Guest Column | November 18, 2020

A Guide To Seamless Integration Of Order Fulfillment For Online Stores

By Kate Prohorchik, Iflexion

Integration Flow

The world is moving quickly toward an eCommerce economy. If you want your online store to keep up, order fulfillment should not rely on manual processes.

How To Seamlessly Integrate Order Fulfillment Into Your Online Store

The global eCommerce explosion, fueled by COVID-19 movement restrictions and social distancing measures, continues to boost online retailers' sales. At the same time, customers’ expectations for faster, more accurate order fulfillment drive growth in specialized eCommerce fulfillment and last-mile delivery providers.

This demand for fulfillment speed also pressurizes retailers to shift from communicating orders to their fulfillment partners manually to faster and less error-prone solutions, often via API-enabled integration.

With that in mind, are you still emailing spreadsheets and order-manifestos to your logistics providers? If so, you're constraining your business' ability to compete, but the following tips we collected here at Iflexion will help you transition to seamless digital data exchange. It's a change that will save time, money, and labor for your business, and boost your customers' confidence that their deliveries will arrive on time and in full.

First: Look At Your Partners

Rare is the eCommerce company with its own logistics assets, but perhaps you are one of the few, or maybe you operate some fulfillment elements in-house. Later in this article, we’ll look briefly at the technology you might use to do this. Suffice to say for now, though, that APIs are available for most backend management systems.

The same is true if you need to integrate your store with systems belonging to your fulfillment and logistics partners. That said, there might be instances in which you will need to have an API developed to link two specific solutions. Software engineering companies are regularly called upon to create APIs to connect eCommerce storefronts with partners’ shipment tracking, delivery, returns, and account management solutions.

Consider The Control Tower Approach

Ideally, then, the first step for a seamless integration program is to approach your existing and prospective fulfillment and logistics partners, to ascertain if they offer APIs to integrate your eCommerce software. Even if they don’t, they may be prepared to share the costs of developing a bespoke API.

If you don’t work with any specific partners or have several, you might wish instead to look for a fourth-party solution.

This type of eCommerce fulfillment service can connect your sales operation to a platform that can manage your inventory and the end-to-end fulfillment process. The platform will route your orders directly to fulfillment partners of your choice, or the provider can designate fulfillment and logistics companies to handle your inventory storage and customer deliveries.

Automate As Much As Possible

APIs make it simple to integrate your online store with as many partners’ systems as necessary, and it makes sense to exploit these capabilities as much as possible.

If you can create a single supply chain platform by integrating with your partners, you will reduce the need for manual data-transfer processes and gain end-to-end visibility. That makes it easier to manage your inventory and stay abreast of the progress of orders and deliveries.

For example, you can integrate with any of the following partners in your supply chain, if they have the capability or are prepared to collaborate on API development:

  • Your suppliers
  • Your inbound logistics providers
  • Warehouse, distribution, or fulfillment providers
  • Last-mile delivery companies

You might also consider integrating with a specialist returns management company. The reverse supply chain has never been more critical to get right than in the expanding eCommerce environment. Fortunately, there’s an increasing number of providers that exist only to help online merchants manage it.

The Technology: Factors To Consider

Aside from APIs, other technologies play a critical role in the performance of integrated systems. For example, your partners will have databases underlying their service solutions. These, along with their solution architecture, will influence the performance of their systems.

Before committing to linking your online store with a service provider, it will pay to ask its IT team about these system elements. In doing so, be especially aware of any red flags that might indicate potential performance issues. After all, it is your supply chain and your customers’ confidence that will depend on technical applications outside of your control.

Security Is Paramount

Perhaps most critical of all is the need to assure data security. Your partner or platform provider should have stringent measures in place to protect your customers' data. Ideally, these should include digital vaults for configurations that store API passwords and other potentially vulnerable system elements. Their software should also be equipped with strong encryption capabilities.

Visibility is crucial too. If you are integrating with a fourth-party platform or a single provider for all your order fulfillment, make sure you will have visibility into the following supply-chain elements:

  • Inventory levels
  • Customer deliveries, including package tracking
  • Returns processing and package tracking

Integrating With In-House Solutions

What if your initial concern is to integrate your online store with your company's in-house fulfillment-management solutions? Your approach will necessarily depend on the applications in place and their ease of integration. For instance, if you have a cloud-based ERP or warehouse management system, you might find that the provider has an API that can easily be deployed to integrate your storefront.

Alternatively, you might need to consider integrating via electronic data interchanges (EDI), particularly if you have backend logistics and fulfillment solutions with servers on your premises.

Large-Scale Modular Options

If you have the budget, you could consider deploying an ERP solution like SAP, with its warehouse and logistics modules built in. Many of such large-scale enterprise systems offer the option of eCommerce modules as well, like SAP Commerce Cloud, for example, which you could link to your fulfillment solution via a middleware connector.

Integration: The Smart, Seamless Approach To Online Order Fulfillment

With eCommerce growing at accelerated rates due to the lockdown and consumers’ confidence in online shopping also increasing, the demand for a smooth, seamless information flow is rendering manual data transfer redundant.

Integrating order fulfillment into your online store will reduce the risk of errors in data entry and transmission. It will also save labor costs and provide you and your customers with greater visibility of goods moving through your supply chain.

Can you afford to ignore the need for integrating online fulfillment into your online store? No. Can you realistically achieve that objective? Absolutely—and the chances are, your fulfillment partners are ready to help you do so.