For online retailers, accurate and efficient order fulfillment is largely contingent upon a solid integration between the Web Store (the customer facing website where consumers order) and Warehouse Management systems (the back end warehouse system that manages inventory and orders). Whether fulfillment is performed in house or via an outsourced fulfillment provider, electronically sending over correct order information to the warehouse staff not only eliminates manual order entry error but also helps to streamline warehouse operations. Furthermore, the warehouse must be able to send the shipping tracking information for all orders back to the Web Store software so that customers can receive updates on their orders and track them to their doorsteps. But with so many e-commerce shopping cart solutions and inventory management systems on the market today, how does an online retailer make sure that they’re using the most effective solutions to integrate these divergent systems? The answer may not be as clear cut as one would think.
Integrating with Your In House Warehouse Management System
Shopping cart software programs, such as Magento, Volusion, Shopify and others, are great for creating powerful websites that capture orders and collect payments from customers. Still other companies opt for using a content management system for their web site, such as WordPress, coupled with a shopping cart plug in to capture and process orders, which also offers a viable option. But what happens once the order is ready to be pulled and shipped? Oftentimes, newer and growing online merchants simply utilize the shopping cart software to print invoices and packing slips and manage the status of orders.
In the case of newer companies with more limited time and budgets, simply using the shopping cart as an order management system can be a short term solution. For example, one route is to utilize an inexpensive content management system, such as WordPress, coupled with a Web Store “plug-in” that adds additional functionality to the website. A great example of this in action is to use WordPress’s popular Foxy Cart along with a plug-in called Order Desk. Developed by SparkWeb Interactive, Order Desk is a centralized, web based platform that organizes orders received from WordPress Web Stores, allowing growing merchants a way to easily process and ship orders. Order Desk also integrates with some third party warehouses to address outsourced warehousing needs, as discussed below.
However, as the business becomes more complex, and as needs change and increase, many merchants graduate to the next level of business – and purchase an inventory management system. These systems help to better manage the flow of inventory from purchase to fulfillment, but they also add a layer of complexity to the overall fulfillment equation. In particular, data must be passed back and forth in order for the shopping cart to communicate with the inventory system – such as sending order information to the inventory system, sending shipping tracking information back to the shopping cart once the order has been processed, and generally managing inventory counts for seamless fulfillment of customer orders.
One solution for solving the challenge of information exchange is to use custom programming in order to electronically pass order information back and forth between shopping cart and inventory management software. On the positive side of the coin, custom programming can solve nearly every integration challenge. However, on the flip side, custom programming can be expensive. Furthermore, it is risky to invest in a custom solution when, at some point in the future, user needs may change or systems may become obsolete.
Thankfully, many of the more popular shopping carts and content management systems offer built-in integration tools or software plug-ins that can bridge the gap – and planning is the key to choose the best path, avoid unnecessary expenses, set the business up for the best future success, and take advantage of software that already exists. For example, shopping cart behemoths such as Shopify, because of their wide use, attract developers who create custom apps that integrate and make the overall fulfillment process easier. Examples of inventory management apps for Shopify include Stitch Labs and Lettuce.
Integrating with an Outsourced Fulfillment House
For some online merchants, fulfillment companies come to the rescue by handling all aspects of the receiving, storage, and order fulfillment and shipping of product. These third party fulfillment houses generally have sophisticated warehouse management systems, oftentimes tailored to their industry so that they can manage inventory for a multitude of customers. A lot of times, 3PL (third party logistics) warehouse management software offers a giant leap forward for small and growing online retailers in terms of inventory and order management as well as overall reporting. But stepping into their more expansive systems isn’t without its challenges.
The most significant of the challenges is the preliminary step of actually integrating the merchants’ online Web Store with the warehouse management system. Many of the top-of-the-line warehouse management systems have very simple integration tools for the more popular Web Stores on the market. So online sellers that use shopping carts such as Volusion, Magento, and Shopify can take a huge sigh of relief. However, what about those companies using a less popular shopping cart? In many cases, integration can present interesting challenges, requiring additional programming time and resulting in a hefty set up fee to utilize a third party fulfillment company.
In order to overcome the challenge of allowing simple and straightforward integration for shopping carts of all shapes and sizes, a handful of software companies have come into existence. These companies have developed software that acts as a bridge between shopping carts and warehouse management systems, resulting in a smoother set up and integration process. One example of this type of software is Drop Stream. By using a cloud-based integration platform, Drop Stream helps to take away the pain for integrating shopping carts with fulfillment centers.
It Pays to Plan Out the Course
No matter your particular situation, one of the most important aspects of shopping cart and inventory management software use and management is to spend adequate time planning for the future. With so many options, shopping carts in particular can seem like a dime a dozen, making the decision seemingly insignificant. However, in order to utilize the best programs for the long term success of the business, thorough thought and consideration should be given to not only which systems suite the needs of the business best, but also which tools to use in order to provide a stable future and avoid unnecessary costs. Up front due diligence can save significant hassles later down the road.