Micah Horner, Product Marketing Manager, TimeXtender The e-commerce industry is quite large and getting larger. Ironically, the pandemic accelerated growth even more as buyers looked to stay at home and shop online. Separate from the Covid-19 momentum, the industry was expected to grow exponentially into 2022 simply by continued expansion, new marketplaces and innovation.

According to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, it’s estimated that U.S. e-commerce will exceed $1 trillion in 2022 for the first time. And this statisticin Oberlo states e-commerce approximately makes up about 18% of all retail sales worldwide in 2021. While that doesn’t sound like an overwhelming slice of the pie, we can see the potential for continued growth.

As e-commerce continues to rise in popularity, retailers are constantly looking for ways to expand their top revenue line while decreasing costs. One strategy that has taken hold to accomplish these objectives is robotic process automation or RPA.

RPA useswhat’s known as “software robots.” As discussed in “Robotic Process Automation for eCommerce Industry” in BOT mantra by Nishant Goeldated May 11, 2020, these robots can replicate how a person engages with a business application as the robots are programmed to initiate action based on a pre-determined trigger. This leads to eliminating many repetitive business tasks that are currently being done manually. Through the power of automation, removing these types of processes make businesses more efficient and reduces costs.

Continued growth in e-commerce comes with the need to account for greater customer service. As customers become more acclimated to e-commerce, and as a new generation of ecommerce consumers continue to arise, they demand the same level of assistance that they have normally had with traditional retail stores.

In this December 10, 2019 Aspire Systems’ blog post titled“The Future of eCommerce is Bright with RPA,” Shifali Dumpala looks at many of the benefits of RPA including how RPA botssupport customer service by quickly solving many problems that can be done without human interaction.
Let’s take a look at a few more ways RPA can help improve a retailer’s ecommerce business.

• RPA can improve customer service is by easing the process for returning a product. Returns are historically a cumbersome process for many retailers as it requires numerous steps and detail orientation all of which translate into lots of time. RPA can help optimize as it can record the return, send verification to the customer, generate an internal note for a refund, and add the return into company inventory.

• RPA can also improve the supply chain. Supply chain management is one of the most important processes for an e-commerce business and for that reason businesses are always on the lookout for ways to streamline product flow from the supplier to the front-end retailer. In between is the management of inventory, scheduling, and tracking. All of these timely and manual steps are ripe for RPA. With RPA, retailers can keep customers updated regarding their orders, help retailers manage inventory flow and status, and simplify shipping details.

• Inventory management is another area that can be strengthened with RPA as it can monitor inventory and respond with automated communication when new stock is required. Even more, machine learning can be coupled with RPA to analyze historical inventory patterns and predict the need for new inventory before product runs dry. • Furthermore, RPA can strengthen the process for developing product catalogs. In order to build a catalog for products, various data sources, images, colors, and formatting have to be integrated into the catalog for each product. RPA can automate all of these manual steps to reduce costs and the time it takes to get these catalogs to market so that customers can peruse product offerings much sooner.

• Also to help customers, RPA can upgrade product visibility by improving categorization. Many times a consumer looks online for a particular product but is unable to find what the intended product due to poor classification. To correct this, RPA can align with the programming of business rules to appropriately map and categorize products so that discovery is enhanced.

Now, the next question is how can retailers take action so that RPA can unlock and activate all these business benefits? The answer is corporate data.

Today, e-commerce retailers are capable of gathering more data across their business than ever before -- data that visualizes most business dimensions such as activity surrounding consumer shopping habits, online visits, and price elasticity. Likewise, they can use data to improve internal operations such as inventory, supply chain, and individual business units.

Here again automation can help.

Retailers can do themselves great justice by integrating and consolidating their data into a single, centralized platform. Not doing so can mean that they’re collecting their data from various platforms and discrete sources like ERP systems, CRM platforms, web-analytics platforms, spreadsheets, and others. Having disparate data resting in siloes can lead to several issues such as outdated, flawed or contradictory reports and analytics.

Data warehouses are often the answer for data storage, but building, deploying and managing a data warehouse is easier said than done as they come with two main challenges.

The first issue is with complexity. Setting up a data warehouse can be complicated and often requires significant amounts of custom code and an external team to manage it. The second challenge is with costs, which flows from the complexity issue. Because it can be complex, the cost of the infrastructure, the time to build and the experts needed to maintain it can be substantial.

The solution is then to use an automated, data-management platform. With automation, retailers can implement and operate data warehouses at a fraction of the cost generally required for a classical data warehouse. In simple terms, automating a data warehouse saves retailers substantial time and money and gives them the accurate data they need to make better business decisions at a much faster rate than with traditional data warehousing.

What’s it all mean in a nutshell?

Well first, what we have discussed in this article only covers some of the benefits of RPA – there are many other functions that can be improved with RPA such as accounting, marketing, pricing and more. In addition, RPA provides a greater organizational impact as it frees up humans from performing manual, repetitive tasks so that they can focus on more game-changing initiatives for their company.

With the e-commerce industry expected to grow significantly in the coming years, retailers will need to implement strategies to increase sales and maximize productivity. With RPA, they can eliminate manual and repetitive processes, leading to substantial improvements in their customer service, supply chain management, inventory management, and other business processes.

To achieve these improvements, retailers need to ensure that all their data is available in one central place, where it can be collected, organized and accessed by approved users. To complete this objective, businesses should consider an advanced data warehouse strategy that capitalizes on automation to significantly reduce costs, time, and complexities.