When it comes to ecommerce, automation is essential. After every sale, your store needs to:
- Accurately reflect your current stock.
- Send the customer the invoice and shipping information.
- Add the new income to your accounting software.
An automated system ensures that, among other things, all of the above will happen seamlessly, without requiring any action on your end.
Ecommerce automation is about identifying processes that need to be streamlined and then choosing the right apps to execute them.
In this guide, we’ll get into the different operational categories of an ecommerce business, see why an app is required and how it helps.
A typical ecommerce business will have operations in:
- Sales and Marketing
- Customer Support
SALES & MARKETING
Building an ecommerce store from scratch, with your own developers and designers, will take a lot of time and cost a lot up front. An effective alternative is to use platforms that are built to get your store up and running as soon as possible. These platforms usually come with a variety of themes you can choose from and offer integration with major payment gateways.
Recommended app: Zoho Commerce
You can create, design, and build your online store the way you want, without writing a line of code. Zoho Commerce is already integrated with Zoho Books and Zoho Inventory to maintain stock and take care of incoming payments and expenses. You can also send customers reminder emails when they’ve left items in their shopping cart. And Zoho Commerce is integrated with leading payment gateways, so you can easily start accepting payments.
Email marketing, marketing automation, and campaign tracking
Building your email list is perhaps the most important aspect of marketing—it allows you to reach all of your customers directly. Compared to Facebook, where you can reach as little as 2% of your audience, 24.7% of people who get your email are likely to read it.
Let’s say you’re selling security equipment and a prospect has downloaded your free report on how secure his house is. It probably tells you that the prospect is concerned about the security of his home, in the event of a threat. You don’t want to send him emails that talk about your general workplace surveillance equipment. It’s not relevant—at least not right now. Each customer is different and has different needs. Marketing automation helps you deliver the most relevant email sequence to your prospects, based on their interest.
You need to know which campaigns did best, so you can keep doing more of what worked and improve what didn’t. In order to make the most of your marketing budget, your decisions should be driven by data.
Recommended app: Zoho MarketingHub
MarketingHub is Zoho’s all-in-one campaign management and marketing automation software. You can create email, social, and even SMS campaigns, all from one place, and track how those campaigns are performing. You can also create workflows that lead prospects into the most relevant content or email sequence. MarketingHub can also tell you when a prospect usually opens their emails and delay delivery till that time. The in-depth reports on campaign performance, lead growth, and revenue generation ensure that your marketing budget is spent wisely.
One of the prime components of a good social media strategy is planning. You’ll have to create content that’s tailor-made for social, and publish it at the right time. Social media management software allows you to create a content calendar and schedule posts for multiple social networks, in advance. You’ll also be able to monitor hashtags or trends that are relevent to your business, and engage in more productive conversation.
Recommended app: Zoho Social
Zoho Social is a top rated app, with over 3000 reviews on software rating sites like G2Crowd, Getapp, and Capterra. You can create, schedule, and publish, as well as respond to customers, all from inside Zoho Social. The SmartQ feature suggests times when your followers are most likely to engage with them. And you can pinpoint the reach of each post, measure engagement, and learn how many people shared it.
While it’s best to have your own ecommerce store, you should also leverage the audience in existing marketplaces, like Amazon and Etsy. So if you’re selling products in multiple channels, you should know the status of stock in each one. It’s also important that your store is not overstocked or understocked. If you’re overstocked, it means you’ve spent precious capital on inventory. When your stock doesn’t sell, you’re facing a scenario where products are just sitting on the shelves and you don’t have the budget left to do more marketing. On the other hand, if you’re understocked when there’s more demand, you risk losing out on sales and potential recurring customers.
Every now and then customers are going to return an item. Having to manually refund or credit a customer, and then return the item to your stock—or dispose of it if it’s damaged—can be a hassle.
Recommended app: Zoho Inventory
One of the ways Zoho Inventory helps you manage stock is by giving you the option to set a reorder point for each of your items. Based on past sales and current trends, you can choose a safe reorder point for items, wherein Zoho Inventory will automatically place an order from suppliers when stocks reach that level. This ensures that you aren’t hoarding items that aren’t selling and also have a sufficient stock of items that are in demand.
When a customer returns an item, you can easily create a sales return from the sales order, and either provide the customer with credits or return the amount. You can also mark the item as damaged if the item shouldn’t go back to your store.
And you can manage inventory in multiple channels, as Zoho Inventory readily integrates with Amazon, Etsy, Shopify, WooCommerce, and more. Zoho Inventory’s powerful reports tell you how your products are performing in each channel.
Accounting software keeps track of the money coming in and going out of your business, so you know exactly where you are financially, at any point in time. You need to account for the income from sales, track expenses, generate bills, and be tax compliant.
Recommended app: Zoho Books
Zoho Books is perfect for your ecommerce business, as it’s tightly integrated with major payment gateways, such as Stripe, Authorize.Net, PayPal, and Forte. You can create invoices, generate bills, raise purchase orders to suppliers, and convert them to bills upon receiving the stock. With Zoho Books, you can generate profit and loss reports, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for your business, at any time.
You’re going to have to redesign your site, come up with a marketing campaign, or even launch a new product. All of these are big projects with a lot of tasks involved. You need to know exactly where things are, what needs to be done, who’s going to do it, and how long it’s going to take. A project management app lets you do all of it.
Recommended app: Zoho Projects
Zoho Projects lets you manage projects of any size. The comprehensive tasks management module lets you break down any big project into small, manageable chunks. You can also add milestones, get a Kanban view of tasks, and create public and private chat rooms for contextual discussions. You’ll find all of your work-related communication in one place, neatly organized by task.
While discussions related to a task happen inside the project management app, you’ll need a way to quickly chat with colleagues privately. While it’s best to maintain communication in one dedicated portal—like your project management portal for effective collaboration—there are going to be lots of instances where ad hoc collaboration is required. You’re going to have to quickly create a group to finish that urgent task or share a document with a teammate.
Recommended app: Zoho Cliq
You can create groups and channels for discussing specific topics, and also make audio and video calls.
Running an online store involves writing product descriptions, website copy, and blog posts. Apart from collaborating on text documents, you’ll also need spreadsheets to gather data for research—for example, prices for similar products with customer reviews—or go over numbers.
Recommended app: Zoho Office Suite
Zoho’s Office Suite comes with full-fledged software for creating and collaborating on text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. You can also work on the go, with complementary mobile apps for all three products.
Text documents and spreadsheets aren’t the only files you need to run an ecommerce business. An online store requires product images, videos, PDFs, and more. All of these files need to be accessible by the right people so that collaboration happens seamlessly.
Recommended app: Zoho WorkDrive
The folder-first approach of Zoho WorkDrive ensures that files are properly organized and stored in dedicated Team Folders. Each Team Folder is created based on a project, task, team, or department. Only permitted members will be able to read, write, or comment on the files, and all members of the Team Folder will be notified of changes made to any of the files in that folder.
While you shouldn’t use email for internal communication, you certainly need email to communicate externally. You’ll also need it to for email marketing and outreach. If you use the right tools for the right purposes, your inbox will never overwhelm you.
Recommended app: Zoho Mail
Zoho Mail is an email solution tailor-made for businesses. Collaboration is built right into Zoho Mail. You can get your emails reviewed before you send them out. You can share your emails with colleagues, instead of forwarding them. And collaboration can happen via comments on top of the email. This is a simple, yet efficient, alternative to the endless reply chains that inevitably happen over email.
Customer support is important both before and after the purchase. Although people might be interested in your product, they may want to know if it will actually be useful for their specific requirements. And after the purchase, customers might want advice about how to use the product efficiently or have questions about certain features. There are going to be occasions where customers ask for refunds or replacements.
Now imagine if all these different types of customer questions landed in one email account. When multiple people are involved in customer support, sharing a traditional email inbox is not the ideal solution. That’s why you need a help desk app. This way all your teammates can sign in to their own account and access every customer question. They can decide who answers which questions by assigning tickets to themselves or others.
Another reason for help desk software is that not all customers contact you via email. Some will reach out through social media and use the forms embedded in your website. So it’s easy to get overwhelmed with customer questions coming in from multiple channels. However, a help desk pulls everything together in one place, where anyone on your team can respond.
Recommended app: Zoho Desk
With Zoho Desk, you get everything. Advanced ticketing, a comprehensive agent productivity system—including time tracking and collaboration—and it’s integrated seamlessly with Facebook and Twitter, so you can respond to questions on multiple platforms, right from Desk.
No matter how helpful a website is, nothing beats talking to a real person to get assistance. In fact, 63% of customers are more likely to return to a website that offers live chat. There’s no better way to start a relationship with customers than helping them out exactly when they’re looking for it.
Recommended app: Zoho Desk (again!)
That’s right. Zoho Desk also has a built-in live chat that offers easy conversion of live chats to tickets, canned responses for frequently asked questions, and customer happiness ratings for each chat.
So there you have it. If you automate your ecommerce business with the right set of apps, your sales, inventory, and accounting will function smoothly, without needing almost any manual intervention. You’re going to have solid structures in place for marketing and support, along with everything you need for collaboration and project management.