As exciting as the world of e-commerce can be, success comes from mundane, tedious tasks required in managing the day-to-day of the business. Orders need processing, packages need to packing. These are the duties that serve as the lifeblood of any e-commerce business. As an owner or manager of an e-commerce business, yet, your focus should always be on finding ways to 'streamline' these tasks. Whether this means hiring folks to handle it for you, outsourcing it to another provider or using technology to replace the function, these minor efficiency can add up and drive the growth of your company. Shopify has introduced an amazing new app for their Shopify Plus merchants that's aimed at helping retailers gain more of these minor efficiency. That app is Flow and it is one of the more impressive additions to the Shopify platform in the past few months.
At its core, Flow is a tool that allows merchants to write 'automation rules' or 'workflows' within their store. These workflows cause specific 'actions' to occur based on set 'triggers' that meet a certain condition. It means that something specific will happen within your store once something else specific has happened elsewhere. For those familiar with the platform, Flow is very similar to Zapier, a platform that also allows you to set up specific actions to occur based on triggers from other platforms. Although Zapier already integrates with Shopify and is a great way to push/pull data from your store to other platforms, such as customer service, email marketing or invoicing, Flow allows you to push/pull data internally within your Shopify store. This opens a whole new world of possibilities that previous systems like Zapier couldn't access.
FLOWING IN YOUR STORE
As cliche as it sounds, Flow's possibilities are limited only by your imagination. An excellent way to start thinking about how you can take advantage of Flow in your own store is to map out a 'typical week' in running your Shopify site. Keep track of any actions that you perform within the platform. Are you creating new Collections, updating customer profiles or hiding products? How about external to the platform? What sort of communications are you sending to your marketing and fulfillment teams based on the orders, inquiry, and data coming into your website? Consider writing all of these items down and then analyzing the 'formula' behind each one of them. List out each of the steps necessary for you to complete one of these tasks. Are these tasks handled on a regular schedule or because another 'event' within the business triggered them? The intention of the exercise is to get you thinking about how you spend your time managing your store and the specific steps taken to meet your responsibilities. Next, we'll look at a specific example of trying to automate one of those tasks using Flow.
SETTING UP A WORKFLOW
What's particularly neat about Flow is that it's a visual tool and requires no coding, unlike working with Shopify's API. This means that it opens up a vast array of functionality that was previously locked down for only those who understood how to write custom apps or theme functions. To demonstrate how approachable the interface is within Flow, let's walk through one of the 'tasks' you might have identified in the above list when analyzing your typical 'week in Shopify'.
Let's say you need to send an email to one of your vendors everytime an individual product hits inventory levels of 5 or lower. When doing this manually, you'd need to be sure you're regularly checking your Shopify inventory levels to see if any products have reached this threshold. Next, you'd need to then draft an email to your vendor each time a product hits this level and then send it to them. That doesn't sound too complicated but when you expand this out across thousands of products, dozens of vendors and see that happen several times a year/month, it turns out to be a lot of time spent drafting emails. With Flow, we can actually automate this entire process so you no longer need to keep an eye on inventory levels or send an email to your vendor.
1) Select "Inventory Quantity Changed" as your 'trigger':
2) Select "Product Variant Inventory Quantity" as your 'condition' and set the value to "less than or equal to 5":
3) Select "Send Email" as your 'Action' when the condition is true (i.e., the "Yes" branch):
4) Once saved, Flow will allow you to 'preview' your workflow before enabling it:
What's great about Flow is that you can even add multiple conditions to a workflow to make it even more helpful to your business requirements. Let's say we only wanted to send this re-order for products from an individual vendor? We click back into our original condition and click 'add another condition' to further specify the workflow:
The above works the same with actions too, where you can cause a particular workflow to initiate a series of events.
WORKFLOW IDEAS FOR YOUR BUSINESS
In addition to the exercise we suggested earlier, let's examine a few possible workflows that you might set up for your business:
Customer Profiling and Retention
Let's say you wanted to improve the data you have on your customers and start building more granular 'segments.' We ought to set up a workflow that automatically tags US customers with the name of the city they used in their most recent order. This workflow would allow you to create a 'customer group' of customers who all belong to the same city, something that could serve as the basis for a targeted email or advertising campaign. The required workflow might look something like this:
Perhaps you want to tag customers as a 'VIP' once they've spent at least $1,000 within your store. The required workflow might look something like:
One aspect of running a store that requires a careful eye yet can be made more efficient is that of Fraud Management. Although Shopify has excellent built-in fraud management capabilities, you might want to set up a rule that automatically flags orders where the billing/shipping addresses don't match up. The required workflow might look something like:
You might also want to send an email to a member of your customer service team with any orders that stand out as having a higher potential of fraudulent behavior. The required workflow might look something like:
A considerable amount of time can be spent handling the 'administration' of your store, such as adding new products and loading them with the proper attributes. Flow can help automate some product admin tasks such as automatically tagging products with the specific variant data they have, such as color. Tagging products with variant data is often necessary for collections or filtering logic to work correctly. The required workflow might look something like:
Another 'clean up' task is dealing with products that are out of stock. Perhaps you don't want to allow those products to be displayed on the store once their inventory levels reach zero. Flow can help automate this as well. The required workflow might look something like:
Flow is a powerful system that we're very excited about at Growth Spark. We expect that Shopify will continue to add more triggers, conditions, and actions to the platform, making it a more significant part of running your business. We recommend reading some of their materials on the new app and encourage any Shopify Plus merchant to give it a demo: