Operational efficiency in eCommerce

Is the future Hyperautomation?

By now, most eCommerce businesses have embraced at least some form of automation, a way of removing repetitive and duplicate tasks from daily activities. It’s helped retailers to remove the drains on their resources and focus time where it really counts. Small teams that welcomed automation into their day-to-day lives were able to operate as if they had gained additional members to their team by letting technology take care of mundane, repetitive tasks.  But what if we could not only automate tasks, but automate entire processes? What would be possible then? And should we?  

Hyperautomate in commerce

Hyperautomation is the concept that anything that can be automated in an organisation, should be automated. Analyst group, Gartner, predicted in their Emerging technology trends, that in 2021, with a greater focus on organisational efficiency, agility and efficacy, hyperautomation would evolve into a key business trend. A lot of this is borne out of organisations having legacy business processes that are not streamlined, which ends up costing a lot because resources have been wasted or used inefficiently. The retail industry is a classic example of this, and especially as brands and retailers fully embrace digital acceleration, operational efficiency and agility has become more of a focus than ever.

Hyperautomation is a combination of tools and technologies which can help to make teams far more productive. These see several components of automation integrated with tools and technology that increase teams’ abilities to automate workloads. Instead of just automating individual tasks, imagine you can automate entire processes, across those departmental silos.

 

A robot stole my job

Initially, some eCommerce leads were afraid to embrace automation for fear that technology would steal their jobs. Automation appeared as an insidious threat, learning and improving on their every move to replicate and replace their talents. Over time, those fears have subsided as retailers have recognised technology’s ability to take on tasks which allow team members to commit time to more strategic or creative work.

Let’s address the immediate concern; Is it too much of a good thing and is my job going to be replaced by a computer? No, it isn’t. Think of hyperautomation as a handy servant who picks up all the slack while you do more interesting things. It’s not just taking care of mundane small tasks it’s about streamlining them while you manage the strategy behind it. 

This can certainly benefit the eCommerce teams responsible for publishing new products to the website, assigning items to the right categories and visually merchandising product positioning, but it can also benefit all teams across the business. For example, buying and merchandising departments can also cut out masses of manual data analysis by using hyperautomation to continuously monitor and assess stock orders, coverage and pricing, alerting B&M teams to actions which need to be addressed quickly and easily.

 

Putting hyperautomation to work

Parking irrational fears of automation aside, most successful businesses will balance AI and machine learning with human creativity and control. Using hyperautomation takes the weight off teams and allows them to guide and complement the outcomes delivered by technology.

 

Automated process discovery

Think of the day-to-day activities of an online visual merchandiser. Responsible for particular categories of the website, the merchandiser has to review performance daily. Monitoring sales, customer interactions, stock levels, trends, and then make decisions based on the insights delivered. What products are running low, have new lines arrived which have the potential to become best-sellers? What areas are performing poorly, and why? These are just some of the questions that the visual merchandiser has to assess, but what if hyperautomation didn’t just help remove repetitive steps but instead analysed, automated and streamlined the entire process? For many merchandisers, this analysis being taken care of by a robot is a dream come true. So many of our daily actions are repetitive, we consume the same reports, looking up the same data points day after day, week after week, comparing the same metrics. It’s not the part of the job we love, and don’t trust anyone who says they enjoy spreadsheets! So why not let a machine cover this process for you? You set the strategy, parameters and goals, and the robot takes care of the work.

 

Machine Learning and AI

Machine Learning and AI can be used to launch new products to the site, and automatically pick out those which have high potential to become strong sellers based on comparison with similar product attributes of other best-selling lines. As customers interact with these items, the system learns and reassesses their popularity. The AI ensures that the full catalogue has coverage, and every product is given a chance to be seen by users. This makes it possible to take a true read of every product’s popularity. The system can then judge when it’s the right time to markdown a product, and by what percentage. Which in turn increases its chances of converting. Then it’s about reassigning items to their correct categories based on if it’s to be considered full-price, sale or clearance.

All of this requires several steps of manual work and takes time to complete.

Hyperautomation makes it easier to reorder category navigation based on relevance and trends, developing categories and assigning the right product sets to belong within these areas. Merchandisers will just need to, if they choose, curate the visual appearance. However, even this is something that hyperautomation can manage if guided by the right settings. The visual merchandiser still plays an important role in to building the right automation, managing and monitoring their performance, as well as making adjustments as needed.

 

Advanced analytics

Hyperautomation needs to constantly read and analyse real-time data. It suggests what actions need to be built into processes, in order to continue to improve performance or identify new trends and patterns in user behaviour, which need a response. With this analysis, merchandisers and eCommerce managers will be able to measure and align automation with strategic business outcomes. This means processes can be mapped to OKRs and KPIs to ensure the business is working towards the right goals and creating impactful change where it’s needed most.

Instead of spending hours trying to compare and analyse reports to decide the right actions to be taken, hyperautomation provides actionable insights, allowing eCommerce teams to modify these recommended new steps into their automated processes. This is really about automation constantly refining itself and continuously improving, which doesn’t just positively impact the businesses bottom line, but also improves the customer experience for shoppers.

 

Shopper experiences that meet commercial goals

It’s not just about improving internal processes and commercial gains, hyperautomation can also greatly improve the experience for your customer. Chatbots, for instance, can automatically redirect their concerns to the right area or provide the accurate response users need immediately. No more annoying multiple-choice options or incorrect responses! Customers self-serve using the methods they choose and at their own convenience, because robots don’t just work 9-5. The chatbots answer queries in real-time, regardless of time zone differences between customer or business location. AI can be used to understand the customer’s request and provide them with the right assistance in as few steps as possible. Two obvious ways this can improve the user journey include providing personalised experiences and also delivering an automated returns processes.

 

Personalisation

Automatic segmentation and 1-1 personalisation can update and respond to a customer’s changing needs throughout their lifecycle. This enables customers to move between segments without business users having to analyse data and action changes. Preferences and needs often change so quickly that the business is always reacting to something the user previously did. With AI and machine learning, the business is learning and responding in real-time to the customer’s needs and can automatically update processes to add users to the right personalisation segment for that exact moment. Keeping up to date with what customers really want and providing the best experience for them as individuals makes their journey much more relevant and pleasurable. 

 

 

Returns

Returning online goods is never fun for customers. There’s the disappointment that what you received didn’t meet expectation or fulfil its intended purpose, and then there’s the paperwork. The shopping part had been fun, but now you’re left with the admin, filing the return and getting your parcel to the post office. It’s inevitable that customers will have to make returns at times, but it’s not inevitable that it has to be such a tedious task.

Today, more savvy retailers are using hyperautomation to automate and smoothen out this process so that it becomes an easy and painless transaction to complete. Instead of having to request a return, print the returns paperwork and labels, take the order to the post office, and then wait several days for a refund, retailers are now making it quicker and easier, with paperless options and collection services.

This becomes as easy as clicking a couple of buttons, selecting a collection date, and handing it over to a courier at your door. All through the automation of several internal processes being combined to make it easier for the customer, and more efficient for the business. Scannable QR codes have also made the process much easier for customers, with many retailers processing refunds as soon as the QR code has been scanned at the post office drop off. Previously, if a returns package went missing it was down to the customer to produce proof of their return before their refund could be processed. Scanning the QR code proves the return is on its way, so there is no need to make the customer wait longer than necessary for their refund, regardless of when the retailer receives the package. Not only is this a positive experience for the customer, but imagine the strain removed from customer support staff who spend several hours every day answering questions about the status of returns and refunds.

 

Summary

There are so many ways that hyperautomation can improve an eCommerce team’s efficiency and effectiveness. Automated process discovery, AI and machine learning, and advanced analytics are the key wins which enable enterprise businesses to maximise their outputs. Businesses which shy away from adopting hyperautomation will struggle to compete amongst their peers who choose to embrace it. It’s obvious that businesses who massively increase their capability to execute at scale will naturally race further ahead.

As digital accelerates, so should the efficiency and efficacy across all teams.  Don’t fear it – get ahead of the curve and hyperautomate sooner rather than later to bring out the best in your team and their results.

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