Automation: the saviour to busy shopping periods

At the start of what will be a challenging year, retailers would be wise to develop an automation-first strategy to enable peak performance not only now, but all year round.

Mark Simon, Vice President, Strategy at Celigo outlines the value of automation in an e-commerce first world.

Busy periods such as December peak and January sales means increased traffic for retailers. But, it also comes with unpredictable challenges for organisations’ supply chains amidst a currently unstable economy and cost-of-living crisis. 

While clothing and department stores experienced growth for the first time since July, tighter budgets compared with last year due to waning consumer confidence, interest rates skyrocketing, and a confirmed recession will cause consumers to be on the lookout for more bargains and new ways to stretch each and every penny. For retailers, providing an exceptional customer experience and offering the best deals possible will make January less blue.

Automation is gold dust

Consumer’s expectations for a quality customer experience have continued to increase. It is not enough just to have items in stock and at the right price; what customers truly care about is a seamless process. The path to the ideal experience customers are seeking is through automation. Automating key processes across the business both increases margins through efficiency gains and improves the customer experience through connected data and processes. 

And a seamless shopping experience is what consumers crave, especially in a busier period where they may not have as much time to spare. An automation platform can bring together multiple systems and manage the more laborious back-end tasks that make up the bulk of retail, from returns to warehouse inventory and billing. 

The benefits span all aspects of the buying experience. For instance, automated systems ensure that returns can be handled effectively. What’s more, as soon as an item goes in or out of stock it is reflected on the retailer's website – a seemingly small, but incredibly important detail in ecommerce. Retailers can also use the data insights from a connected, automated system to understand what is selling and what isn’t so they can make informed decisions to increase sales. 

Not only does this approach help teams to become more aligned, but it means shoppers are more likely to return and recommend the brand as they’ve had a five-star shopping experience. 

Providing a seamless experience  

There is some tough competition in the retail industry, particularly when disposable income is at an all-time low. Focusing on delivering the best possible customer service is what will ultimately help businesses to consistently stand out. 

Minimising the errors and reducing the need for non-value added human labour will be key. Elevating the customer experience is what will attract customers to your brand and make them lifelong advocates. It is vital to get this right from the very beginning as one bad experience can jeopardise a consumer's future relationship with the brand and possibly cause them to influence future customers in a negative way. 

With an integrated system, customers are updated on their order at every step of the journey, from order summaries to tracking shipping, delays and potential returns. And it is encouraging to see that 7-in-10 (70%) companies are piloting automated business units or functions, up from 66% in 2020. A well rounded customer service team reflects a positive experience and long-term engagement. 

Freeing your teams 

Automating your processes isn’t just a system that works for the busiest peak periods but one that will benefit businesses all year round. Automation allows companies to embrace agile work environments and a pervasive innovation culture. In addition, it reduces the seasonal peaks and valleys many businesses experience at this time of year. By not having to focus every employee on fulfilling and servicing Christmas returns in the new year, the company can continue to innovate and look forward.

With a busy few weeks ahead that span January sales, retailers would be wise to begin implementing an automation-first strategy that enables peak performance not only for these periods but all year round. It’s never too late (or too early) to begin planning for the next big shopping season. If your business has not already started to think about automation, take note of all the manual processes you are using to fulfil orders, focusing on what systems and processes you need to connect to provide a seamless customer experience.  

In the coming months, you should not only be seeing better margins due to efficiencies, but we hope you will have customers lining up at the door (or your website) due to the excellent experience they have had with your brand. 

By Mark Simon

Vice President, Strategy