E-commerce is a field that’s ripe for efficiency improvements. After all, selling products online can be intensely demanding at scale (not just taking orders but also fulfilling them in a timely fashion), but is largely digital — meaning it can mostly be governed through computers, unlike traditional retail which is often highly disconnected.

Because of this, some of the biggest brands in the world continue to invest heavily in both automation (getting things done without requiring manual intervention) and outsourcing (passing regular tasks to people who can handle them much more cheaply and easily over the internet). This allows them to achieve incredible efficiency, saving time, money, and effort.

But what’s the best way to take advantage of these formidable tools when you’re running a regular e-commerce business? You don’t have enterprise-level resources, so you need to adopt a smart, budget-conscious approach. Here’s how you can effectively introduce automation and outsourcing to your regular operation:

Hire professionals for website development 

The optimization process is key to running a stable e-commerce operation because shopper needs continually change — particularly with top businesses driving up standards through their relentless pursuit of the perfect sales funnel. Your website may work well today, but a month from now its design and technology could seem horribly outdated.

Of course, the typical merchant doesn’t have the time to spend hours every week polishing their user interface or drafting new content layouts. They have orders to ship, queries to answer, and lives to live. And even if they did have the time to do it, they might not have the skills. This is where outsourcing becomes extremely handy. 

Try fulfillment services or dropshipping

The basic e-commerce model of taking orders online before shipping products from your warehouse isn’t the only way to get things done. There are two viable alternatives that can save time and money while still proving effective (if used correctly, of course): fulfillment services, and dropshipping suppliers.

Fulfillment services are best exemplified by Amazon’s FBA service, which allows sellers to securely store their products in Amazon’s warehouse system and use the Amazon shipping system to fulfill their orders. The main benefit of this setup is that it allows merchants to forgo renting an expensive warehouse and having to source packaging materials, saving them time, and gets them favorable rates because they’re paying to use well-oiled services.

Dropshipping suppliers like AliExpress go beyond that arrangement by allowing merchants to outsource the product acquisition process. Instead of finding products you’d like to stock, negotiating rates, receiving the items, and then storing them however you’d prefer, you can simply list products stocked by drop shipping suppliers — when you receive orders, you pass them to the suppliers for fulfillment. You’re essentially curating existing products, changing up the presentation, and charging a little extra on the top (that’s where your profit comes from).

You can use FBA for non-Amazon orders, and even without listing your products through the Amazon ecosystem (in certain countries, at least), so it’s a strong option if it works out as a more cost-effective than handling fulfillment yourself. As for dropshipping, almost every e-commerce platform supports drop shipping suppliers, but you may not want to mix your own inventory with generic third-party items. 

The main difference between dropshipping and third-party fulfillment is that you send your inventory to one specific fulfillment center. If your physical location is a sizeable distance from your target customers, for example, shipping time may suffer. Using a third-party near your customer base solves this problem without having to build a relationship with quite as many suppliers – and it’s often cheaper. 

Queue up social media posts and marketing emails

Even the biggest sellers need to market their products — unlike well-placed brick-and-mortar retailers, you can’t rely on consistent foot traffic, and SEO is a rough field. You never know when an algorithm update will see your rankings plummet overnight. And marketing, like the design optimization we already looked at, takes up a lot of time.

Now, you can take the same approach and outsource a lot of this (hiring someone to handle your social media accounts, for instance), but you might not want to. This is because personality and authenticity are important for smaller businesses, and you should try to cultivate a unique voice. But how can you meet the required pace without eating into your daily workload?

Simple: queue up your content and set it to trigger in the appropriate circumstances (at particular times, or for particular customers). Buffer is the top dog when it comes to social media automation, and its status as an Instagram partner makes it worth using over the alternatives. As for email automation, there are numerous good options — you can review some here. Once you make a decision, it’ll be a matter of segmenting your audience, creating viable content templates, and setting your emails to be sent at the most valuable.

If you are a startup and looking for tips and tricks, check out Microstartups.org, they have great resources for startups & micro businesses of all sizes.

Use virtual assistants and chatbots

Customer service isn’t so challenging when you’re only getting the occasional order, but as soon as you start to pick up some momentum, you can easily run into issues with fielding shopper queries. People expect answers fairly rapidly, and if you can’t provide them, they’ll likely abandon your store and go elsewhere.

Today, the best option for creating a support service that’s effective and efficient is to combine the two titular elements (automation and outsourcing). To deal with the most basic queries, you can implement an e-commerce chatbot which use artificial intelligence technologies to perform a wide range of functions that increase sales, conversions, and retention. Simply integrate it with your system as a live chat option, equip it with a solid logic tree, and it can breeze through common queries (such as “How long do I have to return an item?” or “Can you deliver to my location?”) quickly and at scale.

And when queries too complex to be handled by chatbots come along, your chatbot can pass them to your human support team, which will be staffed (largely, if not exclusively) by virtual assistants — store assistants working remotely as needed. That way, you don’t need to pay for full-time staff in your area. You can outsource most of the work and get a good workforce. It’s a clear win-win-win: your customers get fast support, you cut your costs, and your employees make considerably more than they’d get from regular work in their native countries.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning automation have provided a new way for digital marketing in Ecommerce. This advanced technology helps in drawing accurate sales forecasts and predictions while fine-tuning the propensity models to achieve focused marketing goals.

Combine some or all of these tactics with a commitment to consistent improvement, and you’ll achieve a strong operational balance: all the essentials covered very efficiently, and everything else (all the complex tasks vital for business growth) left for you.