Automation – Friend or Foe for Scaling?

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Tony Kyberd, COO, Volo Commerce talks about Multiple Channels and Multiple Options for retailersTony Kyberd, COO of ecommerce platform and services provider Volo Commerce, explores some of the areas where automation can you sustainably scale your business:

You’ve probably realised, if you’re a business owner or operator, that the title of this article is rhetorical. Of course automation is your friend when you’re trying to scale your business or simply improve your productivity and efficiencies. When you automate something, you free up yourself or your people to do something else that you’re not currently automating.

Automation could be your strength or weakness, but it’s almost always both an opportunity and a threat. In the race to connect your processes from end to end, the companies that join up more parts of their business – and more partners – without sacrificing quality and attention to detail are the ones that scale the fastest.

You could throw people at the problem, but that dents your profitability, and that’s only going to be a short term fix. The long term scaling play is always going to be through automation, and it involves posing tough questions like ‘what would our processes need to look like if we increased the volume 5-fold, 10-fold even?’


Let’s look at some of the areas where you can automate through technologies like APIs or feeds:

  • New Listings
  • If you use a Product Information System or Content Management System to hold your product information, you can integrate it into your listing platform through feeds or API to create new SKUs automatically. If you also make sure all the required data is there for each listing, then you can even automate the process of launching the products onto the different places where you sell.

  • Update Listings
  • Consider also how you can automate your listings revisions. The most common revisions are usually stock levels and pricing information. Explore how you can automatically react to price change requests, such as, for example, a price change from a supplier. Some systems will also allow you automate other listing revisions like product attributes, again via API or feeds.

  • Pick, Pack, Ship
  • Traditionally a manually intensive part of most companies, there’s still opportunity for automation to cut down on manual mistakes and improve productivity. Investigate the automated printing of pick lists and invoices, as well as using barcode scanning to trigger events such as order shipping updates and label printing, as well as to reduce the risk of packing errors and costly returns with a handy automated double-check.

  • Connecting Suppliers
  • Don’t confine yourself to looking at automation within your physical business. Look at connecting to the partners and system providers in your ecosystem. A small minority of suppliers – the larger or more sophisticated ones – will offer API or feed integrations. How much could your business grow if you could automate the ingestion of product, stock level and pricing information?

  • Connecting Drop-shippers
  • Do any of your suppliers ship direct for you? If your drop-shippers work with lots of sellers, as they’ll probably need to do to make their business work, their stock levels will be constantly changing. Ask them about their ability to update you by API or feed on their product catalogue, stock levels, order placement and other notifications so you can speed up your listing process, show accurate stock levels across your channels and stay close to orders and deliveries with much less effort.

People, process and tech

So far, we’ve only really touched on the third element of the ‘people, process and tech’ triangle. Unfortunately, for something as important as the entire backbone of your business, you need to address all three elements to scale successfully. For example, it’s no use automating the manual, perhaps chaotic, processes you already have in place, because then all you’re doing is automating the chaos.

Also, you’re going to want to balance the cost and time of developing automated solutions against the likely saving or return. This is where the people bit comes in. We advise you to partner with experts who can advise on how you can optimise your processes, how you can automate them, how you can connect them together, and the right technology for doing it. There are plenty of experts on our partner page, or you can call us.

Scaling is about growing your business sustainably and profitably. Back in 2017 we found that our typical customer grows their business 50% with us after 12 months, and doubles it after 2 years. And when we asked some of them how much automation saved them, all their estimates were between 2 and 5 full-time people – and that’s people you don’t have to hire as you grow, or people you can redeploy in less manual and more value-add roles.

Tamebay has published a comprehensive white paper on how to scale up your ecommerce business. It builds on seller research, it’s free and it will give you more suggestions. It touches quite a bit on automation too. We’re pleased to be able to sponsor its publication. You can download it here.

If you want to talk to us about automation and which projects to pick in order to better scale, please get in touch.


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