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5 min read

How to automate your eCommerce business

By Joanna Rutter · May 20, 2021
An icon showing a stylized webpage with a shopping cart in the center of it.

Whether you're an eCommerce veteran or daydreaming about starting your own side hustle while putting in hours at your day job, there are ways to make your online store easier to run. Running an eCommerce brand requires a lot of planning and maintenance to turn a profit and scale effectively. That's where automation comes in.

By automating the repetitive parts of running an eCommerce business, you and your team are freed up to sell more products, keep your customers happy, and make your business dreams come true.

To successfully run an eCommerce company using automation, you need to choose the business model, tech stack, and growth plan that align with your niche and goals. What you automate will stem from what type of business you run.

This quick-start guide to eCommerce automation includes guided set-ups for tested Zaps—our word for the automated workflows you make with Zapier—that connect certain eCommerce apps and the other tools you use to get work done. The set-up process only takes a few minutes.


Table of contents

  1. Identify your automation sweet spots

  2. Make the most of your tech tools

  3. Plan for growth


Identify your automation sweet spots

Your business model will determine the workflows you choose to automate and help you scale. There's a tech stack and growth plan for each method—you just need to find the one that best fits you and automate the parts that make sense.

These are the main types of eCommerce business models and their respective automation use cases.

Maker or self-producer

Got beautiful handmade pottery, vintage finds, or screen-printed tees you make in your garage? A maker business, where you're the only producer, means you have complete control over your product—but also that you're solely responsible for production. (If you take a day off, that's fewer mugs you can glaze.) 

It's challenging to be responsible for your production levels. But you can free up more time for creating and when you automate manual tasks like task or project management and customer outreach.

Wholesale

In a wholesale model, you commission, curate, or buy your merchandise directly from vendors wholesale, then ship products to customers from your home, physical store, or other business location. Think of a gift shop or Target—they source products from manufacturers and sell them in retail stores. Most brick-and-mortar retailers follow this model and have adapted their businesses to fulfill online orders as well.

Retailers have to source high-quality products at high volumes, working within the constraints of their ordering budgets and seasonal demand. If you're running a retail eCommerce store, automating your marketing and setting up notifications for important aspects of your business can save you time in the long run.

White labeling and dropshipping

White labeling, also known as private labeling, means you customize or repackage generic products as your own. Think custom apparel printing, where a third party ships your products for you and takes a cut, like Bonfire. White labeling is great for getting your brand started with lower upfront investment (in fact, you can completely automate a custom apparel store using Zapier).

Dropshipping is a subcategory of white labeling where the manufacturer of those generic products ships to the customer for you when you sell it on your online store—no bulk ordering traditionally necessary.

Both models benefit from automation since the ordering process can be redundant and repetitive.

Side note: Finding and vetting the right vendors is worth the extra work. Don't just pick the first manufacturers you find—dig deep to make sure their labor practices and environmental policies align with your business's values before ordering a 200-pack of custom baseball caps you can't return.

These main models of running an eCommerce business aren't exhaustive, but they're a great starting point or check-in for your "why" behind automating your business. Keep digging deeper in How to Run a Successful Online Store.

Make the most of the tools in your eCommerce tech stack

There are a lot of bells and whistles on every eCommerce software platform (SKUs and abandoned carts and sales tax, oh my!).

Look for these three fundamentals as you weigh options, whether you're launching your first store or leveling up your existing business. You need:

  1. A place to store product information where the customer can access it

  2. A way to legally process payments

  3. A means of delivering the products to the customer

eCommerce software

You've got to be able to show customers your wares and have a way of hosting your store so customers can shop there. The options can be dizzying. Some of our top picks are Shopify, BigCommerce, Wix, and Squarespace, but you should peruse The Ultimate Guide to eCommerce Software for more ideas.

Since your eCommerce software is the hub for all of your business operations, the best place to get started automating is to make sure the data from your eCommerce activities gets recorded and maximized elsewhere, like on your customer relationship management (CRM) platform or your email marketing system.

Payment processing platform

Money makes the world go 'round, and collecting secure, fast payments is what makes your business grow. You'll need a reliable payment processing platform to help process your eCommerce orders quickly.

Normally, you'd want to use automation to celebrate what's working in your business, but with payment processing, you'll benefit from knowing ASAP when something isn't working. Set notifications for failed payments, canceled orders, and other important events that affect your bottom line. You'll want to be the first to know so you can find a solution quickly.

Shipping solution

Once you've processed a payment, it's time to give your customer what they came to your eCommerce store for: that dopamine hit from getting an email notification saying their order is on its way.

You'll need a solution for printing shipping labels at scale without losing your mind or missing out on the best rates, which is where solutions like Shippo, ShipStation, and Shopify Shipping can come in handy (or you can DIY your own solution). Automate the manual data carry-over between your store and your shipping process, then use that new free time to perfect your Monday Motivation playlist to psych yourself up for another trip to the post office.

Side note: Keep in mind monthly fees and processing fees as you compare solutions. Do the math and factor in your predicted sales volume. Can you afford the platforms you're looking at and still make a profit?

Plan your next step for eCommerce growth

You've got your products and have a great tech stack. Now, how do you scale and find success after setting up?

Having a plan to scale your business can ensure you stay on track. Here are areas to focus on to grow your brand.

Marketing, especially email and social media marketing, is a free way to get in front of your audience. A simple place to start? Adding new customers to an email list where you can update them on exciting new products in your store. 

Omnichannel expansion, such as social selling on Instagram or listing products on online marketplaces like Amazon, can help you maximize your brand awareness and get more eyes on your products. 

Physical retail stores, markets, and craft fairs can be powerful channels to bring your digital brand to life and connect with new customers. Just make sure you have a way to capture new leads' email info so you can follow up with them later, like using SignUpAnywhere.

Building a business from scratch is a lot of work. Automation removes extra obstacles on your path to eCommerce success.

Further reading: Get inspired by eCommerce automation success stories

You're not alone in your automation aspiration. These eCommerce brands are already successfully automating aspects of their business operations, and you can lift the Zaps they're using to do the same.

  • Munk Store uses Zapier to automate customer outreach workflows with video platform Bonjoro

  • Hugh & Crye automates targeted email marketing using Shopify and Mailchimp with a few simple Zaps

  • e4e5.shop runs a customized apparel store on Zapier where every piece is made uniquely to order

  • The Perk coffee shop pivoted to offer online ordering in a pinch using automation

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Joanna Rutter picture

Joanna Rutter

Joanna Rutter is a marketing strategist based in Durham, NC. At her consultancy Tiny Megaphone, she uses zero-frills marketing tactics to help small-but-mighty businesses achieve success on their terms. Find her at tinymegaphone.com.

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