The demands on ecommerce entrepreneurs grow as companies scale. Inventory management, vigilant fraud prevention, and timely maintenance of loyalty programs all require attention. But what if you could set these systems up to manage themselves with minimal input from you? When properly rolled out, workflow automation can handle many of the tedious manual processes required for ecommerce success. Here’s what workflow automation is, how it works, and how to use it yourself.
What is workflow automation?
Workflow automation is the use of software to handle repetitive tasks without human intervention. A workflow is a system for completing steps in a process. Workflow automation software can streamline processes ranging from order fulfillment to support ticket management. This relieves workers from the time-consuming process of completing rote tasks, resulting in increased efficiency and higher job satisfaction.
Workflow automation is not a new concept. As early as the 1920s, Frederick Winslow Taylor, the founder of the Scientific Management movement, made strides toward workflow automation by breaking processes down into discrete steps that could be repeated, standardized, and optimized. Taylor’s approach influenced the development of assembly lines and automated mass production.
Today, workflow automation software can handle repetitive, standardized business tasks such as employee onboarding, inventory tracking, and customer support ticket management—with minimal human input. This reduces human error and increases efficiency.
10 workflow automation examples
- Managing inventory
- Updating “new arrival” products
- Canceling high-risk orders
- Combatting chargeback abuse
- Initiating loyalty programs
- Initiating post-purchase engagement
- Combining same-day orders
- Customer support ticketing
- Employee onboarding
- Abandoned cart recovery
Workflow automation can efficiently handle a wide range of processes. Here are eight examples of workflow automation in action.
1. Managing inventory
An automated inventory management system can monitor real time stock levels. For instance, when an item quantity drops below a set number, the system can alert you or automatically reorder the product. You can even set it up to notify your marketing team when inventory falls below the threshold, so they can mute the promotion of the item until it’s back in stock. Or, the workflow might automatically add a “low stock” tag to the item on your site to nudge customers to action: Buy now before it runs out! Once the item is out of stock, the system can automatically mark it as unavailable.
2. Updating “new arrival” products
Business process automation software can evaluate an item for “newness” (added within the past 30 days), tag it as such, then add it to your new arrivals collection. At the same time, the workflow can remove the “new” tag from items that have been listed for longer than 30 days, automatically removing them from the collection. This saves time that may have otherwise been spent manually combing through items, and returning customers might appreciate the updates.
3. Canceling high-risk orders
An automated fraud prevention workflow reviews orders for potential fraud risks. The workflow might analyze a new order for predetermined risk factors: Do billing and shipping addresses match? Does the buyer’s address match the address on file with the credit card company? Is there a history of fraudulent activity?
If an order poses a high risk, it can be automatically canceled or forwarded to the finance department for review. If the order is deemed fraudulent, the workflow can add the customer’s email and IP address to an “automatic cancel” list. This way, fraud is addressed swiftly, lessening the burden on your finance team.
4. Combatting chargeback abuse
Chargebacks occur when a customer disputes a credit charge. In some circumstances, chargebacks are legitimate—like when the customer never authorized the charge or received the wrong product. But chargebacks can be abused. A customer might fraudulently claim to have never received a product. An automated fraud prevention workflow can verify if the customer has a history of returning items that are damaged or not as described. If so, the workflow alerts customer service before order fulfillment, so they can address the potentially abusive claim.
5. Initiating loyalty programs
An automated loyalty program workflow monitors customers’ lifetime spend. When a customer passes a predetermined spending threshold, the loyalty and retention program kicks into gear and notifies your marketing team. The team can then send a personalized message to the customer, add them to a preferred customer list, or invite them to take a survey.
6. Initiating post-purchase engagement
After a customer completes a purchase, an automated workflow can deliver a custom promotion via email, text message, or browser push notification. All of these are customizable and can be applied to upsell and win-back campaigns. The workflow might also personalize the customer experience based on data you’ve collected about their interests, demographics, and purchase history—for instance, by suggesting items that pair well with products they have in their cart.
7. Combining same-day orders
An automated workflow can check a new order to see whether the customer has placed another order within the same day. It can then combine the orders so they can be packed and shipped together. This improves shipping efficiency, saves money, and can enhance customer satisfaction.
8. Customer support ticketing
Customers expect fast responses to support questions. Workflow automation can help by logging and tagging each incoming support issue. Chatbots serve as entry-level online help, and if the issue remains unresolved, the workflow can escalate the ticket to a human support agent. This permits support staff to help customers resolve the more complex issues.
9. Employee onboarding
The workflow for onboarding employees can be automated since most of the steps are routine and time-sensitive. When a new employee is added to the system, the workflow can automatically send a welcome email with an instructional video and the first onboarding task. Once the new hire completes the first task, the workflow sends the second task—and so on.
10. Abandoned cart recovery
Nearly 70% of shopping carts are abandoned, but recovery emails can help. One in five recipients of a cart abandonment email clicks it; 11% will purchase something as a result. Workflow automation can monitor cart abandonment; if a customer abandons their cart for more than an hour, then the workflow automatically sends a reminder email.
4 best practices for implementing workflow automation
- Examine existing processes
- Break down the logic of the flow
- Order the workflow using an app
- Start small and scale up
Workflow automation can streamline many parts of a business’s day-to-day operations. Follow these best practices when implementing a new automated workflow.
1. Examine existing processes
Map your business processes out. Document them. Then, select which ones would be strong candidates for automation. Processes that depend on repetitive manual tasks requiring accuracy, consistency, and timeliness are good candidates for automation.
2. Break down the logic of the flow
Since an automated workflow is a set of programmed instructions, you need to break down the tasks you want to achieve into discrete steps. Any process that relies on conditional “if this, then that” logic is prime for automation. Map out how workflow should respond to all possible conditions.
3. Order the workflow using an app
Automation software such as Shopify Flow uses building blocks that are simple to use, even without prior programming knowledge. Most workflow automation apps will break the process outlined above into three stages: trigger > condition > action. When a trigger occurs (let's say a customer submits a support request), the workflow assesses which conditions are met (in this case, the support request includes the keyword “problem with return”), and then performs the appropriate action (offers the consumer an FAQ about the return policy and the option to chat with an agent).
4. Start small and scale up
Automated workflows can be simple or complex with many branches of decision logic, but it’s wise to start with simple tasks and build on this foundation after thorough testing. Educate and train your team on how to use the automated workflow, and elicit constructive feedback—they’ll likely have ideas about how to make it even more efficient.
Workflow automation examples FAQ
How can workflow automation improve collaboration within teams?
Workflow automation software can fill communication gaps by automatically forwarding relevant information to the team members who need it. A successful workflow keeps the relevant staff on the same page and working toward common goals.
What are the key considerations when choosing a workflow automation tool?
The workflow automation tool you choose will depend on your business needs and the level of programming expertise you can access. For ecommerce stores, apps like Shopify Flow don’t require coding experience because they use an easy-to-learn drag-and-drop interface.
Can workflow automation be customized to fit specific business requirements?
Yes, robust workflow automation tools can grow with your business requirements. This is an important factor to consider when choosing the proper tool. Is it flexible enough? Does it force you into a box you can’t get out of? Can you tweak the workflows?