Scandis is one of the brands owned by Interline, an established brick-and-mortar furniture retailer. Although the company is new to e-commerce, it had cultivated a substantial online presence. So when Scandis.com launched earlier this year, it enjoyed immediately high levels of traffic and conversion. On the flipside, the business had to be prepared to scale almost instantaneously. That called for e-commerce automation.
Scandis Turned to Shopify Flow E-commerce Automation
Julio Giannatti is the web manager for Interline’s e-commerce channels, including Scandis.com. I spoke with Julio about the decision to build Interline’s online stores on the Shopify Plus platform. We also discussed how he and his team use Shopify Flow to automate processes in a manner that allows the online channel to grow rapidly and profitably.
With two online stores, three warehouses, and over a thousand SKUs, tracking inventory availability is challenging to say the least. Stockouts, discontinued items, and simply losing track of products can make synchronizing inventory a nightmare. Showing out-of-stock items as being available online causes customer service headaches. Having inventory on hand but not publishing availability online means lost sales.
Shopify Flow is the new suite of process automation tools available to Shopify Plus users. It’s designed for use by non-specialists and reduces or eliminates the need for people to engage in repetitive operational tasks. For example, Julio and his team reduced the delay between the time inventory landed in a warehouse to publishing availability online from days to minutes.
Read the Transcript
What’s your role at Scandis?
I am the web manager, and I oversee all things related to our e-commerce channel. We do have a [brick-and-mortar] retail portion of the business, and the e-commerce channel is something relatively new. We launched our e-commerce in February. I manage anything related to our Shopify sites and associated marketing.
I gather that you’ve been on Shopify Plus since February when you launched your e-commerce efforts, is that right?
That is correct. We’ve been on Shopify Plus since February but I have previous experience with Shopify.
What are the key reasons you chose to use the Shopify Plus platform?
Well, we are going to launch a total of three sites. We currently have two. In February we launched our first site, which is Scandis.com. The second site is Daniafurniture.com, and Scandinavian Designs will be the next site we launch. We have a lot of traffic on our existing sites. So we’re hoping to have a stable platform that can handle all that traffic. Shopify Plus really made sense for us in terms of the all the perks, the checkout, and the discounts on credit card processing. It really was the way to go for us.
You’re early in e-commerce process but you anticipate some pretty significant volume and growth over time. How would you characterize your expectations?
We’re very early on e-commerce but we did have online presence prior to the e-commerce launch. So we analyzed all the Google Analytics data, and we did some rough forecasting in terms of conversion rate. We saw as we pushed the button for live e-commerce, we were going to have a fair amount of transactions immediately. So we were expecting to have the bandwidth to support all the visits that were going to convert, and so far we’ve been right. We’ve had some pretty good conversion since the beginning, and it’s ramping up as we optimize our sites.
For those people who aren’t familiar Scandinavian Designs, it’s a brand and a business that’s been around for quite some time.
Our parent company is called Interline, and we have three brands: Scandinavian Designs, Dania Furniture, and Scandis, which is the newest sister company. Scandinavian Designs has been in business since 1963—in [brick-and-mortar] retail only. We currently have 32 stores across the country—mainly on the West Coast. So we have a good customer base. We’re a little late to the e-commerce scene, but we’re happy that we’re on board now. We’re even building up our customer base. We’re reaching people that we couldn’t before.
So switching to Shopify Flow, what prompted you to be a beta user of Shopify Flow? What problems did you hope to address with that particular toolset?
We’ve been beta testing everything that Shopify sends our way. Beta tests have some pains but I really like to be prepared. I can get the upper hand by participating in beta tests. For me, Flow was a really, really a good fit I was looking forward to. That’s because it’s related to automating processes associated with your website. It’s been a great, great, great beta. We can imagine how much Flow is going to help a lot of people out there.
Is it fair to say that you personally have a predisposition toward exploring new tools and features and were attuned to the potential benefits of e-commerce automation when Flow came along?
I just love technology in general…it’s a passion of mine. I always work with Shopify to get into betas but this actually was one of our favorite betas. That’s because it really quickly made a difference on our day-to-day here. So we were super-happy to be a part of the Flow beta test.
Tell me more. What have been the biggest benefits and challenges that you’ve experienced working with Flow?
You know, we didn’t have any issues with Flow. We only benefited. We have two sites launched. We have three warehouses. So for us, it’s really time-consuming to manage all SKUs. We have over a thousand SKUs on the sites. To manage every single item—a discontinued product, something that’s out of stock, something that is not coming back—to manage all that across multiple sites and with over a thousand SKUs is really a daunting task. You have to really be on top of tagging products. You have to be watching if the inventory changes.
What Flow has been able to provide us is to really streamline that process. If something is out of stock and it’s published and if for some reason one unit shows up, Flow publishes for us instantaneously. So we don’t lose any time between getting an item back in stock and allowing a customer to see it on our site. Before Flow, it could take days before somebody on our team would notice that we have a unit back in stock.
Tell me a bit about the learning curve involved in using this kind of e-commerce automation. In your experience, what kind of background and skill sets are necessary to really get the most out of the tool?
I like your question because once you open Flow and ask what you can do with it, Flow is not something for which there are ready-built workflows. Flows are something that you have to create. So it’s really up to your imagination and your needs to create something that’s going to help you.
We sat down and went over the actions that Flow can trigger. Then we came up with ideas according to needs. As we worked with Flow, we got better and better. We started to really understand what it could do. Then the ideas really start coming. Then you automate more and more tasks.
How do you anticipate Flow is going to be useful to you as you continue to roll out a new site and your sales volume increases?
I think that there’s so much opportunity with Flow for all different sides of the business. I mean, you can have somebody that does inventory management, and you can have a workflow that helps that person with discontinued items. You can have a marketing person setting up flows. For example, if we get below a certain threshold of units, then we turn off some marketing for that item. We can have fraud alerts. We’re using Flow for employee purchases that allows us to analyze if they are being made by the correct person. That could be an HR task.
It’s really about you reaching out to key partners in the business and seeing what they need and what they do on the site. Then, you create the workflows or they create flows themselves…The more you automate your store, the less people have to do repetitive tasks. That means they can really focus on the important things.
What advice would you give an online store owner about e-commerce automation in general and about Flow in particular?
I would strongly recommend that one person look into it and see what they can do to cut out work. Managing a store with a lot of items can be time-consuming. We are a small team here. We only had three people who were hands-on with the sites. Without something like Flow, it was taking us a long, long time to really be on top of our game. As the business grows, those tasks don’t get any easier; they get only harder.
If you don’t automate the boring, repetitive tasks, it’s really hard to focus on new things. I really think that if you don’t free up your employees’ time, they lose the capacity to innovate. Their performance suffers because they’re consumed by day-to-day repetitive tasks. That’s something that I would not like to sacrifice on our team.
Process Efficiency Means More Capacity to Innovate
In Julio’s experience, repetitive tasks grow exponentially with sales volume and operational complexity. That can be a real drag on profitable growth. Throwing bodies at the problem bloats overhead and causes its own management challenges. Furthermore, manual execution of repetitive tasks is boring and distracts people from creating competitive advantage through innovation. The intelligent and creative application of process automation allows you to stay lean, be more creative, and offer a better experience for your customers—and employees.
Process Automation Takes Effort
Notwithstanding the potential benefits of process automation, it doesn’t design itself. Launching Shopify Flow is a little like opening an Excel spreadsheet. That is, it’s a blank canvas upon which to create. Flow doesn’t tell you what you should do. You need to understand your processes in detail in order to design effective automation. Consequently, there is a bit of a learning curve. However, once you’ve mastered the basics, the opportunities for process automation are limited only by your imagination—and your judgment as to what should be automated.