How to use Excel to make a Category Filter

Here is a quick tip for getting a list of the most recent categories from your data feed.  This can be used when building a Category Filter or mapping names in the Categories tab of your Product Mapper.

The first step is to get a list of the latest categories from the data feed. i.e.

  1. Go to the “processed” folder, for example: /connections/my-store-connection/runtime/supplier/010-extract/processed
  2. Copy the “category.csv” file and open it in Excel
  3. Remove the SKU and position columns.  This leaves just the category names.
  4. Select all columns and do a “remove duplicates’ action so that it’s down to a unique list
  5. Custom sort by column1,2,3,4

This can then be copied into the Product Mapper “Categories” tab and “Category Filter” tab where you can make edits.

There’s no such thing as FREE shipping

People hate shipping fees.  They rank up there with getting a root canal. A customer will choose a store that claims to have “free shipping”. But is it really free?

Not really.  The shipping fees are embedded into the products.  That way, the checkout can show “$0 shipping”. The customer is still paying for shipping and in some cases, far more than what they would pay if shipping was calculated at checkout.

So how do you embed shipping costs?  These are some of the more common strategies out there.

Some suppliers provide Shipping & Handling costs for each product.  This is the simplest case, you can simply add this to your store price.

Other suppliers will provide a weight-based formula that you can apply to each item.  This allows you to embed the cost by running a calculation for each product.

In some cases a supplier will provide rates for dimensional weight.  They will also provide the length, width, and height of each product in their data feed.  You can use this, along with the dimensional factor, to calculate the shipping.  i.e.  (length × width × height) / (dimensional factor).

Then there is good old algebra.  Perhaps the supplier has really weird, non-standard shipping rules.  In these cases we can use the supplier’s shipping chart and create a formula that approximates the rate for each product.  i.e. store price = weight * factor + minimum shipping fee.  It is a ‘best fit’ calculation where the input is the product weight and the output is the approximated shipping rate.  This type of system requires a bit of give and take.  Some orders will have shipping calculated a bit too low, others too high.  The average will settle to a profitable range.

Which platform should I use for my store?

Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, 3dCart, eBay, Amazon, SEOCart, Gambio GX3, PrestaShop, BigCommerce, the list goes on.  Let me tell you – they’re not all equal. Picking the right one can make a huge difference in the success of your store.

Let’s start by separating the Web Stores from the Marketplaces. Web Stores have the most freedom because you can control how the store looks, the categories you create, the types of products and images you load, and a ton of other features. Creating a web store is like having your own independent building with your own signs and parking lot out front. You are in control.

Marketplaces, on the other hand, are far more restrictive. They are like opening up a store inside a shopping mall. You’ve got to open when they open, pay rent to the mall owner, and follow their rules. The benefit of being inside a Marketplace is that the traffic is already there. You don’t have to do much work to get people to look at your products. But in return your product prices are pretty much the only differentiation because the Marketplace does everything they can to make every shop the same as every other shop. eBay, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Google, and Newegg all provide online marketplaces where you can sell products. Shop owners who don’t follow the marketplace rules are can find their stores suspended, unable to sell. So it’s best to learn these rules and follow them.

The most successful store owners can master both. By creating a Web Store and Marketplace presence you can build your own brand that people recognize. They might find your shop name in the Marketplace, then go to your store to place their order. It creates a sense of presence.

Today I am going to focus on the different web stores. There are so many choices and I find that most new stores start off with a web store rather than jumping into a marketplace. So this is a good place to focus.

Here are the most important questions to think about when choosing a platform.

How many products do you want in your catalog?

This is the most important one. If you know your store needs to hold millions of products, we can eliminate all of the choices and take a focused look at Magento. It’s currently the only one I have seen that scale. Product data can be partitioned at the database level and Magento indexing provides quick access. Automating a Magento store is also easier because of the database structure.

There are two primary versions – 1.9 and 2.0. It was a big (really big) change from 1.9 to 2.0. The whole front-end changed. When 2.0 was initially released it was very unstable and a lot of users backed away from it. But it has matured now to the point where it is leading over 1.9.

How much do you like technical mumbo jumbo?

If CSV data files and hosting make you feel extremely uncomfortable, it’s best to go with an all-in-one system like Shopify, BigCommerce, or 3dCart. These systems intentionally make life easier by removing the technical complexity. For example, you can have a store set up and running in minutes. The administration is super easy and allows you to create your own products.

However, there is a cost. The more advanced features aren’t there and you won’t be able to load millions of products. But this might not be a problem if you’re just getting started.

Some say that you shouldn’t use Shopify for automotive parts. I disagree. The argument is usually because of the lack of fitment support out of the box. But there are some excellent plugins that can make this work.

WooCommerce is more technically complex than Shopify because you need to host it yourself.  However, it has a clean user interface and is easy to learn.

Magento is perhaps the most technically complex but also provides the best level of scalability, into the millions of products.

Do you want to customize the store?

The all-in-one store platforms provide basic levels of customization.  However if you are looking to Salvatore Dali the heck out of it, you’re better off with WooCommerce or Magento.  Those platforms provide infinitely customizable themes, plugins, database extensions, etc.  There are also healthy pools of freelance talent available for those platforms.

How easy is it to connect other services to the store?

Some platforms are built for expansion. Shopify has their app marketplace, but as an app developer myself I find that there are significant hurdles within the Shopify app ecosystem that makes it less attractive for expansion.

WooCommerce and Magento provide incredible plugins and customization. They are built to be automated and have thriving marketplaces for plugins. There are connectors for external shipping, ERP, tracking, and other services.

Will I need to host the store myself?

WooCommerce, Magento, PrestaShop, and other open source platforms require you to host them. This means that you need a company that can run your store for you. There are a lot of good options.

Some companies like GoDaddy and 1&1 provide ultra low-cost ($11/month) shared hosting and claim to be able to run WooCommerce and Magento. While they can technically run, they can’t handle many products at all. I’ve seen these kinds of stores max out at around 1000 products. They run slow and the back-end throws a lot of internal server errors when trying to update pricing, images, add new products, etc.

The best scenario is to find a hosting company that gives you platform-optimized options. For example, WordPress (WooCommerce) optimized hosting is becoming more popular. This means that the hosting company is providing a high capacity database and dedicated resources. It takes some digging because some hosting companies claim to have optimized hosting but it’s really just marketing.

There are a lot of factors to consider when setting up a new store.  Choosing the right platform is like buying a new jacket.  When it fits, it feels great.  When it doesn’t, it feels like a big bag of burlap.  Choose the store platform that fits you.

Three things you need to get right when selling aftermarket parts online

Selling online can be overwhelming.  There are so many choices and moving parts to consider.  But no matter what you do, here are some essential survival tips for selling aftermarket parts online.

MAP Pricing

Minimum Advertised Price (or MAP) will make or break your store. Some brands will assign a minimum price that you can sell at. It makes the pricing consistent no matter where the parts are sold.  It’s similar to what you see with a new iPhone model. You’ve probably noticed that there isn’t a lot of variation between stores when a new model is released. They all seem to have the same price. This is MAP pricing. It preserves the perceived value of the brand and ensures profit along the supply chain. If any store sells below this price they risk being blacklisted, unable to sell those products any more.

So let’s say you sell BELOW MAP.

This becomes tricky because most stores have automated pricing set up. The store owner might not even know that they are selling below MAP until they get a “Do Not Sell” letter in their inbox. Make sure that your store is enforcing the rules and not allowing products to drop below MAP pricing.

This applies to Web Stores and Marketplaces alike. It doesn’t matter which you are using, MAP pricing must be enforced.

Product Data Quality

We’re in the pioneer days of online shopping. Most people don’t realize that anyone can set up their own online store. But that’s what’s happening now.  Likewise, most manufacturers still don’t know how to create high quality product data for online selling.

– No product images
– Product images that are way too big and hurt SEO
– Brand logos or Prop65 images instead of images that show the product
– Terse product descriptions
– Product descriptions that talk about the company instead of the product
– Titles that don’t describe the product

These strategies are proven in dealing with data quality issues.

  1.  Set up a test store and a live store. The test store is hidden and seen by only the store owner. The live store is what everyone sees and is polished. Use the test store to preview new brands before putting them in the live store. If they look like garbage, don’t put them in the live store.
  2. Clean the data yourself. Some problems can be fixed easily by Excel or an automated process. For example, some brands will include a logo image for every product they sell. This looks very bad in a store because it shows a lot of products with a logo image instead of the products. It’s hard to tell what the customer is buying. An automated process can strip out these images, leaving the good ones in place.
  3. Report the issues back to the brand. This won’t provide an immediate fix but it’s important to tell them that there are problems with their data. If they want to sell their products, they’ll take your feedback seriously. Once it’s fixed you can import the products into your store.

Fitment

The way we search for auto parts is fundamentally different than a regular store that sells electronics, pet food, clothing, etc. In a way it is completely backward. For example, let’s say you are shopping for shoes. You typically start with the type of shoe then narrow it down to size. From there you might pick a color, then press the order button.

Automotive is very different. Instead, we start with the ‘size’ and work backward. Specifically, we start with the year, make, and model of vehicle that I have. So if I am looking for parts for a 2015 Ford F-150 I shouldn’t see Kia, Dodge, or Lexus parts on my screen. After choosing the fitment, a customer will typically go to the category…engine parts, electronics, performance parts, etc. to narrow the list of parts down further.

The store needs to live and breathe fitment. Each product needs to know what vehicles it fits and the store needs to give the customer a way to filter by fitment. Furthermore, when building a specialty store you’ll need a way to curate the products by fitment as well. The brand data you receive will have parts for a wide variety of vehicles. If it is a truck store, there shouldn’t be motorbike and sedan parts loaded into the store because it just doesn’t make sense.

There you have it.  Good luck and happy selling!

Filtering: what is it good for?

Product Filtering and Curation

A lot of suppliers have thousands and thousands of products. So why use filtering to narrow it down? Because when your customers have a world of choice available to them, filtering will help you run your store efficiently enough to put you ahead of the competition. For that you want customization aka product curation aka filtering.

For example: you just want to sell smart backpacks and not have your customers searching through pages and pages of the more generic kind of kid’s backpacks to get to what they want. It’s not like the “old” days of early eCommerce when you’d have a simple catalogue with only 50 SKU’s; nowadays things are in a constant state of flux and you want your list – and therefore filtering ability – to be dynamic. You, as a Data Here-to-There client, can define how you want your filtering done in our Product Mapper before you get your store online or upgraded to a “next level” store or even marketplace with our system. Here’s an example of what a store’s Product Mapper can look like:

But filtering isn’t just about curation to enable your customers to find what they want quickly and easily. It’s also a matter of your brand’s reputation, which can be make-or-break in the online world. If you try to put certain products into certain marketplace, you may find your reputation taking a hit — if you don’t get everything right — right out of the gate. Or you may even find yourself shut down. The right kind of filtering will enable you to protect your store.

Here’s an example. Shopify’s payment gateway has a ton of restrictions. Say your catalogue includes a type of beauty product that claims to make any woman who uses it look way younger, in a short amount of time. There are restrictions against this type of claim that will be noticed by Shopify’s bots and so your products will never pass their gateway. Other products including licensed toys, or rails (a certain type of gun accessory) can also cause a product or even whole store to not make it through the gateway.

Also you have to be aware of Shopify’s Risk Assessment team, which can send you a takedown notice. Or you could inadvertently violate their copyright protection rules.  Amazon also refuses to carry certain things, such as certain brands of cell phones, video game cheat codes, or Streaming boxes where you can get pirated movies . 

Trying to carry any of these can cause you to get a warning or even have your store shut down. It’s great to be able to load thousands of products into your store quickly via dropship suppliers… but the other piece of making that formula work is to have built-in category filtering.

What does Category filtering do?

Category filtering – lets you take any category — for example, clothing — and filter it down to just the specific types of clothing you want in your store, such as just women’s clothing → scarves (only, not ties), or just men’s clothing → ties (only, not scarves), certain brand names but not others, and so on. Here’s another example:

Stock level – You can also filter by stock level. Say for instance you have a pretty lean operation where you want to ensure that you only offer an item that you can be sure you have in stock, and can ship immediately.

Manufacturer names filter – This filter allows you to keep certain products out of your store. Say your supplier has 10,000 products and you want to leave out a certain brand for whatever reason: copyright issues, or you simply don’t feel that products from that brand fit with your brand.

Fitment Filters – select products by fitment

Poison word filter – allows you to keep anything containing one or more keywords out of your store e.g. explosive, ammunition, guaranteed, click here, links to, etc. You can also keep out specific SKU’s; maybe ones that have caused your store to be flagged in the past. Bot filters can also be problematic.

Custom filtering – Custom filtering will let you customize based on any of a number of criteria. For instance you can custom-filter by price. Say you only want high-end, or a certain margin; say 30% markup; or if it goes down to 10% you can set it to filter out. You can also filter by weight. Maybe an item is so heavy you would have to pay a liftgate service and/or a bulky shipping costs. You don’t, so you filter these out!  You can filter by dimensions if you only want to carry products that are within a certain range, or not over a certain size. You can even add custom fields in the supplier data. Say there’s a column for “dropship enabled” or a flag for “discontinued” or “minimum number of boxes”.

We can make custom filters for any of these. Custom filtering can be popular because doing this sort of operation manually in Excel (or whatever spreadsheet you’re using) can be very time-consuming for you or your employees. This is an area where automation really shines as it can result in substantial savings of both time and money for you and your store. You can add other fields too. Do you want to filter by title? Description? Shipping code? We can filter by just about anything!

Do you have an idea for a filter that you don’t already see on this list? Let us know! We can probably do it for you.

 

What is meant by “Order Synchronization”?

 

Online store owners are constantly in search of new ways to streamline their operations. With eCommerce growing at a ferocious rate, it becomes more and more necessary to deliver orders to your customers with accuracy and efficiency. Continued loyalty of customers might even come to depend on your ability to fulfill their unique specifications while still ensuring that orders are processed and shipping quickly and efficiently. Order synchronization and automation are the keys to achieving this.

What is the normal process without order synchronization? Well, something like this:

  • Your store gets an order. You have the products, so someone from your operation gets the items, pays the supplier for them through their payment gateway, whether that’s Stripe, PayPal, or something else.
  • Without order synchronization you must then communicate the SKUs to their supplier via a website, or maybe even just a phone call or simple email. Without automation this is a manual process. You then have to copy and paste all the order details over to the supplier.
  • Then the supplier boxes the items, adds the labels, and so on. There are also tracking numbers (UPS, Canada Post, FedEx, etc.) which need to be sent from the shipper back to your store — and then forwarded to the customer. These tracking numbers must also be manually copied over.
  • There may be other pieces of information which likewise would have to be copied and pasted, communicated manually to the customer. These can include line items, addresses, notes, or anything else required.
  • Finally the supplier gets the order and fulfills it, and you must then send confirmation to your customer.

This is a far cry from the ideal scenario, where your store receives customer order electronically in a clean and consistent format, which is then automatically translated into a sales order, which is then communicated to the supplier in the exact format they require, fulfilled, and the confirmation automatically received by you in a form that can be instantly transmitted back to the customer. The advantages of this process over the old one should be self-evident: your team can stay focused on doing what they do best – creating excellent products and, marketing them and making sure your customers remain satisfied. Better still, automating your order synchronization process decreases human error so you don’t have to worry about your store’s reputation being trashed at Amazon, Ebay, or some other crucial supplier.

Until recently this scenario has not been possible, but now it is. We can reduce your cost per transaction, shorten your dispatch time, and virtually eliminate the manual steps of the whole order fulfilment process. And we can automate this entire process for you, without you having to learn to use any new tools, or wade through any technical mumbo jumbo!

With order synchronization our system will automatically:

  • Map your store’s shipping methods to your supplier’s shipping method — since in the “real” world, those don’t always match
  • Synchronize the tracking data. Once the order is fulfilled by the supplier, we retrieve the tracking numbers and send them back to the store.
  • Notify your customer that their order has shipped, as well as transmit the tracking numbers.

Does that sound simple? That’s because it is! Sometimes you want to keep your order process simple, and keep the details to a minimum, but then when you go to your supplier they might have 5-10 shipping methods! We can help you pick the shipping and routing methods that will best streamline your process while still maximizing satisfaction to your shoppers. If yours is not a big store, that’s not a problem. Our solution works for all sizes of stores from a mom-and-pop style startup to a entire online marketplace. Whatever the size of your operation, Data Here-to-There’s Order Synchronization will virtually eliminate your manual labour and potential for human error.

Category Mapping

Welcome to Data Here-to-There Ask An Expert, a series where our integration specialists tackle real questions from store owners who want to launch, build, and scale their stores. We can get you all the way from first store… to full-fledged marketplace.

Who are we? We’re the ecommerce data integration experts. We have integrated dozens of your stores, connecting them to a long list of suppliers from Banggood, DNH, Petra, RSR Group, BigBuy, Premiere, Keystone, SEMA and DCI. For a complete list of the suppliers and data feeds we support, look here

Since we started we have learned a lot from our customers. Do you have a question? Feel free to ask. Chances are good that someone else has had… or will have… the same question. Some of our customers are just getting started, while others have been managing entire online marketplaces for years now. So when you ask us a question, you are actually drawing on the expertise of a whole diverse team of ecommerce integration experts.  Let’s get started!

 

Question: How do I get the products from my supplier data feed into the right categories in my store?

Answer: With the Product Mapper

So you’ve decided what you want to sell online.  You’ve designed your website and chosen your suppliers. But how do you actually get your items into your store, in the right categories? If items aren’t easy to find, then how long are your potential new customers going to stick around? Answer: Not very long! But the challenge is that the supply category structure from your supplier might not be quite the same as what you want in your online store.

For example: say your store has men’s fashions – belts, shoes, shirts etc. – and you have your own categories for everything. But your supplier is giving you different categories, and so if you try to import the data into your store without mapping those categories, your items end up in all kinds of weird places. So what do you do?

Category Mapping: How it Works

We can rename categories and change the structure to suit your needs.  By default we simply import the same structure as the supplier as this is usually sufficient for a new store.

The system we use, the Product Mapper, is basically a translator.  It takes the source categories from the supplier and creates target categories for the store.  For example, let’s say your supplier has the following categories:

Men’s clothing > Accessories > Belts

Men’s Shoes > Trainers

Men’s Shoes > Volleyball

Men’s Shoes > Soccer

But maybe we don’t want that structure in the store.  Perhaps you as the store owner want something more simple, like this:

Accessories

Shoes

Our Product Mapper would turn the above into this:

Source: Men’s clothing > Accessories > Belts, Target = Accessories

Source: Men’s Shoes > Trainers, Target = Shoes

Source: Men’s Shoes > Volleyball, Target = Shoes

Source: Men’s Shoes > Soccer, Target = Shoes

 The Product Mapper is something you would get as part of your Data Here-to-There subscription, when you purchase a Catalog Data Mover. This handy gadget (the Product Mapper) does a number of things to get your products into your store correctly. One of these things is to map the categories from your suppliers to your store categories.

We use a spreadsheet to configure the system.  This allows us to bulk-load large numbers of categories, rules, filters, and other configuration.  We will configure the spreadsheet with you during the interview process to suit your store.  You can also modify it at any time.

Here is an example of the category mapping section.  We take the ‘source’ categories from your supplier and map them into ‘target’ categories in your store.  This is quite flexible so we can match pretty much any structure.

source_level1 source_level2 source_level3 source_level4 target_level1 target_level2
Clothing Women’s Scarves * Fashion Women
Clothing Men’s Hats * Fashion Men
Clothing Children * * Fashion Kids
Home and Garden * * * Home
Electronics Printers Ink * Technology Accessories
Electronics Printers Laser * Technology Printers

Once your categories have been set up and mapped, your store is ready to be loaded up with all your products! After the initial load it may be necessary to do a little tweaking. We can rename, move, make categories more generic or specific – whatever you require. Once all is set up to run smoothly then that’s just what your store will do. Allowing you more time to cater to your customers and stay on top of the market trends… or just sit back and allow that passive income stream to come rolling in.

The ImageFinder

Bad supply data is everywhere. The worst is when you get products without images. How can your customers tell what they are buying if they can’t see it? E-Commerce is mysterious enough – virtual products appear online and we order them. We hope that reality matches the online experience. So why make them guess what a product looks like?

Most carts will offer you the option to hide products which do not have images. But this can sacrifice a large part of your inventory.

We have come up with a way to solve this issue with our Shopify “Image Finder” app.

The Image Finder searches everywhere to get the best images for your store. It finds them, imports them, and lets you choose the ones you like. All automatically!

This app is great when:

  • Your dropship supplier does not provide images, or has a lot of missing images
  • You want to improve the quality of your product displays
  • You want to get rid of those annoying “image not found” placeholders

This app will do the manual work for you, searching for the best match for your products. It imports a set of pictures that you can choose from. All you need to do is review the images and discard the ones you don’t like. And it runs all day, every day to fill in the gaps when you add new products.

Images are also given some SEO attention, giving your store an extra boost!

Click here to check out our Image Finder App for Shopify.

We also provide image services for WooCommerce, Magento, 3dcart, EPages, PrestaShop, Wal-Mart, BestBuy, Amazon, and many others.

TopDawg Dropship Images

TopDawg provides a data feed to keep your store catalog up-to-date.  It has CSV data with titles, categories, descriptions, prices, and other things that are typically needed. The inventory is updated on a regular basis.

The products are great but the data feed has a common problem – missing images. Lots of “Image Not Available” placeholders.

How can you sell products with placeholder images?  Or completely missing images?  It’s not easy.  Most people want to see what they are buying.

If you are using Shopify the Image Finder app can help you to find matching product images and import them into your store.  We can also provide the same thing for WooCommerce and other carts.