How Automation can Help Retailers Stay Ahead of the Curve this Holiday Season

How Automation can Help Retailers Stay Ahead of the Curve


When we spoke with fast growing omnichannel retailer, Natural Baby Shower recently, they advised us that automating their retail workflows saves them 60 hours per month. That’s a pretty powerful statement. Now if we centered on the statistics alone, then the argument of how to stay ahead of the curve this holiday season would be finished pretty quickly. It would be a case of us telling you to automate and never look back. But the benefits of automation go much deeper than just the time saved, especially in the run up to and during the peak holiday season. Let’s discuss…

How can automation help you win at customer satisfaction?

Take customer satisfaction as an example. Think about what your customers want from you in the lead up to and during the holiday season.

The chances are high that your answer would be one of these things (or a combination of all three): instant customer service, the best gifts for their loved ones and a consistent shopping experience no matter where they decide to buy from you.

No-one wants to be left high and dry just because they decided to buy online rather than in-store, especially when searching for the perfect gift in time for an important deadline.

The holiday season is one of the busiest shopping events of the year. There’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday, January Sales and other key shopping dates to cater for. Each day comes with its own set of complications and high customer expectations. With customers buying gifts, there is a heightened emotional attachment to their shopping experiences. They want to find the best gift quickly and ideally, before the crowds roll in. And they want the flexibility to return their purchases in case they choose wrong.

Your customer service (and speed of service) need to be first-class, especially if you’re planning on giving Amazon Prime Day a run for its money. This special level of service will help you to turn your holiday shoppers into long-term customers, but also ensures any blasts about your business on social media are good (hold the bad and the ugly, please)!

But, and here’s the big but. With a 15.8% increase in ecommerce sales expected during this upcoming holiday season, there’s only one way you’re going to be able to rise to such high levels of customer expectation. Automation, of course!

Take some time to think about how much time your team spend on repetitive (and mundane) admin tasks. What is that costing you in man hours? And how about sales? Those retailers who choose to innovate, stay ahead of the curve and retain a competitive edge. This includes how you choose to innovate with technology.

How can you automate during your peak season?

There are a variety of tools you can use to automate your retail workflows and backend processes, including automation bots, automated email marketing services and integrated APIs to improve shipping processes. Let’s take a look at a few of these in detail:

Automation Bots

From automated order downloads, to instant allocation and fulfillment and automated order status updates, there are a number of ways in which you can use automation bots to reduce the pain within your business.

Here, we have an example of an automated order workflow:

  • An order is placed on your online sales channel (such as BigCommerce, Shopify, Magento, eBay or Amazon).
  • The customer placing the order automatically receives an order confirmation email dependent on your website settings.
  • That order arrives into your order management software, ready to be allocated, fulfilled, shipped and accounted for.
  • Automation bots trigger the order to be auto-fulfilled and auto-invoiced based on the completed payment status.
  • Your system is then prompted to create a picking list for your warehouse team, which they can immediately work from.
  • They mark the order as packed and shipped, alerting your website to send a dispatch email to your customer.
  • And finally, all payments, invoicing and shipping actions are automatically accounted for.

When mapping out a typical order workflow like this, we know that there are multiple steps involved. But what you should notice is just how much automation is playing a key part in making the entire process slick, smooth and streamlined. Thus, leaving you free to manage only by exception and focus more on growth (especially ready for your peak season).

Automated Email Marketing

Services like MailChimp integrate with various CRM systems so that you can use customer and prospect data to create mailing lists. Ideally, your CRM system should be able to send contact data automatically across to MailChimp (or similar) based on either a contact tag or a couple of settings. Otherwise, you would have to enter twice the amount of data, wasting valuable time and money.

When thinking about MailChimp specifically, their premium Ecommerce 360 feature immediately springs to mind. Why? Well, it allows you to go one step further in segmenting your data and mailing lists.

With this feature, you can segment based on what customers have bought from you in the past. For instance, say you sell a range of washing machines. Knowing specific sales data is available quickly, you know you can create a list of all customers who have bought washing machines from you in the past 4 months. The chances are high that they’ll soon be running low on washing detergent, leaving you with the perfect upsell opportunity if you also stock detergent alongside your washing machines.

Automated email marketing is all about making use of the data you have available, ready to make smart decisions to keep things tailored and personalized to each contact.

EDI & Integrated Shipping

When it comes to integrating your shipping to your order management system, you have a couple of options. Either, you can opt for an out of the box style solution, such as ShipStation or Shiptheory, or you can use EDI connections.

Up first – out of the box. These types of solutions allow you to integrate their software with your own management system. If using this option, setup is quick and easy to do and allows you to tailor things (to a certain extent) based on specified settings. We have a number of customers using this type of setup within their own businesses and benefits are certainly being reaped.

Take Open 24 Seven, for example. Mike Baker, their Systems Integrator, has recently said: “Bringing all of our sales system into Brightpearl simplified the process for seeing stock and inventory for the sales guys to make a sale. And then bolting Shiptheory onto the back, has allowed us to tightly automate that process.”

However, if software like this doesn’t quite work for you, then an alternative would be to use EDI connections and integrate directly to shipping providers as well as a number of other services. After all, EDI is just the interchange of business data between systems, so it’s fairly open to interpretation on what you decide to do with it. For more in-depth information on how EDI could help you, take a look at this webinar that our partner, B2B Gateway co-hosted with us.

In summary…

We think automation is a crucial element to your holiday season success. Without it, there is little chance of you (and other retailers) being able to keep up with the growing demands of customers, offer them the satisfaction they crave or turn your holiday shoppers into long-term repeat customers.

To find out more about how automation could help you with your peak season, take our quick 5 question quiz now.