It’s a risk that stems from not taking risk ... and a solution that brings the future of commerce into the present.
When Nicholas Montgomery founded Shelfies, an on-demand all-over-print clothing and lifestyle platform, the business model underpinning the idea was to hold no inventory:
“There’s a lot of waste in fashion. Twenty to thirty percent of all of the apparel inventory made never sells. It’s bad for the environment and bad for merchants who have to slash prices to move the unwanted inventory.”
But many of the tasks required by Montgomery’s print on demand model are repetitive and time-consuming.
Especially since Shelfies offers custom-designed orders in which customers can put whatever they want on a garment.
Several times a day Vanessa Boyce, Shelfies’ Operations Manager, and a handful of other employees would open their Shopify Plus dashboard and manually hunt for custom orders to send to a designer who then creates a mock-up the customer must approve before manufacturing starts.
In Montgomery’s words:
It’s part of the job but I don’t want to be busy just to be busy. I want to be more productive and achieve something significant.
What choice does he have though?
Without a global team constantly checking for custom orders every few hours, the customer experience would suffer and this all-over-print company may have nothing to print at all.
The Accidental Success
Shelfies was founded almost by accident…
Unlike the handful of other ecommerce stores Montgomery had set up simply to experiment with and learn from, Shelfies took off immediately after it was launched in 2013.
“I had no idea Shelfies was going to be my 24/7 business,” Montgomery says. “It was a learning endeavor for me. I never thought it’d get this big.”
Shelfies is a multimillion-dollar, international business that sells into 40 countries and is building a global network of designers and printing facilities:
“Wow, people are really excited about Shelfies because they don’t want something that is mass produced and looks exactly like what everyone else is wearing. People want to express themselves with clothing and our print-on-demand model allows them to do that.”
However, Montgomery — who works with production facilities in several countries — must also be on guard for high-risk orders so he can quickly contact manufacturers and cancel the orders before production begins.
Even more important is catching high-risk custom designed orders before it’s too late.
“If we don’t catch fraud quickly and a custom order is produced we’re stuck with inventory we can’t sell,” Montgomery explains. “If we print a sweater with your face all over it, no one else is going to buy that so it’s a big loss for us.”
Whether it’s manually checking for unfulfilled custom orders every few hours or picking up the phone and calling printing facilities scattered across the globe in different time zones to stop a high-risk order from being produced, Montgomery suggests tedious repetitive tasks are costly on a variety of fronts.
“It’s not difficult work but it takes time that could be spent on more important tasks,” Montgomery says. “It costs us money to train people to do this kind of work and they still make mistakes which means we don’t catch all of the fraud.”
Besides being stuck with custom inventory it might never sell, Shelfies also pays a $15 bank chargeback fee on high-risk orders not caught in time.
Unless Montgomery could figure out a way to be in multiple countries at once while simultaneously monitoring each order as it’s placed …
This accidental success story may stall out.
Commerce on Autopilot
The digital equivalent of being omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent …
It’s why Montgomery recently began using Shopify Flow, an automation platform that allows Shopify Plus merchants to customize unique backend business workflows and simplify processes so his team can focus on higher value tasks that drive sales.
Introducing Shopify Flow
With just a few clicks — and without any coding — merchants can now put many of the repetitive, manual, and time-consuming tasks on autopilot.
Flow positions merchants to get more done by simplifying tasks, driving efficiency, and experimenting for growth.
Already on Shopify Plus? Install Flow today
Recently, more than 500 of Shopify Plus’ high-volume businesses have used Flow to automate millions of triggers. Each one represents a task that would have otherwise been carried out by a person.
In the case of Shelfies, Montgomery and his team have created a handful workflow automations, including the following:
Custom Order Automation
The workflow immediately identifies custom orders and automatically sends an email with the information necessary to initiate the design process. Instead of manually searching for unfulfilled custom orders, Flow automatically notifies the designer who can immediately begin working on the mockup that must be approved by the customer before production begins.
Besides freeing Montgomery to focus on higher value tasks, Shelfies’ custom order automation has also significantly improved the customer experience by reducing the turnaround time on custom designs from six hours to two:
We no longer have to hunt for custom orders. Flow tells us immediately and automatically begins the design process for us.
High-Risk Order Automation
The workflow immediately identifies orders flagged as high risk and automatically sends an email to the appropriate printing manufacturer requesting that production be halted and the order be canceled.
Prior to Flow, Montgomery had just a few hours to contact printing facilities in the U.S., U.K., and Canada to halt production on fraudulent orders.
If a high-risk order was processed while Montgomery and his team were sleeping and not canceled in time, Shelfies would absorb the entire production cost and chargeback fee.
Since using Flow to automate the task, Shelfies has saved thousands of dollars by automatically halting potentially fraudulent custom orders. According to Montgomery:
“It was frustrating because we work with manufacturers in multiple time zones which made it difficult to cancel high-risk orders before production had started.”
Shopify Flow does it automatically now which gives us peace of mind.
But don’t mistake a peaceful mind for one that’s not hooked on what’s possible in the future.
In fact, automation can be as addictive as a powerful drug. Once you have a taste, all you want is more …
Save Hundreds of Hours
SKUs are special to the Shelfies team …
Instead of assigning random identification codes to products as many do, Shelfies constructs SKUs in a manner that easily communicates product type, size, and other information pertinent to the fulfillment process.
“Our SKUs mean something,” Montgomery says. “It’s really valuable because it helps us improve our quality control and fulfillment.”
The problem is Montgomery and his team had to create custom SKUs manually…
It takes about four hours a week.
Automating the process, which Montgomery is already investigating, would save Shelfies hundreds of hours a year. Likewise, Montgomery is also interested in building future automated workflows designed to dramatically improve the customer experience:
- Automated messages reminding customers they must approve custom order design mockups before production can begin
- Immediately notify staff if an order from a third party hasn’t shipped within a certain number of days and proactively contact the customer to prevent customer service inquiries
- Automatically include new products in appropriate collections to improve the customer’s shopping experience and eliminate the ten manual steps required now
“Shopify Flow is really powerful because it allows me to focus on growing the business I love and doing more of the things that are going to have a long-term impact. With Flow you’re able to focus on growing revenue but still improve the customer experience. That’s a multiplier effect and the kind of stuff that ripples across your business.”
Nicholas Montgomery, Founder of Shelfies
Ecommerce automation is finally available
Shopify Flow is the first ecommerce automation platform that reduces manual tasks, redudancies, and risk. Free your entire organization to focus on what matters. Growing bigger, faster.
Already on Shopify Plus? Install Flow today