Eliminating swivel chair processes in ecommerce | Acro Commerce
Mike Hubbard


Mike Hubbard

, Front End Lead, Developer

Posted in Automation

July 5, 2023

Eliminating Swivel Chair Processes in Ecommerce

Many ecommerce businesses, whether they know it or not, are suffering from “swivel chair” processes. What does that mean?

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The term swivel chair process comes from the idea of manually entering the same data into multiple systems, entering it once in one place, then swivelling your chair around and entering that data in another place, and so on. Eliminating swivel chair processes can have a massive impact in reducing business overhead, streamlining efficiencies, and therefore increasing profit.

Why does swivel chair happen?

The swivel chair process is actually a very common problem. There are many reasons why it happens. Here are some of the more common reasons that we hear about it in our day-to-day conversations. Maybe you can relate.

“Traditional” business practices

Because of the quick rise in the digital economy, there is a very wide range of business expertise in the realm of ecommerce. Many traditional business practices from the age of brick-and-mortar retail have made their way into the online ecommerce space. While these practices may be solid offline, online is a totally different game. Online is all about technology, and technology is all about integration and automation. Traditional business practices often solve problems by adding people instead of automating processes. Depending on the problem, adding more people might not be the ideal solution.

Fast growth

Many ecommerce businesses are experiencing fast growth. This is great, but how is the business managing this growth? In an offline business, growth usually means also growing the number of staff and is actually a great measure of a business’s success. If you have an increasing amount of customers, then you need more staff to deal with those customers and everything else that comes with increased business. Online business, however, is much different than offline. While you may need to add staff to manage the increasing business, automating as much as possible is the best way to stay on top of your growth.

Antiquated software and systems

Many successful businesses that have been around a long time are using antiquated software and systems to run their operations. These systems might not be ideal, but they’re integrated into the business processes, staff has been trained to use them, and overall they have worked well enough so far. Sometimes, the older software or system is a necessity to an individual business. In any case, legacy software and systems can be a cause of swivel chair processes due to an inability to “connect”.

Platform restrictions

Not all ecommerce platforms are equal. In fact, many platforms are quite restrictive and you may not even know it until you hit those restrictions. The ideal ecommerce solution should be friendly to use while at the same time being flexible in what you can do with it. Eliminating swivel chair processes means getting all of the systems you use to talk to one another so that you can automate tasks. Your ecommerce solution needs to be able to do this.

Why you should eliminate swivel chair processes

Now that we’ve identified some of the reasons for swivel chair processes, let’s go over why you should be considering taking steps to remove them from your business. Again, these are some of the more common reasons we discover in our discussions.

Eliminate human error

Humans are great at solving complex problems, but when it comes to tedious tasks like entering data, we’re prone to make mistakes. If you have staff manually entering the same data into multiple systems, the chances of an uncaught mistake are very high. Finding and correcting these data entry issues can be a difficult task on its own and constant oversight is required. Eliminating the potential for these mistakes from your business means getting all of your systems to talk to one another and share that data automatically. Software is much better at data entry than we are. Not only do you get accurate data entry, but automation saves time, every time.

Speed up your business processes

Again, getting your software programs to talk to one another can be a massive time saver. Say it takes you an hour every night to enter daily operational information into one or more systems. That time adds up quickly. Consider accounting reconciliations that happen monthly, imagine if that was hands-off. Automating these tasks can pay for itself quickly in time saved and lets you and your staff focus on more important matters that require a human touch.

Reducing operational costs

This is a big one. A lot of overhead operational costs in ecommerce come from staffing. After all, if you’re not automating the exchange of data between your systems, then someone has to do it manually. This could be anything from fulfilling orders and promoting sales, to keeping up on warehouse inventory and bookkeeping. As business increases, more staff are needed to manage that extra business. If you can automate as much of your process as possible, you can reduce your staff and therefore reduce your operational costs. The time freed up can be utilized in more productive ways. Additionally, many systems charge annual licensing fees or take a portion of your revenue. You may be able to centralize operations and eliminate some of your costly add-on platforms, forever.

Sync your data

Imagine having real-time stock levels in every warehouse and physical store that you operate. Not only is this useful for your customer support staff, but this information can also be displayed to customers on the product pages themselves, letting your customers know how many are available at the location nearest to them. Stock can also be integrated in real-time to other channels, like Amazon. That is pretty powerful, especially during major shopping events like Black Friday and the lead-up to Christmas.

Operational data that is synced between systems is beneficial in many ways. The example above is specific to stock, but synced data can be used in other areas of business, too. Real-time reports are another good example. Reports can be generated from any data that is known. Want to know how a sale is performing right now? Need to know which promotional campaigns have the best current ROI? Done. These examples merely scratch the surface of what synced data can be used for.

Gain a competitive edge

All of the reasons for eliminating swivel chair processes can ultimately provide an edge over your competition. If your business is automated and streamlined, the operational costs saved can be redirected into other areas, such as your marketing, your customer support, customer experience initiatives, etc. If you sell products that inherently don’t have an edge over your competitors, you need to gain that edge in other ways. Your customer’s overall experience might be that edge.

You’re also in a better position for growth. Any elimination of swivel chair will be scalable so whether you do 2x or 100x the business, the automation is still the same. If you aim to take over your competitors’ market share, you need a system that can get you there.

Strategies for getting rid of swivel chair

How to eliminate swivel chair processes from your business is actually pretty straightforward. You will need to invest capital to achieve your goal, but achieving it should more than pay for your initial investment over time, and potentially quite quickly. You’ll be better off afterwards.

Talk to the right people

What might actually be the hardest part is finding the right people to talk to in order to figure out how to apply this concept to your unique business. If you’re not undertaking the challenge in-house, you’ll need a third-party consultant to guide you.

Your consultant must be able to:

Ultimately, you want to make sure the consultant has a proven method that is capable of delivering the results you need.

Understand your commerce architecture

In your discussions with the consultant you choose, a lot of focus will be given to understanding your overall commerce architecture. Everyone involved will take a hard look at the existing platforms and services that make up your commerce ecosystem. From there, a recommendation will be given that provides a path forward for achieving the desired outcome.

The recommended path forward could be as simple as implementing A to B communication between your existing systems to undertaking an entire change in strategy where new platforms and services are recommended. In any case, a proper discovery phase should be the first step taken so that everyone involved is on the same page and has the information required to proceed.

Improvements can be incremental

You don’t have to eliminate every swivel chair process all at once. In almost all cases, improvements can be, and should be, made incrementally. This is possibly the best reason to get started because it can cost you as much or as little as you like initially. You can start with the low-hanging fruit that will provide the biggest impact, prove to your stakeholders that the benefits are real, and then proceed further as you see fit. 

This also gives you the opportunity to learn whether the consultant that you are working with is a good long-term partner. Let the consultant prove their expertise and the value of their partnership.

Swivel chair in the real world

As you can see, eliminating swivel chair from your ecommerce business processes can be one of the most beneficial business goals you can make. The end result will only make your business more successful and able to thrive. Not only will your efficiencies and profit margins improve, but you may gain a business partnership that will help to advance your technical goals even further. A company’s success isn’t about their products or services anymore, but rather the competitive edge they gain by being technology leaders behind the scenes with business automation.

So, how about a real-world example? We recently completed a project for a client that involved eliminating swivel chair processes from their workflow through planning, discovery and a proper open architecture design and implementation. A case study has been published about the project. If you’ve read this far, it might be a good next step on your journey to digital commerce success.

Read the USI Laminate case study.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 18, 2018, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.