One of the questions we get all the time from online sellers is “Is your fulfillment system integrated with _______ [Insert relevant eCommerce platform]? When outsourcing fulfillment, they seem less worried about using a partner for physical picking and packing than they are about connecting front and back end systems.
After all, if orders don’t transmit properly, they don’t get processed. If fulfillment activity doesn’t get reported back quickly and accurately, the Etailer can’t manage its business.
So how important is it that a new fulfillment company you might be considering has an existing integration with your eCommerce platform?
Well, it comes down to time. If the integration is already built between the provider’s fulfillment system and, let’s say Shopify, that means the project can proceed quickly. All the necessary EDI data transmissions – orders, receipt confirmation, ship confirmations, etc. – have been built and tested.
If there is no integration in place, that’s not necessarily a problem if you have ample time to manage the transition to a new provider. With the right technical resources in place, a fulfillment company can build the connection in 3–4 weeks. It may take a little longer for platforms with antiquated technology, but most eCommerce platforms today run on modern platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento and BigCommerce.
As an Etailer grows, there is a need to add sophisticated systems, such as warehouse management systems, to manage the business. The company wants these new systems to talk to each other and it wants to grab information in an automated way. When that does not happen, the company’s focus is deflected away from growing the business.
Advantages of Integrating Ecommerce Platforms and Back End Fulfillment Systems
When data is quickly available from back-end fulfillment systems, Etailers feel they can manage their businesses better and more profitably. Amware just surveyed about 100 online sellers on the importance of data and analytics to their business. Three themes emerged.
- The only time is real time. Companies want an up-to-the-moment knowledge of what’s going on. As one etailer put it “Real-time data is critical, I can't wait for updates every 24-48 hours.”
- Inventory knowledge is critical. Etailers don’t want to offer products for sale if there are none sitting in the warehouse. With the right integration in place, your fulfillment partner can use real-time inventory records to populate a chart on your system so you avoid overselling situations. You could even have a direct link to inventory quantities and this could display on your eCommerce site.
- Knowledge empowers customer service. Etailers want real time information on order status and inventory to share with customers and enhance customer satisfaction. Said one Etailer, “My customers expect me to know if and when an order shipped and they want a tracking number to follow shipment progress themselves. I expect my back end system to supply that data without a problem.”
Questions to Ask Prospective Fulfillment Providers About Systems Integration
Let’s be clear about one thing. While it’s important for front and back end systems to easily connect, you should not choose a fulfillment partner based primarily on how quickly they can set up a data connection. Such connections are far more of a commodity than the professional operation of a fulfillment center or a national fulfillment network.
The value of an eCommerce fulfillment company is in its ability to ship a large volume of orders quickly, accurately and efficiently so your customers keep coming back and your operating costs keep going down as a percentage of sales.
That said, here are a few basic questions you should ask potential fulfillment partners about how your mutual systems will connect.
- Are you integrated with my current eCommerce platform?
- If you are not integrated, how long will the integration process take and what resources do you require from me?
- Can you process orders from multiple eCommerce platforms?
- Can you automatically transmit tracking numbers to my system for customer tracking?
- What reports can you provide?
These are, of course, just a sampling of the questions you could ask. You want a partner for pick and pack services whose fulfillment systems are up to the task. If there is no current connection between the provider’s system and your platform, make sure you’re clear, up front, on the cost and timeline to make this happen.