Whether your business is brand-new or has a well-established reputation, the changes we have seen in 2020 and 2021 have shown us the potential to improve operational efficiency with ecommerce.
Two thirds of businesses plan to cut costs over the next 12 months, but less than 30% of cost-cutting programmes hit their targets, and less than a fifth of these can demonstrate sustained benefits over three years. However, many organizations that have embraced digital transformation and automation have been able to scale and minimize risks during challenging times.
Technology can help you to remove unnecessarily repetitive tasks and duplication. You can improve productivity and reduce the risk of manual errors that can slow down processes and affect customer satisfaction. You will also have a clear and accurate view of your business performance.
So, whether you have ambitious growth plans or want to do more with less, here are some of the ways ecommerce can improve your operational efficiency.
Gartner’s emerging technology trends report predicted that 2021 would bring a greater focus on organisational efficiency, agility, and effectiveness. Automation is expected to evolve into a key business trend.
During the pandemic many organizations found their mis-matched collection of legacy business processes and systems meant they were missing opportunities. Resources were being wasted or used inefficiently and many traditional approaches needed to be replaced with digital alternatives. Now the race is on to automate processes from end to end across multiple business silos.
Opportunity or threat?
Modern technology can now learn and improve on processes that have previously been completed manually. While there were understandable fears that this would lead to job losses, research has shown that employees feel that automation makes them more productive. With less time spent on manual tasks they can instead focus on more strategic and creative activities.
Automation can do more than complete simple repetitive actions and has potential to streamline strategic operations. This includes publishing new products to your ecommerce site, assigning items to the right categories, product positioning and presentation. The whole sales process can be continually monitored and reviewed in near real time.
Realising operational benefits
In retail (B2C) ecommerce sales, customer behavior, stock levels, and trends all need to be observed every day to anticipate and respond to demand. Interpreting high-volume sales figures to understand their implications, accurately restocking, and introducing new products are all skilled and time-consuming activities that can be supported with technology.
Many businesses are looking to machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), complemented by human creativity and control. Now it’s possible to set your business strategy, parameters and goals, and the technology will do the rest.
How ML and AI can help
ML and AI can automate the process of identifying products with high sales potential by comparing them with other best-selling lines with similar attributes. You can refine your navigation based on relevance and trends, develop categories and assign product sets more accurately. You can even curate your visual merchandising to improve performance.
As your customers interact with products, your business can learn and reassess their popularity. By replacing time-consuming manual processes with AI your full catalog can be monitored, providing accurate information based on current customer behavior.
Recommendations for new product categories, special offers, or promotions can be triggered based on parameters you have set to fit with your wider strategy, allowing you to respond quickly to current trends and improve your conversion rates.
Your ecommerce platform provides you with high volumes of real-time data, sometimes called Big Data. The speed with which you can convert this into usable insights will have a direct impact on your sales performance. You can replace month-old reports based on siloed business systems with a single, clear view of your business
When you integrate your business systems with your ecommerce platform and add advanced analytics to your processes you will have the tools you need for continuous improvement. You will have access to real-world information about user behavior that will help you to align your daily operations with your longer-term strategic plans.
Processes can be mapped directly to your objectives and key results (OKRs) and your key performance indicators (KPIs) can be reviewed at any time to make sure the business is heading in the right direction.
While improving internal processes and sales performance are real and measurable operational benefits that can be delivered through your ecommerce platform, you can also significantly improve customer experiences. As more business buyers and retail shoppers embrace around the clock self-service online, the quality of the experience is becoming a differentiating factor.
Chatbots, for example, can automatically answer many common questions in real time. They can even learn from their interactions using AI to understand your customer’s request and provide them with the right assistance as quickly as possible. This can free your customer service team to deliver more value-added services.
When the chatbot is unable to provide a suitable response, the enquiry can be seamlessly passed on to a team member to resolve or to complete the transaction on the customer’s behalf. You can effectively extend your operating hours without adding to your headcount.
Research shows that personalization improves ecommerce conversion rates and the lifetime value of your customers. Many customers will go elsewhere if you miss the mark, so effective personalization must be a priority for your business.
You can update and respond to your customers’ changing needs throughout their buying lifecycle using automatic segmentation. For example, they can move from new customer status to be recognized as a repeat or long-standing customer. You can streamline the process of offering credit, based on previous behavior and, if their buying patterns change, you can provide tailored promotions and offers.
With AI and ML, your business can learn and respond in real-time, automatically updating processes and adding customers to multiple segments to deliver timely and accurately personalized experiences.
All businesses must manage the processes and costs of product returns. There can be many reasons why a customer will send their purchase back, and you have an opportunity to learn and reduce this overhead for the future.
More importantly, making the process as easy as possible will support your brand and improve customer experiences. Keeping administration to a minimum is key and you can do this easily by harnessing the information you already have about the customer to minimise errors and speed up the process.
Many businesses have moved on from slow manual processes involving return requests, printed forms and labels, and even the need to arrange for collection or postage. Instead, your customer can revisit their order online, tick some boxes, and choose a collection date and location.
Alternatively, customers can take their return to a chosen drop-off point where they can present a scannable quick response (QR) code or bar code to confirm their return and their refund can be processed immediately.
This can all be handled within your internal processes without the involvement of a member of staff, making it easier for your customer, and more efficient for your business.
Work with experts
Speak with one of our experts to find out how to make the best possible use of the latest technology to improve the operational efficiency of your ecommerce business.