The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift in demand from brick and mortar stores to eCommerce as more and more shoppers continue to shop from the comfort of their homes. The first quarter of 2020 forced retail stores to move online in order to thrive, and it also pushed small eCommerce businesses to focus on streamlining their business processes and finding new ways to engage their audience, all while keeping their costs in check.

One of the primary customer segments for us is the SMB E-Commerce businesses that use Automate.io to connect the apps they use daily and automate their work. This gave us insight into how the SMB eCommerce industry solves different problems through automation.

The 2021 report on State of SMB E-Commerce Automation is our attempt to give you an inside view of how this industry automates their critical business processes. The insights covered in this report will help eCommerce business owners and managers:

  1. Understand how peers in their industry are automating and how they can adopt it to make their business more agile and effective. 
  2. Identify the gaps in their current processes by learning about the top processes automated by SMB eCommerce businesses.
  3. Reevaluate their technology stack by uncovering the top applications SMB E-Commerce businesses use to function smoothly and scale.

Report Methodology

The insights mentioned in this report were drawn from the following data sources:

1,300+ 90+ 130+
E-Commerce Brands Countries Web Apps

The data presented in this report is anonymously gathered across 1,300+ SMB eCommerce businesses that use Automate.io. The data from employee and partner accounts were excluded.

Here’s a complete list of cloud applications for which the usage is presented in this report by Automate.io.

Executive Summary

A quick summary of the insights covered in this report for CXOs:

  1. 40% of E-Commerce businesses automate Order Fulfillment
    Order Fulfillment (40%) is the top process automated by eCommerce businesses. Followed by Customer Engagement at 34% and Payments & Accounting at 31% respectively.
  1. Business Owners lead automation in SMB E-Commerce
    More than half of the eCommerce automations for SMBs (54%) are set up by the Business Owners themselves. Followed by Marketing  & Sales at 15% and Product Managers at 9% respectively.
  1. 30% of SMB E-Commerce businesses use the same ten cloud apps in automated workflows
    Here are the top ten apps used by SMB E-Commerce Businesses:
    1. Google Sheets 2. Shopify 3. Trello 4. Mailchimp 5. Slack 6. WooCommerce 7. Gmail 8. Google Forms 9. Airtable 10. Asana

SMB E-Commerce businesses love automating Order Fulfillment

Top processes automated by SMB E-Commerce

Fulfillment Management

Order fulfillment process is the one we see 40% of the SMB E-Commerce businesses automating due to its high volume and time-sensitive nature. One of the interesting things we noted is how the majority of SMB E-Commerce businesses use project management applications to streamline their order fulfillment process. The businesses map their entire order fulfillment process on a Kanban board in Project Management tools like Trello or Asana and then use automation to pull in data from their E-Commerce Platform to create tasks in the specific stage with all the relevant details and assign it to the designated team.

Top workflows for Fulfillment Management

Customer Engagement

As the SMB E-Commerce industry grows rapidly, one of the key challenges they face is capturing the attention of the shoppers amidst the crowd and that’s where automation comes to their rescue.

34% of SMB E-Commerce businesses use workflow automation across various stages of the buyer journey to improve customer engagement. The workflows range from adding different buyer personas (new shoppers, loyal customers, inactive shoppers) to email nurturing campaigns, notifying customers of their order status to gathering their feedback for improving the shopping experience. 

Top workflows for Customer Engagement:

Payments & Accounting

Payments and Accounting are at the heart of E-Commerce. One minor error in processing a payment or invoice can break the user experience for customers. Therefore, it’s no surprise that 31% SMB eCommerce businesses trust automation to eliminate human errors in key processes like Payments & Accounting.

The SMB E-Commerce industry is primarily automating the creation of invoices, sales receipts, and syncing customer data between their E-Commerce Platform and Payment applications.

Top workflows for Payments & Accounting:

Inventory Management:

Most of the SMB E-Commerce players sell on multiple platforms like Etsy, Amazon to grow their business and increase exposure in addition to selling on their own E-Commerce store. However, one of the challenges they face in doing so is managing their product inventory manually across multiple platforms in real-time. That’s why 27% of SMB E-Commerce businesses use automation to manage their inventory.

One of the trends we see here is SMB E-Commerce businesses use Spreadsheets or their in-house databases as their central repository for storing and syncing order data across multiple platforms. It allows them to track any changes in their inventory and make the updates accordingly on different platforms.

Top workflows for Inventory Management:

Project Management & Collaboration

As 2020 forced everyone to work remotely, we witnessed a sharp spike in the usage of project management & collaboration apps by SMB E-Commerce businesses. Remote work came with it’s own set of challenges and businesses turned to automation for improving cross-team communication, productivity, and engaging their employees.

Top workflows for Project Management:

Key takeaways: 

  • E-Commerce businesses are focusing more on automating processes that have a direct impact on revenue.
  • By automating Order Fulfillment, Customer Engagement, Payments, and Inventory Management, SMB eCommerce businesses are looking to scale, eliminate human errors, and improve the end-user shopping experience.
  • The next trend we see is more teams will continue to adopt project management automation to improve cross-team collaboration and productivity as they adjust to working from the comfort of their homes.

Apps used by SMB E-Commerce Businesses in automated workflows

Top app categories used by SMB E-Commerce for automation

30% of E-Commerce businesses use these ten cloud apps in their automated workflows:

  1. Google Sheets
  2. Shopify
  3. Trello
  4. Mailchimp
  5. Slack
  6. WooCommerce
  7. Gmail
  8. Google Forms
  9. Airtable
  10. Asana

The top three apps in each category:

  • Spreadsheets: Google Sheets, Airtable, Excel
  • E-Commerce: Shopify, WooCommerce, ShipStation
  • Project Management: Trello, Asana, Monday
  • Marketing: Mailchimp, HubSpot, ActiveCampaign
  • Email: Gmail, Office 365, Zoho Mail
  • Forms: Google Forms, Typeform, Jotform
  • Payments: Stripe, Square, QuickBooks
  • Collaboration: Slack, Discord, Microsoft Teams
  • CRM: Pipedrive, HubSpot, Salesforce

Key takeaways:

  • COVID-19 fast-tracked the digital growth for SMB eCommerce and that’s clearly evident by MarTech, and Project Management/Collaboration applications taking the top spot in the technologies E-Commerce businesses use now.
  • Project Management applications made cross-team collaboration hassle-free as most organizations switched to working remotely.
  • E-Commerce Platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, and Etsy helped businesses in moving from offline to online easily.
  • Another trend we noticed is that E-Commerce Platforms heavily influence the decision-making process related to the technology stack.

Business owners drive automation in SMB E-Commerce

Who drives Automation in SMB E-Commerce

Taking more than half of the share (54%), Business Owners are the clear leaders when it comes to SMB E-Commerce automation. Marketing and Sales come in second as they contribute to 15% of the automations set up in the SMB E-Commerce space, followed closely by Product & Design.

We then deep-dived into the top process each of these personas automates. Here are the insights:

Top processes automated by each persona

  • Business Owners: A lion share of 54% share clearly indicates that the SMB E-Commerce Business Owners take the entire onus on them by automating everything —from marketing to support. Although, one process that was most commonly automated by them was Customer Data Management & Reporting.
  • Marketing & Sales: Marketers & Sales reps are automating various aspects of their day-to-day tasks whether it’s social media engagement, lead management, or lead prioritization. However, the common link we observed across our dataset was Marketing & Sales teams are focusing more on creating nurturing automations to convert their shoppers into buyers, which clearly indicates their priorities lie in driving overall revenue and customer engagement.
  • Product & Design: For the Product & Design teams, the trend we noticed was very straightforward. As their nature of work involves closely working with different teams and stakeholders they were primarily automating processes that made them more efficient in task-planning and cross-team collaboration.
  • Engineering: With most of the backend heavy lifting done by plug-and-play E-Commerce Platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce, Engineering teams in SMB E-Commerce are focused on ensuring the smooth functioning of the order management process. They primarily automate data going in and out from their E-Commerce Platforms to their in-house databases or spreadsheets to facilitate order management.
  • HR & Finance: The trend we see here is that most Recruiting teams in SMB E-Commerce are automating the scheduling of interview appointments and also parts of employee onboarding. For finance teams, it’s all about automating the payments and invoicing by syncing the Payments app with CRM, E-Commerce Platforms, and Shipping Platforms. 
  • Customer Service: The Customer Service team in SMB E-Commerce are the least active when it comes to adopting automation. However, the teams that do, use it to improve the online reputation of their brand. The processes that we see getting automated the most by the Customer Service team is driving reviews and gathering feedback from their buyers.

Key takeaways:

  • Business owners are the driving force behind automation in SMB E-Commerce. We believe that it’s also due to the fact that more and more solopreneurs are entering the industry with the advent of plug-and-play solutions which makes it easier for starting an eCommerce business.
  • Teams in SMB E-Commerce are focused on automating key processes in their line of work to become more efficient at what they do. This is evident by:
    • Marketing & Sales automating lead nurturing
    • Product & Design teams automating task planning & prioritization 
    • HR & Finance teams automating payments & invoicing
    • Customer Service automating product review and feedback collection

About Automate.io

Automate.io is a leading data synchronization and automation platform that’s trusted by over 40,000 businesses in 90+ countries to sync data across apps, improve their business processes, and boost their productivity.

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