Ecommerce automation with Shopify Flow

Automating repetitive tasks with Flow can be a powerful way to scale a business

Shopify Plus has many great features and powers some of the most popular stores online. One of those great features is Flow, an e-commerce automation tool.

What is automation?

Automation is a way to get computers to work for you, right when you need it, without manual intervention. These tasks are called workflows, a list of steps that are triggered that answer questions and take action based on the answers. It's a way for repetitive tasks – from the mundane to the incredibly important – to be run quickly and predictably. Store owners and their staff have better things to do than watch as orders come in and shuffle them or send notifications. Shopify provides all the data necessary to quickly set up workflows to do that work.

Workflow triggers

An action is triggered by events that happen in your store, such as an order being created or when a product is added. From there the workflow then proceeds through a series of conditions to determine what the next step should be. Think of it as a flowchart that solves itself. Is the order amount above a certain threshold? Is the order risk medium or high? Has the product quantity dropped below a certain threshold? These are all examples of the many events that can trigger a workflow.

Once an event has triggered a workflow it continues down the path to the next step where it again determines the action to take after resolving the condition. Some workflows have just one or two steps, some have many. The level of complexity is up to you! You can even use logical operators like AND and OR to create powerful workflows.

Here is an example of a workflow that is triggered when an order is created that determines if the customer came to the store through a holiday marketing campaign. If they have, add a tag to the customer record and update the order note:

An example marketing campaign workflow
An example marketing campaign workflow

Workflow actions

Once a workflow gets to the end, it needs to do something with the decision it's made. Depending on the triggers, these actions can range from adding and removing tags to the order or customer, add or hide products, cancel an order and more.

One class of actions Shopify has made available are external actions. External actions allow the workflow to interact with systems outside of Shopify. Emails are an easy and popular way to send a notification to a particular person or group, and the message body can be customized with Liquid tags to add even more power and intelligence to emails. If your company uses Slack as a messaging platform, workflows can be configured to send notifications to your Slack channels. Simply provide Flow with the credentials of a Slack user that has access to the channels you wish to notify. That's all there is to getting real-time messages from your workflows.

I know what you're saying: doesn't everything send emails and Slack notifications? Well, true. But does almost everything send HTTP requests to external web servers, API endpoints and URLs? Let me tell you, they don't. This can be a very powerful feature, allowing your Shopify store to interact with external vendors, third-party websites, and cloud applications. If your supplier has an API, a workflow that is triggered when a product inventory goes below a certain level can send a request to the supplier to re-order. Requests are sent as JSON and can even include Liquid template variables. Shopify has more information on sending HTTP requests from workflows.

Find out more about Flow triggers, conditions and actions on Shopify's help centre, along with many more example and guidelines.

Sharing workflows

In addition to being straightforward to setup, workflows are easy and safe to import, export and share. Workflows can be edited only within Flow so they won't contain code that isn't compatible with your store or is destructive. By default, imported workflows are disabled, giving you the opportunity to review and customize it to your situation. There is even a workflow community with workflows available to download and import into your Plus store.

The power of Flow automation

Automating repetitive tasks with Flow can be a powerful way to scale a business and improve the customer experience using technology built into the Shopify Plus platform. Whether it's tagging high-value customers for personalized service or offers, publishing and reordering products based on inventory and availability or tagging and stopping high-risk orders, Shopify Flow is another great feature to help your store grow bigger, faster.