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Automation is no longer a competitive advantage, it's a must-have to succeed in today's fiercely competitive online landscape - and even more so if you're an ecommerce business.
So how you do you keep ahead of the competition without being bogged down in data and having to copy-paste your valuable time away? A good start is to automate the heck out of repetitive and manual tasks and use what are called iPAAS apps (Integration As A Platform). Then move on to more data-driven and analytical automations to help you gain a clearer insight into your business, and how it is performing.
You've probably heard of Zapier before, they're one of the trailblazers in the automation movement and feature over 2,000+ to date and counting. But there are a few other lesser-known options that should be included in your automation business workflow mix.
A McKinsey report suggests that over 45% of the tasks management and business owners perform can be automated.
Can you imagine how much time you would have if almost half of your current workload was automated?
Well, that's the aim of the automation apps in this list. These companies and (many others) are making a big play toward helping professionals and business owners automate repetitive daily tasks, vital business tasks and move data effectively, accurately and efficiently.
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Business automation shouldn't need to be carried out by a highly-skilled professional. The platforms below take a low-code/no-code approach to solving your data, automation and productivity problems. The learning curve is lessened, and creating simple workflows is now easier than ever. This allows business owners and professionals to learn otherwise complex automation tasks and processes relatively easily. They can be as simple or as complex as you make them.
Let's take a look at some of the best automation software to help you start automating your online business today. All of them have an accessible price tag for online business owners, unlike some of the other more complex systems out there that are only available to top-level enterprises with big budgets.
You might not have heard of Winautomation. The application has been around for some time, and was developed by a Greek company called Softomotive and later acquired by Microsoft in the middle of 2020.
It has recently become part of the Microsoft Power Automate family and is an absolute powerhouse for automating tasks, workflows and business processes in Windows.
When used (with any other iPAAS software) or in conjunction with Microsoft Flow or Power Automate and the 100s of connectors to your favourite apps, the sky is truly the limit with what you can build and automate in your online business.
Hailed as a comprehensive low-code desktop automation solution Winautomation is built on a sleek low-code, visual development platform that allows you to build everything from simple workflows to some seriously complex business process automations. If you've ever wondered how you can truly put your business on autopilot - this is the software to do just that.
✅ Best Features:
- Winautomation can automate ANY windows based task you can imagine.
- Use Winautomation on its own or combine with other flows and zaps you've already created in Microsoft Flow, Zapier, Integromat, Parabola or Zoho Flow.
- Processes can be as simple or as complex as needed.
- The easy to use Macro designer allows you to automate visually and is a super-simple way to automate repetitive tasks inside and Windows apps such as: Excel, Chrome, Firefox or any windows application. If you can do it with a mouse, then Winautomation's macro recorder can do it for you on autopilot.
- Triggers and Schedules allow your processes to run at the same time each day/week/month or when something happens like:
- File changes
- Hotkey pressed
- Email received (incl Exchange Mail, Gmail or any SMTP/Pop email)
- Ping Triggers (ie it will ping your WordPress website and inform you via a notification or email when the 'host fails to respond')
- Windows service monitor trigger
- Database monitor trigger
- Automate your most frequently used applications and most visited websites using web form filling. You'll be able to open a browser, visit a website, login to the website, click on any elements, populate fields and download reports or files - plus much more.
- Windows file and folder actions (copy, move, delete, rename, zip/compress etc)
- Upload/Download files from any FTP web server
- Send mouse clicks and keyboard keys
- Powerful Excel actions like: select cells, copy/paste cells, insert rows/columns, save xlsx or CSV
- Many PDF, text, date and time actions
- Error logs allow you troubleshoot common errors when they happen
- Over 30 example processes included and ready to use and learn from.
- Conditional blocks and If/Else actions
- Loops and flow controls
- Custom dialog box designer
💖 Advanced Features:
- Parse data and variables using Regex expressions
- Web data extraction and data scraping
- Run MySQL queries on any database to retrieve or manipulate data just like you would in MySQL Workbench or PHPMyadmin.
- Make API calls and retrieve JSON/XML data from any web service
- Excel SQL queries allow the power of SQL inside your Excel spreadsheets
- Read and Write XML elements and files
- Advanced Cognitive actions from 3rd party services such as Google (Vision and natural language), IBM, Microsoft Azure, Amazon EC2 services etc.
- For Winautomations processes to run your Windows PC does need to be running. However you are able to enable processes to login and log out of Windows as they need to run.
- Outside of the Microsoft family of applications, the number of integrations that Microsoft Flow currently has is a bit limited. However, we do expect this to increase rapidly as Microsoft gains more traction in the automation and workflow productivity space.
- The price tag: while it should be viewed as a huge time-saver the price tag could be a bit steep for some @ $40 per user per month. Especially as you may need to subscribe to at least one of the other apps from this list to achieve automation Nirvana . Currently your subscription will include: Microsoft Flow with unlimited flows, Winautomation, plus limited robotic process automation (RPA) and some limited AI capabilities. If you just need Microsoft Flow that will set you back $15 per user per month**. It's worth noting that while Winautomation is a game-changer, Microsoft Flow is well behind the others in this list with the number of apps that it integrates with. However, at $40 per month, it is well worth the cost to have the Winautomation license.
- The learning curve can be a bit steep. While flow templates can get you up and running in a matter of minutes, a more complex Winautomation process can take a good few hours to spin up - depending on your skill level.
* Prices as of Jan-2021. View current pricing here
Zapier could be regarded as the granddaddy of workflow automation, and has been around for over a decade from when it was launched in 2011. The company describes Zapier as the following: "Zapier can move data between web apps automatically, so that you can focus on your most important work".
This powerful, easy to use, and well-documented automation software allows you to create what are called zaps which take a "when this happens, then do that" approach to automation. The service is similar to IFTTT, but on steroids and more suited for online businesses, online professionals and digital productivity in general.
Zapier allows you to connect to your favorite apps and create workflows to move and manipulate data with just a few clicks of the mouse, and with no coding needed.
There are currently thousands of app integrations and more being added each week.
✅ Best features:
- Simple user interface with no coding needed
- Integrates with thousands of the apps you already love and use
- Easy automation for busy people. Get back hours of time spent doing manual and repetitive tasks
- Zaps can be as simple or as complex as you need them to be
- Allows you to automate many repetitive tasks done in WordPress, Woocommerce, Gmail, MySQL, Google Sheets, Stripe and so much more.
- With every integrated app, there is a number of templates ready to go, and which will allow you to get started with an automated workflow in a matter of minutes. These include all the most popular triggers and actions for that app.
- The pricing structure of Zapier makes it very accessible and easier than ever to dive into the world of workflow automation. It works off of a task based price model vs. the size or amount of data returned - which some others do.
- No API capabilities currently
- Database integration connections can be a bit finicky to setup, and sometimes require whitelisting of the Zapier IPs on your server.
- Some more complex tasks and automations are just not possible
If you're looking to level up your automation game then Integromat has to be one of the most advanced online automation platforms out there. The platform allows you to connect to a multitude of integrations, and create powerful scenarios to sync data between your favourite apps. It's not only capable of connecting to multiple apps in a single workflow but it will also allow you to transform and manipulate the data anyway you'd like.
Although Integromer is a relative newcomer to the automation and workflow scene, the makers of Integromat are making waves with this robust, easy to use yet super powerful platform.
We are yet to find a platform at this price point that can do as much as Integromat can. It is powerful, feature-rich and yet relatively simple to use.
Learn and grow your skillset with others. Are you wanting to learn more about automation, and to join a few automation communities? The folks over at Integromat have put together this very comprehensive list of the Best Automation Communities online.
✅ Best Features:
- Beautiful editor and user interface that allows you to drag and drop modules
- Visual based, low-code approach to creating workflows
- You can watch in real-time how your automation is performing and how data flows through your scenario. This helps with troubleshooting
- Templates allow you to get started automating in a matter of minutes
- Mobile app which allows you to keep an eye on your workflows
- Triggers: using either an instant Trigger, event based trigger (like a webhook) or a scheduled trigger you are able to ensure that your scenarios execute when they should
- Text and binary functions, much like those you would find in Excel, allow you to manipulate and transform your data
- Routers are components that allow you to duplicate data that is being processed in integromat and route it to other apps
- Aggregators and iterators allow you to combine data and bundles into a single bundle, or split out multiple bundles
- API and JSON parsing allows you to communicate with just about any API. Works with OAuth 2 authorization as well
- Data stores allows you to store data from scenarios and transfer them to other scenarios
- Pricing starts at $9 per month. There is also a free version
- Documentation needs Improvement
- The learning curve can be a bit steep. At least for some of the more advanced workflows.
- Some of the functions and tools can be a bit quirky at times.
Zoho flow allows you to connect your most important apps to ensure there's an uninterrupted flow of data between them. Receive all the data that matters to you such as emails, reports, records and more; all from your favourite apps and completely automatically.
Set up triggers from real-time events inside your Zoho apps or a growing number other 3rd party apps - 500+ at the time writing this. Your flows can also be triggered by external events such as webhooks, or on a daily/weekly/monthly schedule that you determine.
Zoho Flow naturally has very tight integration with its own Zoho apps. You may have noticed with some other platforms it can be a bit frustrating when some of the data points and endpoints aren't available to use. That is not the case with Zoho flow and the other Zoho apps as you are able to synchronize your data between Zoho apps - and because they are all part of the Zoho ecosystem it features all the triggers and actions you would expect to be available to use.
✅ Best features:
- Connect and integrate with all your Zoho apps as well as third-party apps
- Very tight integration with other Zoho apps. So if you're already a Zoho user then you're able to start automating and building some powerful Zoho workflows.
- Automate extensively with multi-step workflows featuring an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface
- Pre-built workflow gallery allows you to get started in a matter of minutes
- Conditional logic and automation rules are easy to use, and make simple workflows even more powerful
- For more advanced users you are able to create custom functions using Zoho's native scripting language Deluge
- Reports and statistics give valuable workflows insights, as well as run stats and history are available for reporting and troubleshooting
- Customer support is generally very good
- Some Integrations are simply not available yet
- Workflow setup can be tricky and unpredictable at times, and require the help of a support agent.
- Data points and endpoints from other apps - outside of the Zoho ecosystem - can be a bit limited
While functioning much like the other IPAAS apps for automation and workflows in this list, Parabola is a bit of a lesser-known one, but don't let that fool you. Parabola is a seriously capable platform with some powerful functionality under the hood.
In addition to many of the usual Integrations and connections, it has particularly tight integration with Shopify. Combine that with its Google Analytics and Facebook integrations and you have a very powerful, and completely customizable e-commerce automation and reporting solution.
Another thing we love about Parabola is the API and enrichment component, plus all sorts of parsing, aggregation, formatting and data/text manipulation tools as well.
✅ Best features:
- Relatively easy to learn with good customer support, community and documentation available
- The workflow creation and user interface is well laid out and easy to use
- Very powerful data transforms and manipulation functionality. If you're comfortable working with Excel functions and MySQL queries/statements you are going to be impressed by the functionality on offer.
- You are able to work with CSV files, JSON and webhooks
- API and MySQL integration
- Very reasonable pricing structure with a free plan as well
- Connections and integrations for some of the most popular apps online
- Tight integration with Shopify and all its endpoints
- Conditional logic can be easily added to workflows
- There appears to be a focus toward e-commerce related apps. Which is an obvious plus if you're running an e-commerce store, but may feel like it's lacking integration options if you're not.
If you are specifically looking to automate WordPress, all the Platforms in this list have Integrations and support for WordPress and Woocommerce - except for Parabola. Winautomation, although doesn't have integration capabilities, it is able to connect to your WordPress/Woocommerce MySQL database and API through the "invoke web services", and database connection actions.
Automation plugins for WordPress
Enteprise Level Automation Alternatives
While this list mainly focuses on automation software platforms that are accessible to online business owners and digital professionals. Below is a list of the most popular Enterprise level software:
With 18 years of experience in the eCommerce industry, I have successfully launched and grown multiple e-commerce businesses, the 2nd one hit 7-figures in revenue within its first year. In 2022, I joined a European food technology equipment and IT service provider as their Head of E-commerce, overseeing 14 eshops across Europe and South Africa. Selljam is where I share all those ecommerce tips, tricks and hacks learned along the way that I hope will also help you on your journey to success.