a human touch. Automation can alleviate some of your team’s workload and empower them to give five-star service with every customer interaction.

Look for complex or time-consuming processes that are preventing your employees from paying attention to tasks that really add value. BigCommerce suggests using these criteria to find areas ripe for automation:

  • Tasks that require three or more people working on a single process.
  • Tasks that involve multiple platforms — especially platforms that aren’t integrated.
  • Tasks that are triggered to occur in reaction to a previous action.

If you’re not sure where to start, ask your team. “It's likely your employees will have a very good idea of what these tasks are, as they tend to be the most onerous and annoying,” wrote Zapier.

Inventory, accounting, order management, and marketing are all business functions where automation can make a big difference.

[Read more: How to Streamline Your Sales by Automating the Sales Process]

If you’re not sure where to start, ask your team.

Start small

Start by integrating automation solutions into your internal-facing processes before you automate your entire business. Choose a few key areas where simple changes can have a big impact. For instance, administrative tasks like managing notifications, backing up files, and task management (e.g., adding items to to-do lists and managing workflows) are simple changes that can help your employees work more productively.

Expand into key business functions

For online businesses, automation can improve the following parts of your operation:

  • Inventory management: These tools allow you to set the threshold of inventory you need to have on hand at a minimum. The tool sends an alert to restock when your inventory dips below the threshold. Some tools can be set up to automatically re-order inventory for you.
  • Order management: “These [tools] will receive and alert you of new orders, track the orders out for delivery, and even coordinate dispatch and delivery. All of it with minimal human oversight, enabling seamless deliveries at low cost,” wrote Moda, an e-commerce growth platform.
  • Marketing: Tools like Mailchimp, HubSpot, and Buffer can set up automated drip campaigns, schedule social media posts, and manage SMS marketing, giving your team time back for big-picture thinking.
  • Customer engagement: Tools like HelpScout, Zendesk, Olark can help automate elements of customer service, while other automation options help you grow your loyalty program, track orders, and collect customer feedback.
  • Accounting: Automated accounting tools can sync orders and inventory on a regular cadence to ensure that your stock, product listings, taxes, revenue and expenses, and other order data are consistent throughout your operation.

There are dozens of applications for automating your online business. Ultimately, this process should be guided by the needs of your team. “Your staff will understand where the pain points are and what they spend the most time doing, and they'll have a vision for where things can grow and improve,” wrote Zapier. “Involving them in the automation process from the ground up will help the automation serve the needs of your business most effectively.”

[Read more: Automate Your Hiring Process to Focus on Finding the Best Hires]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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