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.

The problem with CSV import plugins

The quickest route to linking a web store to a supplier is with an e-commerce plugin. They are installed into your store and usually need CSV data files from your supplier. Some have the ability to grab data from FTP, run on a regular schedule, and do other basic things.

Unfortunately they won’t grow with your business.

Plugins are meant to cover the lowest-common-denominator. They can do the basics but then will hit a wall as soon as you need to create a custom pricing rule, or change the product meta-data, or simply change how the inventory is updated. Plugins are created for the purpose of selling in volume and therefore the developers who create them are not interested in your custom requirements. However, any substantial e-commerce store will need customization.

Some of the more common questions I see are:

– What about my ERP system? I want to relay WooCommerce orders back to my supplier and they need them uploaded via FTP or with a web service.

– My supplier doesn’t use CSV. It is XML format. How can I load this into my Shopify store?

– How can I get my supplier’s shipping data back into my PrestaShop store so that my customers can use the tracking number.

– My supplier’s data feed doesn’t provide variants but I need them to show different t-shirt sizes. How can I fix this?

– Can you import products into my store categories for me? They don’t match my supplier but I can tell you which ones to map.

These are all exceptions which we handle on a daily basis at Data Here-to-There. We can adapt our innovative platform to any supplier or online service.

It’s surprising how many data feeds out there have low-quality product information. When I first got started integrating supply feeds for my clients I was shocked at how bad the data was. These are, after all, companies which *want* to sell their products. Yet they have terse (or missing) product descriptions, missing images, and so on. Data Here-to-There can actually enhance data feeds – create variants, add tagging, automatically find product images using Google, or even web-scrape entire product catalogs if your supplier doesn’t have a data feed!

Plugins are a great tool to get started with and can be sufficient for a simple single store, single supplier setup. But to grow your e-commerce empire you’ll need customized automation that fits your business strategy.

How to make a great data feed

If you are a drop-shipper, you need a data feed.

A Data Feed provides a catalog of products that merchants can import into their store. Maybe it’s a collection of kids toys with the SKU, title, description, price, and other information that the store owner can use to entice potential buyers. Data feeds are a critical component of any e-commerce supply chain. So how do you make a data feed?

To get started you need a list of products. Perhaps this is simply an Excel spreadsheet, or maybe it is stored in your QuickBooks system or in an inventory management database. The first step is to decide which products can actually be drop-shipped. There might be products like gift cards or rare products that you don’t want to supply. So those need to be filered. Now we create key information for the vendors. We need the following information.

SKU – stock keeping unit. This is an unique identifier which will be used when placing orders.
Title – The name of the product.
Description – A friendly explanation of the product which commonly includes HTML formatting.
Cost – The cost to your vendor, they will mark it up based on this number.
MSRP – Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price. This is higher than cost and used to indicate sale prices.
MAP – Minimum Advertised Price. Sometimes you want to set a lower limit on the price. Vendors can’t sell below it.
Stock – How many units are available to be sold? Vendors use this to prevent oversells in their store.
Manufacturer – The brand name of the product.
UPC – Sometimes referred to as GTIN, UPC codes are required for most major marketplaces.
Weight/Height/Length/Width – Determines shipping costs
Images – Pictures showing the product from different angles. These are stored separately.

The above data is required by most web stores and marketplaces so it’s good to provide as much as possible. It’s also important not to have empty values in any of these fields because it can break their store. Missing prices, titles, or other data causes a lot of grief because the vendors won’t be able to list them.

The most common data feed is simply a set of CSV (Comma Separated Values) files that vendors can download. CSV files are very easy to create, in fact you can make them using Excel. If you have a large inventory it makes sense to split your data feed into multiple CSV files. Especially the stock numbers – these fluctuate the most! So if you have a stock CSV file that will allow your vendors to grab it quickly and update their stores frequently without having to download *everything*. It saves your bandwidth costs too.

The Cadillac of data feeds doesn’t stop here. We can create a CSV file for product variants as well. This allows us to group collections of similar products. For example, a watch which can have a blue, green, or red background. It’s the same watch just with different colors. So we call these ‘variants’. The vendor has to be told how to connect up these variants though so this data is critical. Otherwise they have to list each watch as a separate product and that looks bad.

It’s also a great idea to create attributes as well. Descriptive tags help vendors sell products because tags can be searched in their store. For example a book seller can create an author tag, number of pages tag, an ISBN tag and so on. This data can be imported and allows customers to search by author, number of pages, etc. What a great way to help vendors out!

It’s also handy to publish a list of any products that you removed. This provides a signal to the vendor that they have to remove those products from their store. Otherwise they will end up selling products that no longer exist.

Data Here-to-There can design your data feed for you. We can use your source data and transform it into standard web-store compliant CSV data files. These files are then downloaded by your vendors and imported into their store. We’ll automate it as well so that it stays fresh every day.

Create your own marketplace

Marketplaces are really hot right now. On the freelancer sites I see daily requests to help create new ones. Marketplaces for fitness equipment, used goods exchange, health foods, and more. It makes a lot of sense because a marketplace owner can create a robust products collection by aggregating offerings from other vendors. However, I see one common flaw in those systems.

Most often the marketplace owner requires the vendors to import data on their own. It usually means submitting CSV files into a magical portal or manually updating products one-by-one. Not a lot of fun, right? Sometimes these vendors are not very technical so asking them to do this is a big job. It also puts the accuracy of the marketplace inventory in their hands. What happens if they get busy and forget? The marketplace will oversell which will frustrate customers.

A better way is to use automation. If the vendor already has a web store, just connect it to the marketplace. New products can be added automatically, existing inventory and pricing can be refreshed, and products which are no longer being sold can be removed. The vendor simply manages their own store and instantly has the benefit of exposing his products into a new market. Their store has essentially become a drop-shipper to the new marketplace.

If a vendor does not have a store already, why not use their existing work process? Let them use their own Excel spreadsheet format or connect to their QuickBooks system. This allows them to focus on running their store while the marketplace increases its product set.

Data Here-to-There specializes in Marketplace automation. We can connect vendors to your WooCommerce, Shopify, Magento, or any other e-commerce platform. Products are imported while you sleep and kept fresh. We can also relay orders from your marketplace to your vendors, integrate shipping, or a variety of other online services.

Stores that we like

As a company that automates web stores, we see a variety of different platforms. It’s like walking into a Starbucks and asking for “coffee.” It’s never just “coffee.” It’s frappy, frothy, mocha, mega, grande, and that’s before we get to the sweetener options. Except in our case we see Magento, WooCommerce, Shopify, PrestaShop, and lots of lesser known animals (I’m intentionally leaving out the marketplaces because that’s a whole story of its own). Each one has its own set of versions from beginning to end. Some have simple security and others are like Fort Knox. Some are easy to use and some act like a misbehaving child…

Us: Please add this picture to the Golden Boots, product 101.

Store: OK…no, wait! Error 505

Use: What is error 505?

Store: Hahah!

Use: (sigh) Please add this picture to product 101

System: OK!

This is a (slightly exaggerated) real life story based on a Magento integration. Using the Magento REST API we would weave product data into a beautiful catalog. Except once in a while it would just throw random errors. The solution was to drop the REST API entirely, eat a whole bottle of Aspirin, then code a solution that writes directly to the database. We have a lot of emotional scars from Magento.

If I was to set up a store for myself it would use WooCommerce. It’s like the 8′ kid that always gets picked first for basketball. WooCommerce has an awesome API, smart user interface, amazing upgrade facilities built-in, and a smart but not too smart security model. I used to think Shopify was the Cat’s pyjamas until I got under the hood with WooCommerce.

It comes with an API written by people who know how to write an API. If I need to list a set of products they make it easy. If I need to authenticate, that’s easy too.

Shopify is like that too because it’s based on the same engine. One thing Shopify has over Woo is the built-in attribute for a Manufacturer name. It’s a simple thing yet has such a big impact. Pretty much every supply feed has manufacturer names associated to products. When I integrate a Shopify store I can simply map it right over…voila! With other systems I have to reinvent the manufacturer name ‘wheel’.

PrestaShop’s XML output is pretty cool. I like it because I can grab a big chunk of products fast. Most systems use paging with ridiculously low limits which creates a pile of network traffic.

Are you choosing a platform right now? If you want to be able to automate it in the future make sure it has an API. Most systems use a REST (Representational State Transfer) API. At some point in time you’ll want to link up QuickBooks, a supplier (or multiple suppliers), shipping services, your Aunt Betsy’s coupon service, etc. Today I found out that it’s actually possible for an e-commerce platform to *not* have an API. SquareSpace promotes itself as an e-commerce platform but provides no way to integrate inventory, shipping, or anything else. Yikes!

Product Curation

Every store has a personality. Brightly colored kids toys, sleek and sexy swimwear, or maybe some tasty looking chocolates. When we go shopping we create an association between a niche of products and the store that sells them. The power of habit brings us back and quickly that place becomes our ‘go-to’ store.

A long time ago I went shopping for a pair of glasses. I was used to paying about $300 every two years because that’s what they had always cost. But then I heard from a friend that you could get the same style online for $25. That’s amazing! They sell glasses. Just glasses. Not contact lenses, not laser surgery, and they make it easy to see what you’re buying. They have focused their product line.

Product curation is the process of selecting products which fit a merchant’s niche. It is very strategic and defines the store. In the good old days a merchant would go to the supplier and buy products, box them up, and bring them to his store to sell. But today this is much more virtual. We have drop-shippers and marketplaces with lots of button clicking.

There are many innovative ways to select products from supply data feeds.

– Choose products by categories. Perhaps the merchant has a supplier who provides all kinds of clothing – kids, women’s, men’s, and chic pet cardigans. A simple form of curation is to choose the categories which will look good in his store.

– Choose specific products. Sometimes there are very specific products so we can select them by their title or SKU.

– Choose by keywords. Each product has a description which contain valuable information. Keywords can be used to narrow in on specific products. Perhaps the merchant wants all ‘garden’ related products.

In a future article we will look at what it means to automate Product Curation. How can we choose products on behalf of the merchant?