Five Workflows To Automate Your Retail Business

Expert advice
Share on:

The retail industry is undergoing a technology-driven transformation, and it’s not just the switch from in-person to online stores. Automation is emerging as a popular approach. So much so that the global retail automation market is expected to be valued at about $33 billion by 2030. 

Leveraging technology to automate workflows has the potential to drive cost savings and scalability while simultaneously keeping business agile and responsive. Automation can benefit almost every aspect of retail operations. That said, let’s take a closer look at the 5 workflows that make the biggest impact.


Workflow Automation in the Retail Business: What, How and Why?


The best way to ensure efficiency is by implementing systems. When retail team members have a defined set of steps to follow, there’s a low risk of anything falling through the cracks. This is also known as workflow. 

Workflow can be defined as the sequence of tasks and operations that must be performed on a regular basis by different members of the team. 

When it comes to the retail industry, there are many operations included in the workflow. This includes purchasing, inventory management, customer service, accounting, vendor relationships, marketing and so on. 

The efficiency and effectiveness of a retailer’s workflow have a significant impact on its ability to meet customer demands and drive profitability. 

While each element of a retail workflow is important, several tasks may seem repetitive and are time-consuming. Relying on manual efforts to execute tasks may also increase the risk of error. This is where automation comes in. 

A McKinsey report found that around half of all retail activities can be automated using existing technology. Automated workflows use predefined rules and logic to perform tasks with minimal human intervention. The benefits of doing so are numerous.

Higher efficiency

Automated processes can be run 24/7 with no risk of downtime due to employees being unavailable or issues like fatigue. The time taken to switch from one task to another is also reduced. The risk of having to redo something because of an error is eliminated. In this way, automation boosts overall efficiency. 

Lower risk of error

Manual data entry and processing are always at risk of error and bias. Varied skill levels may also affect consistency.  This is eliminated with predefined rule-led automation thereby ensuring more accurate, reliable reports.

Easier scalability

Automation-powered processes can be easily scaled to meet the needs of growing retail businesses without having to expand the team or create new processes. 

Optimized resources

Automating tasks in retail workflows reduces the need for manual effort as well as data entry and paperwork. This lowers operational costs and frees up resources that can be redirected to tasks that add more value. 

Better customer experiences

Implementing automation in retail workflows can help process customer requests and orders faster as well as keep them better engaged. Retail automation can also play an important role in personalizing interactions. 

Despite the many benefits, not all retail workflows are suitable for automation. Some tasks will still require human attention. As a generalization, processes involving routine, repetitive tasks are ideal for automation. With this in mind, here are the top 5 retail workflows that can benefit significantly from automation:

1. Retail Inventory Management Workflows

If a retail business doesn’t have sufficient inventory, customers won’t have anything to buy. On the other hand, holding too much inventory can increase storage costs, limit cash flow and put it at risk of stock obsolescence. 

Thus, demand and supply must always be balanced. Managing inventory is one of the core functions of a retail operation. This refers to tracking the flow of inventory from suppliers to customers. 

Some of the steps involved include reviewing stock levels, analyzing sales and identifying items for repurchase. Most of the tasks associated with this are routine and repetitive and thus better automated rather than handled manually. 

A survey found that 72% of retailer respondents intended to use automation to create a more efficient supply chain and inventory management system. 

An automated inventory workflow gives retail teams real-time visibility into inventory status along with actionable insights. For example, it could indicate the fastest-moving products. There’s no worry about having miscounted items or having missed details. 

When inventory is spread across multiple locations and cities, automated inventory workflow also helps consolidate reports to give management a clearer view of the overall status. 

In addition to basic reports, automated inventory workflow can also help forecast demand, manage demand fluctuations and help retailers achieve supply chain optimization. When connected to POS software, it could also give real-time notifications for low stock values to trigger order placement. 

Retailers can now hold sufficient stock to meet customer demand without expensive surpluses. The result – higher sales, more revenue and happier customers. 

2. Retail Customer Service and Support Workflows

To be a market leader retailers must focus on providing excellent customer service. There are a number of activities involved here. Retailers typically have individual workflows for customer onboarding, query resolution, billing and order processing, feedback collection and so on. 

For example, let’s say a customer reports an issue. The company first generates a ticket. This is then assigned a priority on the basis on which it is directed to a customer service agent. The conversation is usually followed with a message or email stating the issue being resolved. 

While the actual conversation may still require human attention, processes like ticket generation, priority assignment and resolution messages can be automated. Integrating chatbots with eCommerce websites can help customers get a quick answer to simple queries. Similarly, customers may be sent automated notifications when carts are abandoned or in other similar instances. 

Implementing automated systems in customer service and support workflows has many benefits. The most obvious is the customer service agent’s time saved. This time can be spent solving more complicated issues and thereby bringing down the overall response time. 

Quick responses through chatbots and other avenues also create a favorable impression on the customer and encourage them to interact further with the brand. It’s important to note that chatbots can answer queries at any time of the day or night. This is particularly noteworthy for retailers serving an international audience. 

3. Order Processing and Fulfillment Workflows for the Retail Industry

Delivery timelines are one of the most important considerations for today’s eCommerce customers. 45% of respondents to a survey stated that they were likely to abandon their shopping cart if it could not be delivered fast enough. 

Next-day delivery is no longer the exception but, often, the expectation. To meet these short timelines, retailers need well-structured order processing workflows. A typical order processing workflow would broadly include:

  • Receiving the order
  • Processing payment
  • Forwarding order details to the distribution center and linked departments
  • Picking the ordered products from the warehouse
  • Packing
  • Shipping
  • Last mile delivery

When you’re processing thousands of orders a day, keeping track of individual order movement through this workflow is extremely difficult. A delayed delivery will frustrate the customer and could result in poor reviews. 

Almost 70% of customers responding to a survey said they weren’t likely to shop with a retailer if their order was delivered late. This can be avoided by automating tasks in the workflow.  

Automation tools can be used to streamline order entry, processing, dispatch, tracking and more. For example, an automated system could receive and verify orders before entering them into the retailer’s ERP system. 

An automated tool integrated with other systems and departments not only reduces the risk of data entry errors but also consolidates information for demographic studies and sales forecasting. Further, it can be integrated with multiple sales channels to ensure a consistent customer experience. 

Automating functions such as label printing also speed up the shipping process and allow retailers to make on-time deliveries. 

In the long run, this attracts more customers, improves the brand reputation and contributes to lowering customer attrition rate.

4. Vendor Management Workflows for Retailers

Retailers typically work with multiple vendors. Supply chain and vendor management workflows begin with vetting vendors and include a number of processes culminating in vendor onboarding. In between, it includes generating vendor contracts, due diligence, performance tracking, contract renewals and more. 

When conducted manually, issues like slow onboarding, excessive paperwork are common. Not only do they affect the retailer supply chain, but they could also discourage vendors from doing business with you. 

To ensure that they get good quality products at the best rates, they must maintain good relationships with these vendors. These relationships are dependent on clear communication and transparency. Hence, the need for smooth supply chain and vendor management workflows. 

Processes such as vendor onboarding, order confirmation emails, invoice approvals, payment processing, etc. can be easily automated. Vendor performance tracking and compliance against predetermined KPIs too can be automated. This holds the key to maintaining long, mutually beneficial vendor relationships. 

Automating the process ensures accuracy in all negotiations and provides a transparent view to the flow of goods. Automated communication minimizes the risk of misunderstandings and ensures smooth collaboration. In time, this can put retailers in a better negotiating position and help improve margins. 

On the whole, an automated vendor management workflow is simpler, quicker to process and more efficient. Rather than spend precious time filling in vendor details to onboard them, the supply chain team can focus on finding new vendors and other such tasks that add value to the company.


5. Retail Marketing and Promotional Activities Workflows

Given the high level of competition in the retail space, businesses must work continually towards capturing and retaining their customers’ attention. In 2022, companies allocated about 9.5% of their revenue on marketing budgets. 

Keeping customers engaged throughout their journey involves executing several activities through multiple channels. There are customer onboarding processes, advertising campaigns, email marketing campaigns, referral management, and so on. This series of steps is referred to as the marketing and promotional activities workflow.

All of this and more needs to be done for each individual who interacts with the brand. And, at any given point in time, customers may be at different stages of their journey. Hence, rather than track this manually, the activities can be put on autopilot. 

Some of the marketing and promotional workflow activities that can be automated include generating emails as an order is processed, making personalized product recommendations, scheduling social media posts and email marketing campaigns and publishing feedback to capture the customer’s voice.  

For example, a customer who hasn’t placed an order in 6 months can be sent push notifications with recommendations. 

Automating these actions not only ensures that the workflow is followed and customers are kept engaged, but it also makes it easier to provide personalized experiences. It is virtually impossible to manually track the interests and activities of each customer. 

And, giving irrelevant offers and recommendations could cost you their loyalty. Leveraging technology makes it easier to understand customer demographics and create effective data-centric retail campaigns. 

This helps deliver relevant messaging and keep customers from turning to competitors. Further, automation also helps track ROI and in turn, helps retail managers identify effective customer retention strategies.  

Implementing Workflow Automation in your Retail Business

Workflow automation to manage inventory, order processing, customer service, vendor relationships and marketing helps retailers make optimal use of their resources while increasing productivity and profits. 

Small and large retailers alike are empowered to deliver personalized customer experiences thus making them feel valued. Further, with the ability to work with vast data sets and offer actionable insights, automation tools help retailers make data-driven decisions.   

With technology continually evolving, the future of retail workflow automation holds exciting possibilities. Retailers that embrace these innovations take the advantage. If you want to modernize your retail business, discover how Marjory can help you.

You may also like


Fill in your details and we will contact you shortly.