How Shopify Flow Streamlines Ecommerce Operations
Retailers know the frustration of tedious backend operations far too well. Perhaps your team has to manually check every order for potential fraud. Or maybe you want to reward customers who purchase over $1000 from your site, but this requires you to review extensive data every month to find them. Tasks like these are difficult and time-consuming without automation.
For merchants on Shopify Plus, however, Shopify Flow allows you to create workflows to automate business tasks and processes. A merchant’s internal team sets up the workflows based on triggers, conditions, and actions that they define. These workflows can greatly increase efficiency in many areas, including operations, customer service, marketing, and more. In this podcast episode, you’ll learn:
- How Flow can work with third-party apps in the Shopify Plus ecosystem
- The powerful possibilities of messaging within Flow (e.g. messages to your team, vendors, and others)
- Ideas for using Flow with project management tools, such as Slack or Asana
- Ways that Flow can alert your fulfillment staff about potentially fraudulent orders
- Concrete examples of workflows to reduce friction in ecommerce.
Full Episode Transcript
Sara: Welcome back to another episode of Recommerce. I’m Sara and I’m here with Tiffany who is a tech lead on the Command C team. Hey Tif.
Tiffany: Hey Sara.
Sara: Today we are going to do a whole bunch of de-mystification around Shopify Flow. This tool is really cool. One of the reasons why it’s personally cool, for me, is that I’ve always said that our mission at Command C is to build better technology with the mission of allowing merchants to focus more on the work they love, and focus on their customers without constantly getting roadblocked by the technology that they’re using. Shopify Flow is another extension of that same idea.
Shopify Flow is a Plus-only feature, designed to help automate operational tasks that you find, yourself as an administrator, doing repeatedly.
Tiffany: Shopify Flow gives you a really user-friendly, visual, flow-chart way to define decisions that you, for lack of a better explanation, want the computer to make for you. So, it comes with a list of triggers, a list of conditions, and a list of actions. You basically say, “Okay, the trigger is that an order has been placed, and if the order meets these criteria, I would like to do these things.” If you imagine that someone on your team has always previously had to make those decisions, and possibly one at a time, as each order came in, you can start to see the time-savings from automating decisions really add up.
By automating decisions with Shopify Flow, the time savings can really add up.
Sara: I think it’s helpful to think about this tool, in terms of the results categories. So there’s three main areas where Flow can have impact. Do you want to break those down for us?
Tiffany: Flow has a big impact on your ability to complete customer service tasks and to reward and engage customer loyalty. Additionally, Flow can assist you with merchandising and marketing tasks, things that happen within your team, on the back-end, that surround product inventory, or product merchandising positioning on the front-end of the site. Then, of course, there is the operations item, which is one of my favorite ways that this can have a huge impact because this is a part of ecommerce that no one really sees. Often times, when I explain to people what it is that I do for a living, I end up explaining this entire, crazy backend of the iceberg that exists underneath the water whenever they order something from their favorite retailer online. Then they all look at me like I’m crazy, but that whole big section of an iceberg requires a lot of automation because its a lot of work.
Sara: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, speaking of work. How does Flow work?
Tiffany: That was a really good segue, Sara.
Sara: I’m kind of embarrassed.
Tiffany: Is that what…
Sara: No, I think it’s really, really actually kind of bad.
Tiffany: I love it. We’re keeping it. So as I mentioned earlier, Flow works on this concept of triggers, conditions, and actions. Triggers, like I said, are things that just happen. And not only things that happen within Shopify itself, but many of the apps that exist in the Shopify App Store also have their own triggers that let you tap into the functionality that they already have with Flow. It’s a really exciting way to extend your automation beyond just the scope of the things I mentioned earlier – customer service, merchandising, operations. This is the customer’s products and orders if we think about it in terms of the data structures that it impacts.
Flow works from the concept of triggers, conditions, and actions.
Tiffany: Each of those triggers then, has a condition, or the option for you to set a condition. If I talk through a very basic trigger, it looks like this: when a product is added to the store, check to see if that product title contains the word “T-Shirt.” If it does, add the tag “New T-Shirt.” Trigger, condition, action. I mentioned tags in that example because in Shopify so many things on the frontend, and functionally too, can be driven by tags. The presence of tags within a product or customer, or an order, allow all of these decisions to be made automatically.
A second really powerful tool that Flow gives us is messaging. So, distributing messages to your internal team, to your distributors, to really anyone for whom you have an email address or to whom you can send an http request. Distributing those messages, when things happen in Shopify, can greatly simplify the need for your team to, for example, go in three times a day and double check to make sure that there were no high-risk orders, and then process those orders accordingly. Or go in once a week and double check to see if anyone who’s ever purchased more than $1000 worth of stuff from your store, has been contacted by a salesperson yet. So, these kinds of interactions can all be automated, and it’s not just emails, I mentioned that it can happen over an API too, so that means it can push into project management tools such as Trello and Asana. It can also push directly to Slack, and we all love getting Slack notifications about stuff that we’re supposed to do.
Flow messaging can dramatically improve end-to-end communications about orders and inventory.
Tiffany: So what we do with this messaging capability is we dramatically improve end-to-end communications surrounding orders and stock movements. One of my favorite examples of these is the idea that a distributor, if you drop ship your products, that a distributor can be notified immediately if an order was high risk and ask to hold that order back. Because a lot of times, if someone else other than your warehouse is shipping the order, they don’t really have any reason to ever stop. They’re going to keep going as long as the orders come in because that’s their job. So this provides an additional check and balance for you to make sure that all of your orders are legitimate and that you’re not shipping things that are ultimately just going to be returned.
Sara: Mm-hmm. Something that I’ve been thinking a lot since Shopify released Flow is how it’s not a part of the Shopify core. It’s very specific to Plus, but I also wouldn’t, even with Plus, I wouldn’t call it an out-of-the-box feature with Shopify because there’s so much customization that has to be done in order to leverage it. But it’s also not an external app. So, it kinda exists in this interesting space of a Shopify feature that is specific to a version of the platform that has to be manually customized in order to be used. Which kind of gets me thinking about the decision-making from Shopify’s perspective of like, why isn’t this just an out-of-the-box feature? Aside from financial motivation, why isn’t this just an out-of-the-box feature, not only for Shopify, but for all ecommerce platforms? It seems like such a ubiquitous tool. Why kind of position it in the way that they’ve positioned it?
Tiffany: Yeah, the real question for me, is some of these workflows are so ubiquitous that they have always felt to me like, help me out, they should just do this out of the box. When I add a product to the store, it should just stick a new add on it, right? I shouldn’t have to do that. When a high-risk order is placed, it should just put it in a hold status. I shouldn’t have to do that.
Sara: Right, right.
Tiffany: So, as I start to say those things though, well, aside from the fact that I just used the word “I” sixteen times, and it’s clear that that only applies to my specific use case.
Sara: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tiffany: What Flow really does give us access to the logic that drives these decisions, without prescribing for us what decisions we should and should not be making. And that’s something I see over and over again with Shopify, kind of as a… I don’t know if it’s a philosophy, but it seems like it kind of underlies a lot of the tools that they built for us as developers and that they build for merchants, tend to fall in this bucket of giving you the power to set these things up in a way that meets your specific needs, without prescribing to you like, “These are the tasks, this is a very concrete list of tasks you can choose from, and you can either do these or not but this is it.”
Flow gives merchants access to the logic behind various processes, and lets them set the chain reaction to make the process their own.
Sara: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Tiffany: And so what Flow does is bypass that. So, let’s so that my theme developers made my theme use the tag “New-Product.” So, my options with the prescribed version would be that I have to go in and modify thousands of products to say “New,” instead of “New-Product.” But with this, I don’t have to.
And it’s now extensible and the limit is really my creativity. How creative can I get with the options they give us? And they add options all the time. I jumped in again earlier this week just to make sure that I had a good sense of where everything was, and there are a bunch of new options surrounding orders, a bunch of new values that we can use for conditions that weren’t there a little bit ago. So, I think that this is going to continue to grow. They’re going to gradually expose more and more to us, to be able to use in this creative fashion. But again, I think it’s stepping away from self prescription.
Interlude: You’re listening to Recommerce, a podcast for ecommerce wearable brands, navigating technical complexity and change. Brought to you by Command C, a development team that saves ecommerce retailers from outdated tech and ineffective operations, with a strong focus on Magento and Shopify Plus. You can learn about how we can help at Commandc.com.
Sara: All right, so let’s get a little deeper here and dig into some concrete, quote on quote, again air quotes, my favorite thing to do on a podcast… Flows that merchants can set up.
Tiffany: I was thinking about some cool examples that I could share with y’all, and one that I’ve been playing with recently has to do with accepting pre-orders and reservations. So, pre-orders are always a tricky problem to solve, particularly on a hosted platform because they often require multiple transactions. They can require a lot of customer communication and customer expectation setting. So, this is your customer service team having to do potentially a lot of work. This is your marketing team have to prepare emails. With Flow, it lets us accept partial payment reservations and tag those orders when they come in. Not only tag those orders, but tag those customers.
So let’s assume that a customer reserves a product that won’t be available for purchase until later, and they pay $100 down on that product. They’re checking out of your Shopify store with a $100 product. This is not the final product, this is just the reservation that they’ve purchased. So Flow can be used to tag that order only when the payment for the reservation is complete. So that customers who have purchased the reservation can later be easily segmented to receive instructions for completing their order.
Now we have a list of customers who completed payment on this reservation. If we combine this with custom functionality that your development team puts together, to generate coupon codes, this is outside the scope of Flow, but for example, to generate coupon codes, you would have a completely automated reservation and complete your purchase workflow. Whereby, to everyone whom you have tagged as a pre-order reservation, you assign a coupon code. That coupon code is automatically generated in Shopify and then an email is sent to them, also automatically, by your own app that you build, again, this is custom functionality.
Shopify Flow gives you so much more data, and it’s data that your team doesn’t have to assign or extract manually.
Tiffany: But Flow gives us the ability to set up the tags that drive this functionality. They receive their email, plus their expectations about how to complete their purchase, they complete their purchase, and because we can track where the customer comes from inside Flow we can also tag their follow up purchase with a campaign or any other variables that you might assign in that email that you send out. So that you now, end-to-end, have tracked your customer from the first time they entered your site and pre-ordered this product through their receipt of the product. You’ll also, additionally, have a tag to help you determine that they’re an early adopter. This is somebody who was excited about your product before it was even available. This is somebody you want to continue to market to, and this is where the customer relations piece of what we mentioned in the first segment really comes in. You just have so much more data, and it’s data that your team didn’t have to assign or extract manually.
Sara: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Tiffany: I mentioned that I think the product merchandising component, the new tag example, and adding a new tag to a product. There are additional ways to leverage this, stock movements is another one that we see people use a lot. So when a product becomes out of stock, let’s automatically remove it from visibility, so it doesn’t appear inside collections as “Out of Stock,” and not purchasable anymore. When a product comes back into stock, let’s go ahead and add it back, potentially when it comes back into stock. We want to give it a tag that would trigger some other automation. I could see this potentially being used for restock notifications or even just to create a special collection of, you know, recently back in stock items. Again, all of this speaks to the way your marketing team wants to target your specific audience.
Flow can be used for restock notifications or even to create a special collection of back-in-stock items.
Tiffany: One final example of that, I mentioned briefly, that has to do with risk analysis. Within Flow, we have access to all of the risk analysis factors from the order. You are able to flag an order. You’re able to send an internal notification based on the risk status of an order. It gives you the ability to remind a human to take a look at something that a machine has already determined might be risky, but it also may be a legitimate customer who really is excited about your product, and you just have reduced the effort required for your customer service team to confirm whether or not that is the case, by setting up a workflow that automatically flags and order and sends a Slack notification to your fraud team, for example. I hope you don’t have to have a fraud team, but if you have one, they could be notified.
Sara: Yeah, makes sense. Cool, well, what an empowering tool. Thank you for breaking down those examples for us, it’s really helpful, and thanks for another great discussion.
Tiffany: Yeah, thank you!