It’s an exciting time for e-commerce businesses. Even with consumers returning to brick-and-mortar shopping after the pandemic, e-commerce continues to grow rapidly and is expected to surpass $4 trillion in global revenue this year, according to Statista.
However, with great growth comes great competition. Now, no matter your niche, you likely have to compete with local and global competitors––not to mention the industry giants, Amazon and Alibaba.
Streamlining operations with e-commerce automation software can free up bandwidth for you and your team to focus on your highest-value tasks, scale, and meet your revenue goals.
The current challenges and opportunities of e-commerce business
Let’s look closer at some of the current challenges and opportunities for e-commerce businesses, then learn how e-commerce automation–including AP automation–can help you stay agile and competitive.
Steep competition for e-commerce businesses
The e-commerce space has become saturated and is increasingly competitive on multiple levels. There’s competition over pricing, speed, service, product, and an increasing need to differentiate your business from those in your space. You’re not just competing with those in your region, but potentially from anywhere in the world.
Ensuring you have a clear, unique offering and a professional–looking, optimized website are essential to maintaining visibility and reaching target customers.
Meeting evolving consumer expectations
As technology becomes more intertwined with our lives and online shopping becomes the norm, customer habits are shifting quickly. Customers have come to expect seamless and personalized experiences when shopping online, even when shopping from smaller businesses.
Conversational chatbots, tailored recommendations, real-time support, and shipping transparency are not just nice to have––they’re expected as part of the customer experience.
The demand for convenience and speed is hard to overstate. From a secure, easy checkout process to fast shipping and fulfillment options, it’s essential to set clear expectations and move fast––because it directly impacts customer satisfaction.
The bottom line is that to remain competitive, companies must invest in technology that differentiates their brand and products, provides personalized experiences, and ensures an easy checkout with fast shipping. On top of this, augmented reality (AR) and voice search are having more impact on the industry and pushing customer expectations to an all-time high.
Managing inventory and supply chain
As consumer demand and preferences grow and shift, e-commerce businesses must adapt to navigate the complexities in forecasting, procurement, and inventory management to ensure product availability and minimize stockouts. In recent years, disruptions in the supply chain further exacerbate these challenges, making it increasingly difficult to maintain a seamless and efficient supply chain.
In addition, e-commerce businesses must work around intricate global trade regulations, processes, and fluctuating shipping costs. As a result, e-commerce companies are constantly seeking technology solutions, especially in automation, to streamline inventory and supply chain management, optimize costs and improve overall operational efficiency.
E-commerce automation tools
E-commerce automation comes in a variety of forms. Let’s look at what it is and how it can help your business streamline operations.
What is e-commerce automation?
E-commerce automation uses technology and software tools to intelligently and automatically execute business tasks and processes, exactly when needed. Essentially, it’s how businesses can do more with their current resources, focus more on strategic initiatives, and drive growth.
As an e-commerce business scales, demands, complexity, and repetition also increase, leaving systems that worked previously become inefficient and sometimes obsolete. Instead of turning to expensive or time-consuming workarounds, automation can help teams avoid these growing pains.
Examples of e-commerce automation
E-commerce automation can support everything from marketing campaigns to inventory to accounts payable. No matter what form it takes, the goal is the same: to simplify tasks and workflows.
Here are just a few examples:
- Accounts payable and accounts receivable. Significantly reduce time spent on AP and AR by automating recurring vendor payments and purchase order matching.
- Data analytics and reporting. Get real-time insights into your spending to improve your ability to make the right decisions for your business.
- Inventory management. Monitor inventory levels, automatically unpublish out-of-stock products, and alert your team with low-stock situations.
- Fulfillment. Automate tasks in receiving, processing, and shipping orders to customers to improve fulfillment efficiency, reduce human error and enhance customer satisfaction.
- Restock best-selling items. Auto-add products to your online store as soon as they’re back in stock.
- Provide a personalized shopping experience. Show options based on a customer’s order history, location, device, and more.
- Fraud detection and prevention. Quickly notify your team of high-risk or suspicious orders.
3 ways accounts payable automation helps e-commerce businesses
AP automation streamlines tasks like invoice processing, payment processing, and payment reconciliation. In other words, it's using technology to simplify processes, reduce manual labor, and improve accuracy in your financial operations.
For e-commerce businesses, AP automation can help improve efficiency in several ways:
1. Increase productivity and accuracy
By automating your AP process, you can streamline accounting processes while virtually eliminating errors caused by manual data entry and ensuring that payments are processed accurately and on time.
This is fantastic news for e-commerce businesses looking to keep up with a fast-changing, competitive business landscape. AP automation enables you to free up time to focus on standing out from the competition and building customer loyalty by continually improving your service.
For example, the fast-growing coffee business Golden Ratio implemented AP automation and immediately freed up more time to focus on their product. “The less we have to think about payables, the more it frees our minds to focus on making the best products for our customers and expanding our reach into new markets,” explained Hunter Thompson, Chief Operating Officer.
2. Improve cash flow and your ability to scale
AP automation can also provide real-time data insights, allowing businesses to make more informed decisions about their financial operations. By tracking payment data and analyzing spending patterns, e-commerce businesses can more easily identify areas to save money and improve profitability.
In addition, AP automation ensures that vendors and suppliers are paid quickly. Merging PO matching with your AP process can also drive efficiencies by automatically matching purchase orders with invoices and streamlining the reconciliation and approvals.
Finally, as your business grows, you can help your team work more effectively and avoid adding headcount or spending resources on training employees since many of your repetitive tasks have been automated.
Thanks to AP automation, Tamara Mellon, a direct-to-consumer footwear brand, saves five days per month spent on AP. “All of my time-consuming, labor-intensive tasks have been automated, and I haven’t had to add staff to my team in over two years,” said controller Vilasini Challa.
3. Keep your business and customer information secure
A secure and compliant AP automated system can also protect your most sensitive business information––like bill payment data and banking info––through encryption and other safety measures. Better protect your business from fraud, data leaks, and other cybercrimes, not to mention the frustrations of lost paper documents.
In short, AP automation can help e-commerce businesses manage their financial operations more efficiently by improving accuracy, increasing productivity, managing cash flow, and providing enhanced financial visibility while ensuring privacy and security to reduce risk. By adopting AP workflow automation tools, they can streamline their payment processes and free up bandwidth for growing their business safely.
How BILL can help e-commerce businesses meet their goals
“BILL is truly my trusted counterpart–it’s my team, my go-to virtual AP person.”
BILL is a leader in AP automation, trusted by top banks, accounting firms, and over 400,000 businesses. For e-commerce businesses looking to keep up with the ever-evolving demands of the industry, BILL can help streamline and customize workflows to fuel your business growth.
BILL helps save up to 50% of time spent on AP* by reducing manual tasks with AI-driven invoice capture and duplicate invoice detection. For e-commerce businesses with overseas suppliers, BILL offers flexible payment options for your international suppliers to maintain a stable and healthy relationship with them. It’s also easy for suppliers and vendors to set up their accounts and get onboarded with BILL.
Our award-winning app allows you to review, approve, and pay invoices anywhere, anytime for optimal efficiency.
Having multiple entities? BILL helps centralize and simplify your AP for all your entities from one platform that automatically syncs or integrates with your accounting software, such as Quickbook, Sage, and NetSuite. If you need better payment data visibility across your tech stack, BILL also provides implementation services to help import and export data with other software systems. In addition, BILL helps automate 2-way and 3-way PO matching** for greater control over your purchase-to-pay workflows and keep your spend within pre-approved limits.
Ready to refocus your energy on delighting customers?
The growth of the e-commerce industry is showing little sign of slowing down––and so is the competition. Automation is essential for businesses looking to stay agile and manage their operations effectively. Learn more about how BILL can help your e-commerce business to automate AP and streamline your finance operations.