When it comes to e-commerce, it’s constantly a race against time.
How quickly can a retailer attend to customers? How fast are orders processed? Is stock and product management swift enough? Are customers’ questions and inquiries left unanswered for hours on end?
In the midst of an unprecedented spike in demand, all these factors and more play into the success and market performance of e-commerce retailers.
Customers now are more conscious than ever, making smarter choices when shopping online and opting for retailers that have received positive feedback for the speedy service – and there are plenty of alternatives out there.
While product quality, availability, pricing, and return policies do come into play, speed now makes the difference across the board.
To catch up and be ahead of the curve in an increasingly competitive and saturated market, retailers are now looking to optimize their operations by cutting out the middlemen, and that means embracing automation.
What does it mean to be automated?
Managing e-commerce functions can be time-consuming without the right tools and business strategy. As demands, inquiries, and orders increase, data entry and processing tasks become repetitive, harder to manage, and burdensome.
These are menial tasks that can be automated, and that can result in quicker response time and higher productivity from employees whose backend workloads are relieved.
Using robotic process automation (RPA) tools, retailers can build integrated systems that can pull relevant data from the marketplace, alert the management of arising issues, update inventory instantly, and send order updates to customers in real-time.
Here are several areas of e-commerce where RPA can, and is, making a difference.
# 1 | Automating inventory updates
Displaying and keeping a product portfolio up to date is a manual process – previously, it would take someone hours to upload hundreds of images, and other attributes. Not only is this all-consuming, but the tedium of such a task can easily lead to errors.
With RPA, retailers can automate the whole process of reading images, for example – making any necessary modifications – and uploading the same to respective product folders across the site.
# 2 | E-commerce content creation
Writing product listings for individual products is a repetitive task, and it requires finding content specialists who can populate and keep them up to date with the information that the buyer needs. All this is done using a Content Management System (CMS), based on data sourced from multiple locations.
RPA can reduce complexity and speed up this task. It can pull the information from various pre-ordained data points, and input it into the correct fields. This reduces the need for designated content specialists or at least reducing their workload, allowing them to focus on blogs or SEO work, for example.
# 3 | Product categorization
Product categorization is one of the most important, but also the most ignored functions of the retail industry. A product might be available, but a consumer may not happen to find it, owed to poor categorization, and that means a sale or more can be lost.
RPA can assign attributes and categorize products based on customized product mapping rules. On a fashion site, for example, an RPA system using AI-based deep learning could even sort and tag images where it recognizes a certain color or pattern, which could enable functionality such as allowing users to browse products with polka dots, or black dresses.
# 4 | RPA in the supply chain
Dealing with getting products to the consumer, supply chain management is one of the most important considerations for e-commerce firms. RPA can add security and speed to the entire logistics process, from inventory management to shipping and order monitoring.
RPA can send notifications on the order status, and keep retailers alert about inventory and other tasks involved in shipping. It can also be turned to predictive applications, by taking into account historical data, and alerting when similar patterns of demand begin to show, or automatically reordering stock that’s selling fast.
# 5 | Returns processing
Consumers demand a slick returns process, but it’s a costly one for the business – no tangible return is made from it, so there’s no point in it remaining a heavily manual process.
RPA can handle returns; sending a message to confirm receipt, updating the inventory system, making the payment adjustment to the customer, and ensuring internal finance systems are updated.
# 6 | RPA in customer service
Customers still like to connect with a human at the contact center, despite the rise of tools such as chatbots that are increasingly taking over. However, much of this in-person time can be spent on manually pulling up customer or product data across multiple systems.
RPA can trim down this time by serving information needed instantly on command. This ultimately leads to a faster, and seemingly more personal service for the customer.
At the same time, RPA can scour in-bound tickets for priority inquiries based on specific terms. All this can allow agents to focus on real customer issues.
Sparking retailer’s digital transformation
Employing RPA can be a first step to reaping the power of automation, and staying up to speed in the rapid and competitive online retail sector. But it can also help retailers identify areas for further, or more sophisticated, technology, such as AI and IoT.
So in that sense, the true driving potential of automation in e-commerce has yet to be fully embraced by many, but RPA is a significant first step to realizing it. Retailers that want to survive in the marketplace, expand their customer base, build brand loyalty and generate higher profits must explore the possibilities now.