The average marketer spends a whopping 16 hours per week performing routine tasks, making it difficult to find time for more important activities. If you’d rather have your marketing team focus on attracting new customers, ecommerce marketing automation may be the answer.
Repetitive tasks have a bad habit of taking us away from more meaningful work. It doesn’t matter that these tasks are often a critical part of the job, these tasks end up creating moments that potentially interrupt deep work to do something that you’ve done 100 times before.
Marketers lose about one-third of their time to these tasks, which can include things like sending out marketing emails or analyzing CRM data to spot trends. The good news is that you don’t have to let these repetitive (but important) tasks dominate your life. There is no shortage of marketing automation tools out there that turn repetitive tasks into something that you set up once and (almost but not quite) forget about.
What is ecommerce marketing automation?
Ecommerce marketing automation is software tools that were built to manage repetitive tasks without the need for human intervention. These tools can take care of tasks like managing your CRM (automatically moving people through the process as they reach a certain stage), sending marketing emails and SMS messages, collecting and analyzing customer data, and even following up with leads.
The goal is to ensure that important tasks continue to happen in a way that removes the need for a person (or group of people) to be involved in the entire process. For example, you need a marketer to write your emails, but you don’t need a person waiting to hit send at 9 am on a Tuesday.
What types of marketing can be automated?
The good news here is that most types of marketing can be automated in some way. You often can’t automate the creation aspect of things (despite the advances in AI writing), but you can take care of things like scheduling, sending, data collection and analysis, and even customer segmentation.
Exactly what you can automate depends on the channel you’re using, so let’s explore what this might look like for some of the more common ecommerce marketing channels.
A lot of email marketing can be automated. There are the obvious tasks like scheduling and sending that can be automated. But, there’s also less obvious tasks like tagging and segmentation, trigger-based campaigns (like welcome sequences), and data analysis. These are all critical tasks to your email marketing efforts, but even when you have a dedicated email person (or team) they can become overwhelming.
Similar to email, a lot of SMS tasks can be automated. Everything from sending to segmenting, as mentioned above, can be automated for your SMS marketing efforts. Along with that, adding and removing people as they opt in (and out) of your SMS marketing can be handled by your marketing automation software.
One of the biggest ways that automation can help with direct mailing campaigns is with creating address labels. This task can be so time-consuming that it’s been automated for decades. Beyond that, however, direct mail can benefit from a lot of the same kinds of automation that applies to email marketing. This includes tasks like segmentation, personalization, and using offers that speak to their purchasing history.
Influencer marketing has some interesting automations that can be implemented to make life easier. Along with the usual tasks like scheduling, you can use automation tools for things like figuring out which influencers are right for your audience (there are tools out there that will show you who your audience overlaps with). You can also use tools to verify whether an influencer has an engaged following, whether they’re buying an audience, or even if they have a lot of bot followers. These are hugely important pieces of the puzzle when you’re trying to choose an influencer to work with, but doing them manually can take a lot of time, especially if you’re vetting multiple influencers at a time.
Display marketing involves sending ads to various spots on a website, like banner ads, video ads, etc. Most of the tasks around this can be automated, including which ads are meant to be served to which locations, making sure that the correct size of ad ends up in the right place (like with banner ads, for example), and even that potential customers have been properly tagged to be reserved ads as they browse around the internet.
Without marketing automation, these tasks would be immediately overwhelming (especially tracking people around the internet).
The benefits of ecommerce marketing automation
The biggest, most obvious benefit of automation is that it saves you time across the board. This is time that is no longer being spent on repetitive tasks and can now be used to focus on deep work, strategy, and other high-value tasks.
There is no shortage of tools that marketers can use to get the job done. Marketing automation tools give them a way to leverage a small amount of work setting up the automation over and over again. This means you can focus more on strategy and making sure you better understand your customers (for example).
Removing repetitive tasks from your ecommerce marketing teams lets them work more efficiently because they’re able to spend less time overall on certain tasks. Instead of digging through your email list to find everyone with a certain tag, for example, they can click a couple of buttons and see a list.
With the right automations in place, you can stay relevant to customers with highly targeted advertising and marketing messages. With the right system, you can track browsing habits, purchases, and other details like when (and how) they interact with you. Once you have this data, you can send highly relevant messages, ads, and any other kinds of marketing collateral that may resonate with your customers. Automation simplifies this process down to almost nothing for marketers.
The most effective marketing happens when you’re already top of mind. Automation tools give you a way to easily stay top of mind by using tactics like sending emails to people not long after they’ve been on your website or sending push notifications to someone who opened your app earlier that day. Automating these tasks lets you effortlessly send these timely messages without spending all your time lost in customer data.
The ecommerce marketing automation technology stack
The tools you’ll need as an organization for your ecommerce marketing automation efforts depend on the needs of your business, the kinds of marketing that you’re doing, and what tools you’re already using (some marketing tools have automation built-in).
Before we dive into how to decide what tools you’ll need, here’s a look at the kinds of tools you could be using in your ecommerce marketing automation stack.
The platform you run your ecommerce business often has tools that help you automate a lot of the repetitive tasks in your business. Along with the pieces we’ve already mentioned, ecommerce platform automation takes you deeper into your business with tasks like order processing and fulfillment, inventory management, and taking care of customer loyalty programs, for example.
Shopify Flow is a strong example of a tool that lets you automate away the time-consuming tasks in your ecommerce business. What’s nice about it is that Shopify customers can set up automations and workflows without having to know how to code (they even provide templates to get started quickly).
Third-party integrations are tools that plug into your existing ecommerce stack to enable integrations. These are helpful when there aren’t official tools available to help with automation or when the official tools can’t quite do what you’re hoping. An example of this would be using Stripe with your invoicing software to allow payments with credit cards (heck, using outside invoicing software could also be considered a third-party integration).
Marketing automation software
As we’ve been discussing, marketing automation software lets you set your marketing on autopilot. These could be tools that help you manage your email or SMS marketing, an ad manager for Facebook or Google ads, or even something that helps with your segmentation. About the only thing that you can’t really automate in the marketing end of your business is creating the content itself (AI tools have come a long way, but they don’t understand your customers the way you do).
Automated workflow software
Automated workflow software is a way to create integrations and automations where they don’t natively occur. This means that if you want to add Widget A to Product 1, but there isn’t a native integration, these platforms create a bridge between the two to make it possible.
The nice thing about this kind of software is that it gives you a way to add automations to tools that don’t have it built in. Sometimes, it can be a lot of work to make the connections happen, but when you’re used to working with certain tools, it’s worth the effort.
Zapier is probably the most well-known platform in this space. Zapier provides connections for more than 5,000 apps and gives you the power to automate away a lot of the repetitive tasks in your business. For a lot of people, this is their entry point to creating workflow automations because of how many different options exist. If there’s a downside, it’s that Zapier isn’t specifically designed for ecommerce, although they are compatible with most of the top ecomm tools.
Alloy Automation doesn’t offer as many integrations, but it is an ecommerce-focused platform that lets you create automations with more than 200 different products. The focus on ecommerce means you’re able to create workflows that are specific to ecommerce without having to do a lot of digging.
Ecommerce segmentation strategy
Marketing automation tools really take the pain out of segmentation. With the right tools, you can automatically tag and sort customers. Typically, people are grouped based on details like demographics or their behavior (like they signed up for your newsletter or made a purchase).
The idea with segmentation is that it gives you a way to create hyper-specific messages to your customers based on their current needs, past purchases, or where they are in their buyer’s journey, for example.
Historical Purchase Data
This segment is based on what people have purchased in the past. For example, if you notice that a significant number of customers who purchase Product A often go on to purchase Product B, you can create messaging for those customers about Product B. Similarly, you can let them know when their favorite products are on sale or when quantities might be running low.
On-site Behavioral Data
On-site data can be helpful when predicting what someone is going to do next. We all tend to follow the same patterns whether we realize it or not when we’re buying something. The path is different for everyone, but if you’re capturing this data in your CRM, you can use this to automatically target someone with highly personalized ads (for example) that speak to what they’re likely experiencing at the current stage of their journey.
Segmenting out customers who are using similar 3rd party integrations can be useful for a couple of reasons. First, it lets you create content that speaks to the specific needs of those customers, like tips and tricks for using the integration or tutorials for getting the most out of it. Secondly, it gives you a sense of not only how many customers might want that functionality built-in, but also who to reach out to if you do create native features based on the integration.
Odds are, these customers are going to have very specific needs that led them to use 3rd-party integrations. If you can show these customers content that reflects those needs, you’re helping build trust and confidence in your product.
Knowing what kinds of content your customers engage with the most lets you focus your energies on sending that specific content to specific customers. For example, some customers respond really well to email, while others prefer SMS. It doesn’t end there, however, sometimes customers really like certain kinds of emails over others (like only preferring emails that contain customer stories). Marketing automation tools make it easy to track this information and target your customers on their preferred channels with their preferred content type.
With subscriber preferences, you’re basically asking customers to segment themselves by asking what kind of messages and information they want to get from you. When you do this, you’re allowing people access to highly personalized content because they’re telling you exactly what they want. This greatly reduces the likelihood of them not reading your emails and of them unsubscribing because they only see messages that they want you to see.
Customer Ranking / RFM Scoring
RFM scoring stands for Recency, Frequency, and Monetary value and tells you when the last time someone purchased was, how often they purchase, and how much money they typically spend.
Creating segments based on this scoring allows to create marketing campaigns based on purchase cycles (as an example). If you know a specific group of customers purchases every six or so weeks, you can send them emails or SMS messages around week five that highlight what sales or information about their favorite products. Similarly, if you know someone purchases every six weeks, but they haven’t purchased in six months, it might be time for a re-engagement sequence.
Ecommerce marketing automation examples
Ecommerce marketing automation empowers you to catch your customers (and potential customers) at each step of their journey without having to do extra work. Let’s explore some examples of the most popular types of content you can automate out of your business without sacrificing.
The abandoned cart email is a classic piece of automated content that is triggered when a customer places something into their cart, but doesn’t buy. Sending out automated reminders and even offering a discount along with it can boost sales by as much as 20%.
Similar to the abandoned cart is the abandoned browse, folks who look, but don’t buy. And, also like the abandoned cart scenario, a good retargeting campaign can be highly effective at bringing potential customers back and turning them into paying customers.
New subscriber messages need to make a strong first impression when you send them. If you’re just sending out bland, “Thanks for signing up,” notes, you’re missing an opportunity to not only build a stronger relationship, but also to offer discounts and even remind them of products they’ve looked at in the past.
Going beyond what basically amounts to sending people a receipt after they purchase helps show your customers that you can provide more value than just a product. In the example below, they guide new customers towards content that helps people understand how to best use the product and get the most out of their efforts.
Even without an official VIP offering, you can treat your customers like the VIPs they are with special emails and offers. These can be automated through tracking, so you can send out “special pricing” or other kinds of promotions that make your customers feel valued.
Reviews are a big deal for ecommerce businesses. But, asking for reviews can be a chore. People forget, they don’t think of it, or maybe they don’t know how to leave one. Automated messaging can help with the ask and guide your (hopefully) happy customers through the process of leaving reviews without any manual intervention or followup.
Birthday / Anniversary
Birthday emails are a nice little way to reach out to customers to say thank you, while also being very good for business (they bring in 342% higher revenue per email than promotional emails and have a conversion rate that is 481% higher). You know when your customers signed up to your list or first purchased something, using it is just a nice way to say thank you.
Customers love knowing when their favorite products are on sale, so let them know. It’s easy to automate a price drop email like this on most platforms because you have the data to know what people buy and you know when it’s on sale.
Churning / Win Back
People stop being customers all the time, for any number of reasons. The good news is that you can easily create an automated win back email that has the potential to bring back as many as 45% of people who bounce.
This is similar to the thank you email, but with a focus on recurring purchases, rather than one-offs. These are those nice little touches that customers love seeing. You’re telling them their subscription has been shipped AND you’re letting them know that you value their purchase by including a gift (at least that’s what’s happening in the example below).
What to look for in ecommerce marketing automation platforms
Choosing an ecommerce marketing automation platform is like picking any tool in your organization. It needs to be done carefully and fully considering the needs of your business, both present, and future.
The best way to determine what’s best for your business is to talk to the folks who are going to be using the platform. Ask them what’s important, what they need to reach their strategic goals, and how they anticipate those needs changing, among other things. The more information you can get out of the people using the tool, the more likely you are to choose the right tool the first time around.
It helps to pick something that’s easy to use, as well. The sharper the learning curve, the less likely someone is to actually use the tool, no matter how easy it makes their job.
Beyond that, here are some features to watch for that will help make life easier for everyone.
Customer data platform
Perhaps the biggest pieces here are what kinds of data is captured and how much control you have over the dashboard. These features are important because if you’re going to use a platform for customer data, you need to make sure you’re gathering the data that is important to your business.
Along with making sure it’s getting the right data, you also need to make sure it’s displaying the data in a way that’s useful. The more you can customize dashboards, the more helpful the information is going to be, especially if individual users can create their own custom dashboards. This keeps people focused on the exact data they need, without having to dig for it.
You can segment users manually, but you don’t want to. It’s a needlessly time-consuming task that usually means looking at multiple spreadsheets at once. Instead, you want a tool that automatically sorts people by their assigned tags without your intervention. You’ll spend less time in spreadsheets and more time sending highly personalized messages to your customers.
Build workflows visually
This is a critical piece that a lot of people won’t know they need until they try it. There are quite a few ways to create automation, from training bots to writing scripts. The best, most efficient way for non-technical people to automate tasks, though, is with a drag-and-drop interface. This sort of setup lets you create automation rules using a visual builder that sets up the trigger, action, and response for you once you decide what’s involved in each step.
If you’re marketing across multiple channels like SMS, display ads, and email, having automated multi-channel support is important. The more you’re able to do all the things from a single tool, the less time you lose flipping between platforms. Third-party integrations and automated workflow platforms like Zapier can help here, but they can introduce the risk of error. The more you can manage and automate from within a single channel, the more control you have, the more access to data you have, and the less risk there is of having to do any repetitive manual tasks.
If A/B testing is something you do, it helps to be able to automate aspects of it. Being able to automatically create and populate variants of an email subject line, for example, is more efficient than creating a new email for each variant and sending it out to segments individually. The same goes for ads, landing pages, or anything else you’re testing. The less time you have to dedicate to creating variants, the better.
Creative building tools
Automation tools are great, but if they don’t provide tools that make it easy to create, you end up losing time doing design and setup work. You want something that either comes with a very solid set of templates or provides an intuitive drag and drop interface that makes automation a breeze.
List building tools
If you’re managing a mailing list (or SMS list), you’ll want to be able to automate away as many aspects as you can. These features help you segment, identify leads, update your lists, and add personalized touches. These are all important aspects of list management and building but are almost full-time jobs if they’re not automated.
What kind of integrations does the platform have? If you have specific needs like it needs to integrate with your payment system, look for it. A lot of platforms these days support a lot of native integrations (for example, we offer 30+ integrations) and they often tell you right on their website what they support and don’t.
The kind of customer support you receive often depends on what kind of pricing package you have, often, the more you’re paying, the better the support. Make sure that you’re working with a company that provides the level of support you need at the service tier that makes the most sense for your business.
What else can your platform do? These days it’s not unusual for organizations to offer services on top of their platform. This could be everything from providing marketing collateral to workflow automation experts who take a look at your business and workflows and then put together the automations that make the most sense. This can be an excellent way to get up and running quickly when you’re just starting with a new platform.
Ecommerce marketing automation platforms
Now that you know what to look for, let’s take a look at the ecommerce marketing automation platforms that are currently available.
That’s us! We’re an email marketing platform designed specifically for ecommerce businesses. Since our focus is email marketing, we have automations that are designed to take the pain out of your marketing emails. This includes being able to segment your list, automatically do A/B testing, and create custom triggers for your specific automation needs.
Klaviyo is an email and SMS marketing automation platform that’s also focused on ecommerce businesses. They provide more than 200 automations to help with both email and SMS marketing.
Bluecore is a digital personalization platform for retailers and ecommerce businesses. They offer customers a little bit of everything, with support for email, website, and paid channels (among others) and automations to cover your needs in that regard.
Similar to Klayvio, Omnisend helps you manage your email and SMS marketing needs. They provide robust automation offerings to help you better manage your marketing efforts and campaigns.
Hubspot is a massive CRM platform that can help with almost any aspect of your marketing, from managing customers to creating automations. If there’s a downside to everything that Hubspot can do, it’s that it gets complicated quickly and tends to be expensive if you’re a larger business.
Drip is an automation platform designed for ecommerce businesses. It can help automate tasks related to your marketing (like emails or pop-up windows). Drip also provides integrations for platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce.
Iterable is a cross-channel marketing platform built to help you send the right messages to customers at the right time (on the right channel). As far as automation goes, they use a built-in AI to help find ways to remove manual tasks from your workflow.
Like Iterable, Listrak is a multi-channel marketing automation platform that can help you create automated marketing workflows. Also similar to Iterable, there is a noticeable lack of focus, with regards to the industry or services offered. This means that it can be used for ecommerce, but you’ll likely have to dig quite a bit to find the exact workflows and integrations you need.
Ready to start using automation to manage your email and SMS marketing? We'll help you put together workflows that generate revenue for your ecommerce business, without having to focus on manual repetitive tasks. Book a 1:1 strategy call today to get started.