How to use RPA in e-commerce to gain a competitive advantage

Damian Andruszkiewicz

According to the Grand View Research report “global e-commerce market size was valued at USD 9.09 trillion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.7% from 2020 to 2027”. With even faster growth in 2020 than was anticipated, due to increased online sales, resulting from closures and limitations, companies have to deal with additional work, often manual in nature. Robotic Process Automation software can be a solution for many companies that are working with legacy systems and struggle to scale up their operations without looking for new employees.

What is Robotic Process Automation and how can it help e-commerce companies?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software is used to automate routine, time-consuming, and rule-based tasks. Automation is carried out through dedicated software bots, programmed to work according to rules and commands previously written in a computer program. The use of RPA allows not only improves efficiency and accuracy in business processes but also saves employees time and allows them to focus on more valuable tasks.

RPA for e-commerce use cases examples

When e-commerce companies have to deal with an unprecedented spike in demand they are looking for ways to scale up their business other than looking for more employees. Increased sales result in an increasing amount of data to be gathered, used, and stored. Everything counts on the competitive market - order processing time, question and inquiry response time, proper stock management. With more and more conscious customers, looking for the best conditions online and comparing services, each improvement that allows to speed up operations will be crucial for company success.

There are multiple areas in which e-commerce companies can benefit from robotic process automation, including:

  • customer service,
  • content creation,
  • product categorization
  • automated marketing,
  • inventory updates,
  • supply chain management, including vendor and supplier onboarding,
  • return processing,
  • advanced sales analytics,
  • multiple back-office processes, including accounting and human resources.

How can RPA improve e-commerce customer service?

Knowing that it is much more expensive to find new customers than to try to sell to existing ones, many e-commerce companies invest not only in marketing efforts leading to new sales but also in customer retention strategies. Customer service departments provide assistance to customers with not only making purchase decisions but also with keeping them informed about delivery status and resolving any issues, to create an exquisite customer experience.

According to data published by Statista.com, among the top 5 reasons to make the next purchase from e-commerce customers stated:

why customers make next purchase e-commerce

Source: Statista.com

With as much importance being given to refund speed, fast shipping, and package tracking, automation seems to be a perfect fit to streamline the customer service process.

E-commerce companies can use RPA software to streamline their processes in the following areas:

  • automate order tracking and pass information to customers,
  • reduce Average Handle Time in an e-commerce call center,
  • increase the percentage of First Call Resolutions (FCR),
  • improve review management,
  • automate loyalty campaigns to boost up the customer experience.

How e-commerce can use RPA for content creation

RPA interacting with CMS for content creation e-commerce

Large e-commerce websites, with hundreds or thousands of products, struggle to keep listings up to date with the information that customers need. Adding new product listings is a repetitive task, time-consuming and error-prone, and to scale up, a company usually needs to find additional content specialists that can keep up with creating new pages and updating existing content.

Content creators are working with Content Management Systems (CMS), that are using data sourced from many different locations.

This entire process can be largely automated, as RPA software is perfect for pulling the information from various predetermined data points and inputting them into the correct fields.

Of course, this will not replace content specialists, but will drastically decrease their workload, and allow them to focus on optimizing content for search engines or working on blogs for example, where more creativity is needed.

Another use case, showing how beneficial RPA software can be for content creation, is the combination of UiPath and AX Semantics. It’s a mix that uses software powered by AI and natural language processing (NLP) to create product descriptions at scale. It can be used to:

  • create content for an entire online store,
  • generate descriptions for items in e-commerce catalogs,
  • create unique category pages.

Automated product categorization with RPA software

E-commerce platforms that sell millions of products need to be structured in a way that will allow customers to find items that they are interested in, preferably as fast as possible. Customers have less and less time and attention to spare looking for a product, and if it would be categorized in a way that will make it hard to find, they will look elsewhere.

Having a product categorized not only by type but also various other features increases the chance of it being found by the customers, leading to more sales and e-commerce success.

RPA combined with AI capabilities can categorize items based on product mapping rules, customized at the stage of implementation. Data about products can be captured from various sources, including uploaded pictures. RPA will automatically detect multiple product features, giving much more options than only the general category to be assigned, for example, color, size, pattern, brand, technical specifications, and much more.

E-commerce marketing supported by RPA

Marketing activities are full of mundane, repetitive tasks involving multiple systems that can be easily automated with the use of RPA, allowing e-commerce company employees to focus on more creative tasks than just mass mailing or researching competition.

Here are some examples of RPA software applications in marketing mentioned by the UiPath vendor:

RPA in e-commerce marketing UiPath example

Robotic process automation software can help employees by executing various manual tasks, such as:

  • sending out mass emails,
  • executing automated web searches (for example researching competition),
  • updating customers data,
  • carrying out lead nurturing programs,
  • updating information about e-commerce offers,
  • handling complaints,
  • automatically adjusting bids in PPC campaigns,
  • running technical SEO reports, looking for broken links,
  • gathering and compiling data for reports.

Instead of wasting manual resources on conducting those processes, marketing teams can concentrate their efforts on creating and optimizing creative campaigns that bring real results.

Inventory management in e-commerce with automation

Inventory management e-commerce and RPA example

Many e-commerce companies struggle to effectively manage their products and keep inventory levels up to date. It is complicated enough for sellers that keep physical products in the warehouse but can be even more challenging for platforms operating in dropshipping models.

With the use of RPA software e-commerce companies can deal with the most frequently mentioned problems resulting from inaccurate inventory management, such as:

  • dead stock,
  • stock-outs,
  • controlling lead time variability,
  • misplaced items,
  • insufficient tracking.

By automating notifications, data capture, and integration e-commerce platforms can organize inventory properly, to reduce loss of money and drop in customer satisfaction due to inaccurate stock information.

If you would like to know more about ways to automate inventory managemement, read our article "Effective e-commerce inventory management with RPA".

Inventory management in dropshipping e-commerce model

For many companies, the biggest advantage of dropshipping is the lack of need to stock and send the items themselves. But lack of a warehouse does not mean that inventory management can be ignored by e-commerce platforms. On the contrary, it can be even more challenging to gather all the information about product availability accurately, to ensure that costumes will be able to buy items that can actually be shipped to them, and the company would not have to proceed with refunds shortly after a sale.

In the case of dropshipping, inventory management typically means a process of syncing suppliers' inventory data with e-commerce platforms, via a product data feed.

Multiple companies do this manually, using data received in multiple formats (for example XML, CSV, TXT, or EDI), capturing the necessary product information and adding them to the e-commerce platform in a unified way, in a way that allows customers to see all products from various suppliers in the same, standardized way, characteristic to the online store.

RPA software can support employees through:

  • allowing to update inventory data in real-time,
  • capturing a product data feed with any product identifier (typically SKU, MPN, or UPC), quantities and cost,
  • making use of additional product information such as titles, descriptions, categories, UPCs, images and adding them automatically to the platform.

Supply chain management in e-commerce with RPA

RPA use cases in e-commerce supply chain example

In e-commerce, it is not only essential to promote and sell a product, but also to deliver it to the customer on time and with as much visibility along the way as possible. RPA can add security and speed to the entire logistics process, not only through already mentioned inventory management but most of all with shipping and order monitoring.

Some use cases of robotic process automation software in e-commerce supply chain management include:

  • eliminating, or drastically reducing manual input of purchase orders and other administrative tasks,
  • eliminating human error from the processes,
  • with AI capabilities implemented, RPA can respond to requests for proposals, quotes, and questions,
  • robots can work 24/7, 365 days a year, assuring that all data will be captured and passed to supply chain partners in real-time,
  • RPA can capture, use and exchange data with various systems, including legacy systems, without the need for programming integration,
  • with data analytics, RPA can be used to identify and optimize any inefficiencies across the supply chain.

RPA can be used in multiple ways to streamline processes across the supply chain, and in most cases, only limitations result from difficulties in proper identification and mapping processes that could be automated.

Some most common use cases can of course include automatic notifications on the order status or alerts about inventory levels. But with proper understanding business-specific, and with knowledge of the full potential of RPA, combined with AI, Machine Learning, Optical Character Recognition, and Natural Language Processing, the software can be used for more demanding tasks, such as identifying demand patterns and advanced analytics.

Vendor and supplier onboarding with RPA

Each e-commerce platform relies on an extensive network of partners that provide them with necessary products and services. To ensure that finding and starting cooperation with new suppliers will be most effective, proper onboarding is a crucial practice.

In many cases, completing the vendor or supplier onboarding process is time-consuming and requires many manual actions, which can be automated with the use of RPA.

Example use cases of RPA software for supplier onboarding may include:

  • pre-screening vendors and suppliers (automated check of their compliance with the relevant standards and regulations),
  • sending supplier questionnaires and collecting received data,
  • saving supplier information such as contact details and necessary documentation, updating records, and distributing information to all employees or other partners that may need them,
  • integrating data sources to keep the information up to date and avoid duplication.

Such tasks can take hours or days to finish by human employees and can be automated with RPA, to reduce errors and speed up completion time.

How to automate returns processing in e-commerce

Importance of return processing in e-commerce example

Source: SalesForce

Handling returns in e-commerce is one of the most complicated, time-consuming, and costly challenges for a company. Proper processing of a returned item has a huge impact not only on customer satisfaction but also on supply chain, statistics, and accounting.

Returns are a particular problem for online platforms, according to Paazl research. While returns rates to stores are around 8%, this jumps to around 25% (or more in some for items bought online.

In the return process, it is possible to identify multiple manual interactions and repetitive tasks that have to be completed and can be handled with the use of RPA, such as:

  • sending a message confirming receipt of the return,
  • working in tandem with a chatbot to answer customers’ inquiries through the website,
  • updating the inventory system,
  • making the payment adjustment or processing refund to the customer,
  • using robots to inform customers about steps of the refund process,
  • updating the internal billing system.

With an increasing number of returns, resulting not only from product damage, but also from customers ordering more items to compare, and return those that they will not like, it is sure that problems for e-commerce companies will only intensify.

Advanced sales analytics automated with RPA

In many cases, one of the barriers blocking the full potential of automation is a lack of imagination. With the growing use of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and natural language processing combined with RPA software new automation opportunities arise. In the case of sales analytics use of RPA might not always be obvious, as bots are not designed to be by any means an analytics tool.

But the real potential of RPA in service of sales analytics lies in its capability to collect data from various sources, without the need for programming integration, in different formats, and aggregating them in desired, easy to understand format.

With enormous amounts of data scattered across many departments and systems, not always integrated, the possibility to gather them and compile them to get a full picture of e-commerce effectiveness cannot be ignored.

Other common applications of RPA software in e-commerce companies

Because of its flexibility and ease of implementation, Robotic Process Automation software can be applied to multiple processes carried out by an e-commerce company, from very simple tasks to more complex activities.

We already mentioned some industry-specific use cases, but it is worth mentioning that e-commerce, as any other branch, has to deal with numerous processes that are sometimes not directly related to online sales but are essential for the smooth functioning of the company as a whole.

Most frequently described use cases of RPA include:

Administration, tax, and finance department:

  • accounts payable,
  • payment processing,
  • bank reconciliation,
  • tax reporting.

Human resources department:

  • travel and expense management,
  • employees master data management,
  • time record validation.

Financial and accounting operations are especially good candidates for automation, as they are largely rule-based, very manual, and virtually always carried out within IT systems. This is confirmed in the McKinsey report, pointing out various business areas and their potential for business process automation:

tasks to automate with RPA in e-commerce back office cases

RPA as a part of a Business Process Management strategy in e-commerce companies

In this article, we focused on a small part of the automation strategy, which is the use of RPA software for streamlining manual and error-prone processes that can be identified in day-to-day operations.

We should have in mind that it would be impossible to find today an e-commerce company that did not implement any sort of electronic document workflow already. But implementation is only the first step, it is essential to ensure that such document circulation systems properly serve their purposes, which are most of all:

  • eliminating human error from the document flow process,
  • ensuring control over the document circulation processes,
  • creating a central repository for documents,
  • putting in order messy and unstructured processes.

To learn more about what a company should consider to assure that automation is being implemented and used in the most effective way, we invite you to read our in-depth guide on How to streamline and automate processes and workflows in your company.

How can we help your e-commerce in Robotic Process Automation?

RPA consulting and implementation services GGS IT Consulting

With our experience from working on complex projects, as RPA consultants we are able to guide a company through the entire process of RPA implementation, from creating a strategy, discovering processes, designing optimal configuration, testing, up to full-scale use, and effectiveness monitoring.

GSS IT Consulting experts can support your e-commerce in starting digital transformation with RPA with:

  • defining strategy,
  • analyzing, understanding, and documenting business processes,
  • setting up operating models,
  • identifying technical infrastructure requirements to deploy automation solutions,
  • educating employees and helping to create an “RPA-friendly” environment, where each team member looks for more automation opportunities to support company transformation,
  • creating and documenting test scenarios and procedures to ensure optimal configuration,
  • training team members in the building, operating, and maintaining automation solutions,
  • helping to solve issues that arise in day-to-day operations with RPA software,
  • further support of the implementation of any type of automation technologies by the company,
  • helping to plan and set up Centers of Excellence or Process Mining Hubs, to boost up automation efforts.

If you are wondering how to start or improve the implementation of automation and digitization of processes and document flow in your company, contact us for your 30 minutes free consultation.

After completing the form, we will arrange a call at a time convenient for you. During the call, our consultant will suggest how to approach the automation of business processes. Thanks to this, you will assess which technologies will bring the greatest benefits in the area of automation in your Company.