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E-commerce Automation — Get Your Time Back

48 min listen

The Ecwid E-Commerce Show hosts Jesse and Richie talk with the founder of DataAutomation Will Christensen. Will nerds out on Excel tricks and various options to automate your e-commerce business: emails, inventory, accounting, shipping, tracking, and social media options.

Show Notes

  • Tips from Will Christensen, co-founder of DataAutomation
  • When to automate your e-commerce business
  • E-commerce automation: examples
  • Free automation tools for beginners
  • Bonus by Will: a free call with the expert
  • Social media automation


Jesse: When you start an e-commerce business, you find out there’s a lot of stuff to do. You have to put stuff in boxes and tape it up and cut and paste all the addresses. Then you got to email people and you got to cut and paste this. There’s a lot of cutting and pasting. Control C, control V for anybody out there. It’s not going to be that easy. But there are ways to automate your business. We’re going to bring on the guy that’s going to make all our lives easier: Will Christensen, co-founder of DataAutomation.com.

Tips from Will Christensen, co-founder of DataAutomation

Will: Hey, guys! I tell people sometimes that I am the dude who actually sells the one thing money can’t buy — I sell time. At one of my jobs I spent 16 hours a week copying and pasting. And I thought there has got to be a better way. Somebody showed me VLOOKUP. Here’s tip number one — google VLOOKUP. Google Sheets, Excel, if you don’t know how to do it, look it up, you are missing out.

I started chipping away at my sixteen-hour process. I was like: “Okay, I want to make it do this. I could record Macros.” So tip number two, get in there, try Macros.

I was crazy enough to decide I was going to teach myself to get in there and code the macros together. And so if you’re using a Google sheet, you got to use Google Apps script. If using Excel, you can have to use Visual Basic.

And so I started to teach myself how to code them together. At one point, I was like: “Okay, I can do my entire process. And all I have to do now is to download all of my reports and then I have to go put those reports in Excel and then I just press a button and watch my computer work for four hours. Wait, what if I could wake my computer up at 2 a.m. before I come into work, and it’ll do it while I’m sleeping?” So I did a bunch more Googling and I figured out how to do that. So tip number three, if you’re wondering how to automate something, go type it exactly the way you wonder into Google. “How do I wake up my computer in the middle of the night without logging in?” That’s how I figured out how to do that. “Do I automatically open an Excel or Google Sheets workbook at a certain time?” I figured out how to do that.

It took me over like 180 to 300 hours of concerted effort to take my 16-hour process down to just two hours. My fourth tip is don’t give up. And if you feel like you’re in a little over your head, there are people out there who’ve done this before. And that’s what got me started.

I was like, okay, I’ve got it to the point where it was two hours. My computer would wake up in the middle of the night. It would download all my reports. And all I had to do was spend two hours going through them, making sure it did its job. Then I thought, okay, there’s gotta be other people out there who need this. What I just described to you could be any e-commerce business downloading orders and having to ship them off and send them to a third-party logistics company or whatever that might be. So that’s what Data Automation became.

When to automate your e-commerce business

Jesse: For e-commerce, there tends to be a lot of repetitive tasks. When does automation come in? When should people be thinking about it?

Will: Honestly, that is the question of “when to automate” or “should you automate.” That gets me into my litmus test. So the litmus test is the following. What does it take to get this where it needs to go? If you haven’t done it five times manually yet, get off the couch. Go do that thing five times manually. You probably should do it 20 times manually before you decide to automate it. And the reason for that is if you dive down the automation rabbit hole too soon, you’ll automate a piece of it, making an assumption about how this is going to happen. You’ll discover that the fork in the road is actually more common than you think. Do the thing five times at minimum before you try to automate it. And that gives you enough knowledge to actually diagram it.

My second litmus test is, “how much time is this thing taking you?” Write down things that you’re doing more than once and then track how long it took you to do that thing. You need to understand how often this is happening. If it is happening more than 15 minutes a day, more than 15 minutes a week, or more than an hour a month, it’s time for you to consider automating this.

Jesse: What are some tasks that people need to automate?

Will: The last litmus test is if you were to hire somebody who’s just out of college or somebody who has a decent understanding of email and Excel. If you could teach someone with that level of understanding without any other knowledge in less than 15 minutes, if you can teach them something in less than 50 minutes, you’ve got something you really need to start bringing to an automation expert or you need to start googling about, because it’s those sorts of simple tasks that are easily taught that really get there.

E-commerce automation: examples

Will: Remember that the examples I’m about to share are common use cases. Just because we don’t find one doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

So one common example is that we had a guy who was on a platform called Skubana. They do some inventory management stuff. He needed to know how much inventory you had available. It was so important that he knew because he needed to notify people immediately if they placed an order, and somehow it went out of stock.

He wanted to let the customer know: “I’m really sorry about this. I know you’ve already paid for it. I’m working on it: And then he wanted an automated delay of 24 hours to check to see if it came back in inventory. And then he touched the customer again automatically: ‘Hey, check it again today’ — totally automatically — ‘still out of inventory. I’m going to check again in a couple of days, and we’ll let you know what we’re going to do.’ And 72 hours later, he did it again. And if it was out of stock at that point, he would say he would send a calendar link or something like that. That’s a tool you can use to automate scheduling, Calendly.com. He would send a Calendly link, and get on a phone with that individual: ‘I’m so sorry. Let’s find another product. Let’s figure out if we’re going to do a refund.’ It increased his customer service rating by a lot.

Will: Another example is tracking numbers or order information passing back and forth from one email to another. An email comes in; I’ve got to take that order information, send it out to a drop shipper, or to a third party logistics company. So, tracking information or order information that needs to be put back and forth between different systems. Nine times out of ten, we can help you with that.

Jesse: I feel an opportunity to fix something. But let’s give some other options out there.

Will: Do you ever have a situation where you’re like: ‘If I get an order that is above X, I probably want to know about it’? It depends on what you’re selling. If the cart is this much above, maybe that’s a fraud. I want to stop something like that.

I’m going to do that with Zapier, so you can read calendar appointments, I can read orders that are coming in, and I can say: ‘If the order is above this dollar value or there are this many items in it, then it’s time to get a phone call or a text message on my phone.’

Jesse: I didn’t realize you could use Zapier to send phone calls too.

Will: Guess what? That’s my favorite part — it’s free. So even a free account can make a hundred of those a month. Zapier is a platform that allows you to take data from one point and put it into another, and it’s got a lot of things baked into it. 1500 applications. Ecwid has a Zapier app that you can use, and it’ll do a lot of stuff. They’re even people like me who can help you connect that via their API or do something special. Zapier is a powerful platform that I use in my home automations. But also I use it all the time for my clients.

Jesse: For people listening, Zapier is fully integrated with Ecwid, and almost anything that happens inside of Ecwid is connected to an API call, which then can be connected to Zapier.

Will: Ecwid is actually a good example of one that’s very well integrated. You got a new customer that comes into Ecwid; you can push that somewhere else, you’ve got a new product that comes into Ecwid, you can push that somewhere else. You’ve got a new paid order or a new order; you can actually delineate when it’s been paid or when it hasn’t been.

Jesse: I think from a basic level too, we talked to a lot of customers through the podcast, there’re a lot of people that are not gathering an email. Anytime you get an order, you can set up a system to grab that email, at least put it in a Google sheet just to start building your email list.

Will: If you’re like: ‘I don’t really want to get into MailChimp cause it looks complicated. I just want to send somebody a message in Gmail.’ There’s a tool called Yet Another Mail Merge. It’ll let you send out 40 or 50 emails a day for free. After you get it into that spreadsheet, take it a step further and start sending out a little email list.

Jesse: A lot of free tools here. That’s a free tool. Zapier is a free tool. Ecwid is pretty darn free to until you get to a certain level. We’re talking very, very middle, and minimal investments of money here on for a lot of these things.

Will, are there some stories of clients out there that you’ve had walked into just a disaster, and you’ve been able to work your magic, fixing their life with what they could do with automation?

Will:One time we built a 32-step zap inside Zapier because we had a huge process of emailing and then checking if they responded and if they responded to this and if they do that, do that.

Free automation tools for beginners

Jesse: What do you recommend people that have litmus tests, they find a couple of things to automate. Do you think they can probably figure that out on their own with Zapier? What do you recommend?

Will: One of the things that’s cool about Zapier is that it is such a widely used tool that there’s a lot of tutorials already out there to help you with it.

So, if I were just getting started out, I would focus on Google sheets and Zapier. Airtable is another one that I would recommend looking at, cause there are some things that just Google sheets are not cut out for and Airtable is and vice versa. I would focus on those three things. And if your process is to the point where you haven’t involved a Google sheet yet, you might want to start doing that because that’s going to force you to think about, where things go and how to attack it more appropriately.

Jesse: Again, free tools here.

Will: Airtable is totally free up to 1500 rows, and it comes with a built-in API for free.

Jesse: Free tools to help you run your store. We’re not talking about like: ‘Hey guys, you got to go spend a bunch of money on your business.’ This is about spending time on your business, being smart, helping you make money. You got a free call here with Will, the expert.

Bonus by Will: a free call with the expert

Will: One of the things I want to offer to anybody who’s listening, if you mentioned this podcast, when you reach out to us via DataAutomation.com, we will actually give you a 15 to 30-minute call. I charge 350 an hour for my automation sessions. I’m the CEO of the company; I have to keep my time pretty solidified cause I gotta help different members of the team. I’ll offer you a 15 to 30 minutes call for free, all jump on, and help you figure out some of this stuff. The reason I mentioned that is because if you do get stuck, I’m here for you. Zapier support is there for you as well, and it’s not as bad as you think.

Jesse: Will, you mentioned DataAutomation.com. Are there other places you want people to go to, like social media?

Will: You can check us out on Facebook and Twitter. Now we’re going back into automating some of our own social media channels. We’re starting a podcast as well.

If you reach out and you’re like: ‘Oh wow, I have to wait two weeks to talk to Will,’ that’s because a lot of people are listening. I gotta space that out, or that’s all I would do all day. But I’m here to help. I want to help Ecwid users get to that next level and understand what’s truly possible.

Social media automation

Richard: I have one last question. In the world of social, it’s almost like people are irrelevant if they’re not participating in the world of social. I also seem or would guess as if it could be a sticky place to automate stuff because it’s social. What is something you could do with content or social, that someone could think about or use?

Will: We made a lot of social media for a lot of clients. Zapier is totally capable of helping you schedule posts; it is totally capable of helping you automatically pick up all sorts of stuff, like if you want to retweet somebody else’s stuff. You can totally become like an aggregator and retweet stuff inside Zapier and push that. Now obviously I mentioned Zapier a lot, but there’s a lot of other platforms out there, Integromat and several others that do this sort of work.

You can post on all of your major social media platforms using these systems. I’ve seen people take high-end reviews and automatically post those five-star reviews: ‘Hey, another happy customer, thank you.’

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