3 Automation Tools for Efficient Ecommerce Shipping

Automation Tools for Efficient Ecommerce ShippingWebster’s Dictionary defines “automation” as … 

(Just kidding.)

Talking about automation tends to elicit a ton of different reactions, depending on who you ask. Some are positive; others, not so much. The responses of ecommerce merchants who use automation tools in their shipping workflow will almost assuredly fall into that first category, though.

Because once you’ve added automation to your ecommerce shipping, fulfilling orders will seem just this side of magical. Ready to feel like a sorcerer every time you ship? Then take a look at these three automation tools.

Shipping Presets
Each of your customers might be unique, but that doesn’t mean their orders are. If you’re consistently sending shipments with nearly identical attributes, it’s silly to manually configure the settings for every order. Instead, use shipping presets.

Shipping presets allow you to apply the same parameters to multiple orders at once. You can create a shipping preset that specifies things like …

So say for example a decent percentage of your orders are for a product that you always ship in the same package type via the same carrier and that product requires shipping insurance. Rather than selecting those options every time for every order, you can just apply the shipping preset. In just a few clicks, you can update every applicable order currently awaiting shipment as well as any future orders.

Pro Tip: Link your shipping presets to keyboard hotkeys and/or barcodes to speed up your shipping workflow even more.

Service Mapping
It’s unlikely you’re using a single carrier to ship orders since it’s not very cost-effective. And it’s also unlikely you offer only one delivery option since that’s a quick way to turn shoppers off. (Author’s note: if you are, in fact, only using one carrier and offering only one delivery option, it’s in your best interest to figure out a way to change that ASAP.)

Service mappings automatically assign a carrier and service to new orders based on which shipping speed the customer selects at checkout. They allow you to accommodate shopper preferences while also choosing the shipment options best suited for your brand. 

For instance, you want to use USPS First Class for all orders with free shipping. You’d create a service mapping that ties “Free Shipping” to “USPS First Class”. Now when a customer selects free shipping at checkout, the carrier and service for that order would automatically be USPS First Class when the order is imported from your website or marketplace.

Automation Rules
While shipping presets certainly eliminate some of the more repetitive parts of your ecommerce shipping workflow, they still require a warehouse employee to apply them. And although service mapping is 100% automated once it’s set up, it only applies to carrier and service. So if you want the option to choose additional shipment options and also have those settings be applied automatically, you can use automation rules.

Automation rules are customizable, hierarchical sets of criteria and actions that run whenever an order is imported. You can think of automation rules as “If this, then that” statements. Here are some examples:

  • If an order is shipping outside the U.S., then insure the order.
  • If an order has a total weight of less than 1lb, then set carrier to USPS First Class Mail.
  • If an order is shipping to Texas, then ship from the Louisiana warehouse.

IMPORTANT: Automation rules aren’t for every brand. If using an automation rule requires several different criteria to account for every variable, it might make more sense for you to utilize individual shipping presets and/or service mapping instead.

One final thing: don’t use automation tools until you confirm every product in your database has accurate, up-to-date information.  The most streamlined ecommerce shipping workflow ever conceived is worthless if the individual product details aren’t properly documented.

This post was contributed by Callie Hinman, Content Marketer & Writer at ShipStation, a leading provider of shipping software for ecommerce fulfillment

How to Grow Your eCommerce Business with Hybrid Dropshipping

Hybrid dropshippingWhen eCommerce retailers are getting started, many make the decision whether they should dropship or stock their own inventory. Retailers often approach this as a binary, A or B type decision - "Should I dropship products or stock physical inventory?” 

One of the best-kept secrets in eCommerce is that you do not have to pick! This is known as - hybrid dropshipping

Hybrid Dropshipping is when eCommerce retailers stock their own products while simultaneously selling the products directly from external vendors. Retailers stocking their own inventory are when products are shipped from a retailer's local office/warehouse. This also includes products that are shipped via 3rd party logistics company (3PL). Dropshipping is when orders are directly shipped from a manufacturer, distributor or other 3rd parties where you purchase the products on demand per order.

Hybrid dropshipping is a way of keeping ‘layers’ of inventory. It enables retailers to sell products from their own local inventory then when an SKU goes out of stock locally the orders are placed directly with the manufacturer or a distributor. This enables eCommerce retailers to keep products in stock more often than any of the competition. 

Large Retailers

Large retailers are almost always using the hybrid approach to dropshipping. Big retailers often say they are shipping from one of their ‘warehouses’. Behind the scenes the warehouse may be one of their physical locations, a 3rd party logistics company (3PL), one of many distributors that stock the product or directly from the product's manufacturer. Each of these could be considered their ‘warehouse’. That is one of the reasons that large retailers have items in stock when smaller retailers do not. Larger retailers are using the hybrid approach for products in both their own warehouse while simultaneously searching in external warehouses.

How does this help a small retailer?

As a small retailer, knowing this insider secret give you an edge over others in your competition.

For Retailers That Exclusively Dropship

Keeping a local supply of products will allow you to have greater control over your shipping rates and methods which you offer your customers. You’ll no longer have to pay the 'dropship fee’ or other shipping charges on each order that many dropship vendors include. Also, you can offer higher margin shipping methods (ex. Overnight shipping) that many dropship vendors are not able to offer.

Consider keeping a supply of your best selling products at your local office or warehouse. If you’re selling on a marketplace such as Amazon or eBay, when your dropshipping competitors sell out but you’ll be the only retailer left, you'll win the buy box

For Retailers That Exclusively Stock Inventory

Consider dropshipping some of your less popular products directly from distributors and manufacturers.

If you're now selling on a marketplace such as Amazon & eBay or even your own site since you’re hybrid dropshipping less popular products you’ll have access to vastly more products. 

For example, if you’re an auto parts retailer, there’s a good chance you do not want to stock older or obscure automotive parts. Now you can dropship these parts direct from the distributor or manufacturer while still selling other popular, high margin items from your own warehouse.

Another huge perk of the hybrid dropshipping method is you’re able to sell your high margin items from your own warehouse but able to dropship less popular products at a lower margin. Even when increasing low margin sales you’ll be increasing your top line with each vendor. When your top line spending with a vendor increases you can approach that vendor and have more leverage to negotiate a better pricing tier. The improved pricing tier will allow you then have better margins on all your sales.

How do I implement hybrid dropshipping in my business?

To get started, you’ll need to get up to date inventory quantities from all of your vendors. This includes inventory quantities from your own warehouse(s) and any 3PLs that you have products stored as well as external distributors and manufacturers. If you're looking for additional dropship vendors check out the list of dropship suppliers/companies.

You’ll need an automated system, that can pull in inventory quantities from multiple vendors for a single product, sum those inventory quantities and push the total inventory quantity to your shopping carts/selling channels. 

You’ll also want to be sure the reverse is true for order fulfillment. When sending orders to vendors, you’ll need your automation system to send orders to only the vendor who has the products in stock. It's also recommended that your automation system is able to collect unit cost data from various vendors. Having this data will allow you to route orders to the vendor with the product in stock at the lowest unit cost. If there are multiple vendors for a single product, you can then route orders to the lowest cost distributor!

If you want to implement a system such as this your business, check out a demo of Spark Shipping today!

New Vendor Data Bulk Export Tool

We’ve launched an update to our Vendor Data Bulk Export tool that now allows for much more flexible data exports.

The new tool allows you to first choose the data points then export a custom formatted vendor product data. The new tool is able to generate 1M+ rows of custom data on the fly. 

Check out the Bulk Export Vendor Product Data KB article for more information.

Receive Inventory Updates Via Email

Spark Shipping update inventory via emailSpark Shipping can now receive inventory files in a form of attachments sent by vendors via email. You can set up the inventory as a manual upload, you’ll see a unique email address to be used by the vendor for sending the inventory.

Helping to Prevent Order Fraud and Chargebacks - Now integrated with the Shopify Order Risk API

Starting today the Spark Shipping automated order fulfillment process is now integrated with the Shopify Order Risk API. This feature will go live today for all of our Shopify users.

What does this do?
When Shopify marks an order as "High Risk" based on merchant the fraud checks Spark Shipping will then automatically place the order fulfillment to an On Hold status, not send this order to any vendors and email you an alert to notify you.

What does this mean for you?
Merchant fraud is an unfortunate part of the e-commerce business. Shopify's fraud check does a great job to help identify fraudulent orders. With this integration, you'll now have an even better chance to stop fraud before it happens.

Have any questions about this? Contact us at info@sparkshipping.com

Check out our Q&A session with Dean from The Online Empire Academy

Via The Online Empire Academy

Full Transcript

Dean Soto: Alright. Cool. What's up Dream Drop Shippers, I am here with the illustrious Charles Palesh…How do you say it? Palechi? Paleschi?

Charles: Palleschi. Depending on…an Italian -chi is ski so it's technically it's ski. C-H-I is ski in Italian.

Dean Soto: Awesome man, awesome. From SparkShipping. You know that in module four, week four of Dream Drop Shipping it's pretty much all, aside from little things here and there, it's pretty much all about SparkShipping and why I use SparkShipping. I have no affiliation with SparkShipping, at least at this point in time. Right Charles, I don't get paid for anything.

Charles: No. Absolutely.

Dean Soto: I should, but I don't.

Charles: Just a client.

Dean Soto: All that module is about automating your entire drop shipping process. I've gone from software to software to software to software, trying to find the best software for really automating your drop shipping when it comes to Amazon. There's really nothing else out there that does what SparkShipping does. So, I wanted to get him on here to answer some of the questions that you guys had and then, also to be able to ask some questions that I think are pertinent toward your drop shipping business as well.

Without further ado, Charles, introduce yourself and how in the heck did you come up with SparkShipping?

Charles: Yeah. So, my name's Charles Palleschi and if you can't tell quickly, I'm from Boston. The accent. Kind of the background with SparkS shipping, probably back in 2010, I would say, couple of us started doing a lot of custom development work for random clients. Built some web design, a lot of different integrations, things like that. Somewhere along the process, we ended up purchasing a small ecommerce site. It was a Magenta based site, we sold on Amazon. Couple things like that. We built that out to a couple different sites. We were in that for a few years, so it became an interesting little side thing on top of the consulting. As we were doing that, we ran into this exact issue, where we drop shipped and there were five or six different vendors and we used to get them orders every day. It started to become an onerous type of process and we were realizing too, they're sending us inventory, we have a lot of SKUs, we're trying to update it or sometimes we weren't which was just bad. We tried a couple products out there. Nothing actually worked that well, we were like, we can actually build something that can do inventory updates, we can send orders to these guys, we built this little in-house product, we were using it for a while. Then at some point, we had some clients were basically asking for something similar, so we started putting them on this product. I think it was just called "The Automation Engine" or something like that at the time. They were using that for a while. Then, some point a few years back, we ended up saying, okay, we should put a better name other than just "The Engine" on it, so we called it "SparkShipping", put the front end and everything and started kind of open up to the public. That's really kind of the background there and it's been a few years since.

Dean Soto: That's awesome. That makes it even better that you did it with the need in mind. You were actually doing it so it's not just some kind of…I know you and I were talking about this before, is that there's a lot of different software where it's kind of like, this is what we do, we're an inventory control software, we do this and we realize that we have some drop shippers, so we'll do a couple little things over here, but I've never seen anything that is just fully, 100% for drop shippers like you. It definitely shows that you actually do this stuff.

Charles: Yeah. And that was really, we built it with a singular purpose in mind. And that was kind of the goal from the beginning, to be very efficient with inventory, orders, tracking and getting those back and forth. On a daily basis, that's kind of what you do. You're pulling down inventory, you're sending orders, you're getting back tracking. So, if we can do all that, the goal is to be, if you're doing this whatever you're doing every day, that's what we want to do. And we do integrate. There are also, for instance, there's software out there like, Ship Station, things like that, they do label printing if you physically send out products. We even integrate with those guys, we just don't try to do that. We're not trying to be the label generator. We don't do that. We integrate. If you want to do that, you can send data over there. That's our goal.

Dean Soto: I love it. Love it. Cool. So, what I'm going to do, there are some questions that came in from our Facebook Group and then I'm actually going to ask questions that I think are really pertinent that a lot of people have asked in the past that I've heard and also things that I know people would want to know that would even help them, even if they're not using SparkShipping yet, it would help them with their drop shipping business. I'm going to ask you some questions and if they're too tough, just kidding.

This is actually one of the reasons that I loved SparkShipping. It was really after this particular moment, when you added this feature, that I was like, oh my gosh, it's game over. There's really no, I mean there are other places that do similar things, but not nearly as well as SparkShipping. The question, can you bundle things from different vendors using SparkShipping and how does that kind of work?

Charles: Yeah. Basically, what we do is…I mean the answer is yes. The short answer. The long answer is what we do is one product can have multiple vendors or vendor SKUs attached to it. You can also include the unit cost, what you're actually purchasing this for. So, you can purchase, let's say you're purchasing headlights from 10 different manufacturers. You can then say, whatever manufacturer has it in stock, go to the cheapest. With the case of a bundle, if you mark the product as a bundle, it will do the same concept except it will send to all of those vendors that you mapped, or all of those products. Basically, spit out five different SKUs behind that. Three go to this one vendor and two go to this other vendor and then he'll generate the order out to those different vendors and basically split it apart. Those vendors kind of see it as one order so they don't know there's even other products attached, that's all on your side. It all just gets multiplexed out.

Dean Soto: That's pretty cool. I love that. And especially as an Amazon seller because part of the reason why we do bundling in the first place is so we have a unique product. Whether it's bundling within the same vendor or multiple vendors, there's a barrier to entry there. I could bundle, you know, this glass jar with this kabob set or something like that and somebody would have to, if they're doing it manually, they would have to go and say every time I send this, I'm going to have to do those two things. I could even have in the description, also includes an extra kabob or something like and then in SparkShipping put this is the bundle, one kabob, one kabob set and one glass jar and boom it will send it to the same vendor or I could make it even better, like you said if there's other vendors, I could say, from this vendor and this vendor and the person who's competing with you has to have both those vendors in order to actually compete with you or else they're not going to be able to get the actual product. It's pretty amazing and I don't of any, really, there's one other that I know could do that, but it doesn't do it very well. How have you seen as far as response to that from your other customers with the bundling thing, are they using it a lot?

Charles: Definitely. A lot of interest on that. The three major platforms we support currently are Bigcommerce, Shopify, Magento, Woocommerce and Amazon Seller Central and the other ones a lot of people might do bundling inside the actual shopping cart. When it comes to Amazon, there's no way to do that, so there's just one SKU you get the order for and it's up to us to take that SKU and then break it apart from multiple vendor SKUs. With Amazon, you see kind of the most, we get the most out of that there. Where there's really no other choice, you have to do it that way.

Dean Soto: I love it. I love it. That's great. Let me go to the next question, I accidentally closed it so I have to go and find it. Next question is, actually do you recommend bundling things from different vendors?

Charles: Yeah. We didn't do it back in the day with our business, but I know a lot of folks who do do it, like highly recommend it, and I hear good things about it. So, it's one of those things, it's definitely getting, as people find the feature, it's getting more popular, so we've gotten great feedback on it, so it seems to work.

Dean Soto: That's so awesome. I love it. I love it. I'm going to skip that question because it's more of a course question. Here's a problem that I run into quite a bit, is, there are a lot of vendors are not very big, they're small mom and pop manufacturers and they don't have anything like an API that you can connect to or they don't use FTP or they don't use EDI or anything that would allow you to 100% automate that stuff so SparkShipping would essentially send emails or ESP files to them or whatever. How do you either find vendors that have that or convince them or help them to have that? Where it's a more integrated thing.

Charles: Yeah. It really depends, right? We can do whatever the vendors can do. They range on a total span of technological sophistication we'll say. We can do anywhere from a plain text email with just the order in the body of the email, a CSV, FTP, XML and then moving up the chain, go to EDI or custom APIs. So, it's really kind of that whole span. Kind of the cool part there, is you can get an order for three different vendors. One might be getting a plain text email, where another one might be doing some API, whereas the other guy he might be FTP or XML, whatever proprietary format. So, we can break it apart and do all of those, which is kind of cool.

The way to kind of, I guess, either working with people today who are just kind of doing the plain text, it's real simple and you're trying like, slowly work them up to it. What a lot of people do, I've seen, actually pretty good success is start off slow, they're not go directly to some API. They're not going to install some big inventory management system. They're just not. You can't convince them. They're little guys anyway. But you can go pretty easily and say okay, let's just attach a CSV to an email. Everyone has Excel, they can open it, it's fine, they're going to get the CSV. That's kind of like the first little, dipping the toe in the water sort of thing. The nice part there, what a lot of people do then is, okay, we'll send you a CSV, whatever the columns are, first name, last name, street address, you know, quantity, SKU. Last two columns, we're going to leave blank. They're going to be the carrier and the tracking number. What we'll do there is, hey vendor, whenever you fill this order, you do your thing. Take this spreadsheet that we sent you, take the exact, and just put in the tracking number, put UPS, save it, email us back at this address. We can accept tracking via email. They go right back to the address. That then pulls in tracking and processes that way. You're not trying to teach them, you're basically kind of leading them there and saying, I'm just going to hand you the format, just put the blank columns in, just put the data in the columns, and then here's the email address, come right back. For every tracking update, you create in SparkShipping, you get a unique email address and just have them go to that. With inventory too actually. We can a, take it via email, or b you can also do it via DropBox, which a lot of people don't know. We can do an HTTP get. So, you tell them…

Dean Soto: I did not know that. I did not know that.

Charles: A lot of people talk to support, they're like you can? Yeah you can. Every time you do a manual upload in SparkShipping, if you set it as manual, you'll see a custom email address. It's this real long, whatever xyz@inventory.sparkshipping.com. So, whatever manual upload you create, also works as email too. Then DropBox, if you ever look at DropBox, you can say right click on it, get link. That generates an HTTP accessible link. Tell the vendor same thing. Just take a CSV. Put it in this DropBox whenever you feel like and just let SparkS shipping check out the DropBox. When it finds the file, when it finds it's been updated. It will pull it in updating your quantities. You're not teaching them to do something new, you're really just saying, just save it to a DropBox. You don't need to learn some other thing; even worst case just email it. I don't care once a week, do whatever, just get it to me once in awhile and that will at least be better than nothing. You can start slow and kind of get people going in the right direction, that kind of helps them. And it helps them from their side too because they're probably maybe use the same format with their other clients and start saying oh yeah, we send inventory via email. I'll be like, oh really, you didn't do that last week, but now you do it for everyone.

Dean Soto: That's cool. I actually just had that happen with a vendor, where I'm like, oh, I didn't know your inventory via email and I didn't know, I was trying to do some fancy, I was going to set up something on Amazon S3 and figure out how to setup FTP on Amazon S3 and all that stuff. I had no idea, so you can take it in via email or you can have it…the way I have it with this particular vendor is they email my normal, my personal email address and then I actually have Zapier parse out, or no, sorry no, I have Google, Gmail just forward it to a Zapier parsed email address, or something like that, I forgot how I did it, and then it goes to Amazon S3 or whatever. I could actually have it go to…

Charles: Yes. Skip all those middle steps.

Dean Soto: Okay. So, if they're emailing me every week and it’s the exact same email.

Charles: Yup.

Dean Soto: So, I can forward that email to what?

Charles: So, this is for inventory?

Dean Soto: This is for inventory. This is just inventory, not tracking.

Charles: In SparkShipping, just go on there and support, if you ever need anything, sometimes there's some confusion, feel free to just open up a support ticket. There's a little tab.

Dean Soto: [inaudible]

Charles: Thank you. What you got, go in there, create a new inventory upload. You can create multiple inventories for one vendor. So, even if you're also doing it via FTP or whatever you got going currently, just add an additional one. Say manual. Go in there and you format it. The way it works, you upload a sample of the file, it kind of uploads all the columns in the CSV. You then say the 8th column is the SKU, the 35th column, whatever, is the quantity, so we know that's where to expect it. We kind of know what the limiter will be. Some people also to note, CSV, it's an actual format. Most people don't know that and most vendors don't abide by that. They use a tilde or a pipe or some web co-characters. It's all different, so we try to have a lot of little switches you can pull to…

Dean Soto: Yeah. I noticed that. You can the delimiters and things like that.

Charles: Or header. You can even make the header in six multiple rows. Because we work with so many vendors, you come up with a lot of weird formats. Everyone calls it the same thing, but they're not really the same thing. They're all different. So, you can pull those switches, eventually get that to input that via manual. Then right when you go to say upload manual file at the bottom, you'll see an email address. You can do it right on the website, or just forward it to that address. Right from your Gmail, you'll just write a rule.

Dean Soto: I gotta go do this real quick. Seriously. That is, that is really cool. I had no idea. Is that something new? Because every time I saw manual, I'm like, aw man, I don't want to do anything manual.

Charles: Yeah. A lot of people skip the manual. Yeah, it's funny. A lot of people skip the manual. I would say, real towards, probably early this year.

Dean Soto: Okay. Then that might be why. Cause I set up a lot of my vendors and so I already have my little way of doing things and so…That's really dang cool.

Charles: Thank you.

Dean Soto: If we wanted to do the DropBox side of things, I know I already know a couple of my students who are going to be like, oh I didn't know you could do this, this is crazy. So, the DropBox thing. Say I create a DropBox folder where only, say it's like an overall vendors folder and then I have all my different vendors and I drop it into XYZ Vendor, how then do I have Spark Shipping automatically check that DropBox area?

Charles: If you go to support.sparkshipping we have a little article on this. So many folks use DropBox. When you put in DropBox, you can always right-click and say get link. What that gives you is a link to a webpage with a picture of that file on it that you can click and download. Not actually for SparkShipping download, but kind of the little trick there is if you look at that whole link, the last four characters there will be "DL=0". Generates the same every time. Change that 0 to a 1. That link, if you post that in Hero Bar, the file will just download.

Dean Soto: Oh.

Charles: Yeah, it’s a little trick. We literally have a support article because so many people ask this question. If you get that link it's just a picture. It's like a webpage with a download on the webpage which is not what anyone wants.

Dean Soto: Wow. And so, does the file have to be named the same and all that stuff every single time or is it, more of the formatting inside of the file.

Charles: I think you'll want to name it the same. You know, I'm not sure, that's more of a DropBox thing. I think you want to name it the same thing, but don't quote me on that one. But the formatting you want to be consistent because whatever that is a CSV, an Excel file, whatever that happens to be, it needs to look the same tomorrow because we're just assuming when you tell us the SKU is in this column and the quantities in this column we're going to assume that. And the delimiter is this, we're going to assume tomorrow the delimiter is still that. Basically, same thing, instead of setting manual FTP, you can set HTP or go get it. Same deal. You can say get it every hour, every day, every week, whatever you want to do.

Dean Soto: So, glad we talked Charles.

Charles: This is working out for everyone.

Dean Soto: Seriously. This is really cool. That actually solves a big issue and that's just from the inventory side. Because a lot of people, like I said, a lot of vendors, they can send an email or they can drop a file in DropBox or whatever, they're more than happy to do that. But going any more than that, it becomes a little bit harder and harder and harder. That's great and man, I already want to, set that up right now because that's amazing.

Charles: And we kind of made the conscious decision too, because we know a lot of vendors, a lot of everyone. People work in email. That's kind of your inbox. A lot times your vendors what you see, it's not even a generic email address like dropshipping@xyzvendor, it's literally fred@thisvendor and it's like a man named Fred and he's like opening the file. You see that pretty often. You'd be surprised.

I know there are some competitors, they have a vendor portal, where you try to have the vendors give them a log in and they do their thing. It sounds like a great idea, but what really happens is you're trying to get that guy Fred to do something else and you're like adding work onto his day instead. Saying, no, no, no, log into this extra thing and give me my…He doesn't want to do that, he just wants to do whatever he does, if he's pulling it from his inventory system and we can go API, we'll put it there. If he's just working in email, let's just go there. Cause just giving him another thing to do each day, he's either just going to say blatantly no, or he's going to actually be worse and say yes, but then actually not do it. So, it's one of those two options, he's just going to say no or just not do it, even worse. Just put it wherever he's working. If he's in email, put it there. If they do have a system we can inject it in, use an API, let's go there. Or if they even use like Ship Station, we see this a bunch, we can even inject it into a Ship Station account. We don't even need their login. If you're on SparkShipping you add a vendor, a Ship Station type vendor, and it gives you a custom login, custom password that then your vendor or you, your account, they can add a custom store, so they can see in their Shipstation account, oh, I have another store under here and that's just your orders. When they update the order, they send it out. We automatically get notified. We pull that in. That goes up to your store. It goes up to Amazon. It's all automatic.

Dean Soto: I love that. That's awesome. That solves a huge problem. That actually solves a really, really, really big thing that I didn't know you could do. Inventories. That's pretty cool, man.

Let's see. Let me ask this next question. You already answered that, how do you convince vendors to give better inventory updates? That's just making it easy for them. Now that you know that you can just have them send it via email, because that's one vendor that I have, it comes from a guy named Dan.

Charles: Yeah, literally it's a guy. It happens more than you think. It's literally the Fred or the Dan and he just sends you inventory. He just emails it to you. We just hope it's some sort of form we can actually automate. We try to be pretty open with that, almost anything. We’ve seen things where it's like a spreadsheet and it's like pictures in the spreadsheet. Or just some very odd things. We try to do, we can probably do 98% of vendors in some pretty weird ways, so if they can send something that looks like it can be automated, we can probably do it.

Dean Soto: Wow. That's cool. Love it. Love it. Alright, cool. So, now with the tracking, is that generally, kind of what you said, that's probably, that's the next hardest thing is getting tracking from vendors. Is that probably the easiest way to do it, is sending them a CSV saying, hey, when you get the UPS number for this, can you just drop it in this DropBox, or can you email it back to me or whatever with the tracking number. That sounds like it's the easiest way to do it to kind of get their foot in the door with that.

Charles: Yeah, that's probably safe for small vendors, that's probably the easiest way to start. If any vendors are doing any sort of volume, the thing is big vendors that are doing sort of volume, they already have this all worked out. You're not going to tell them, they're going to tell you. So, they'll say, have an FTP, here's your login, here's the directory, here's our format, no you can't change us, that's just how we're going to do it. Then we go and format what we do to that, we go to log into their FTP and we can get it from there.

The little guys that don't have that, yeah, you're trying to kind of work them and say, oh, we're going to send it just randomly in email, could you just throw it in this CSV, it's not that much harder and just email it, you're going to email it anyway, just email an attachment, it's not that much more. If Bob or Fred are nice enough, we just hope they would do that. We see people try to throw it in the body of an email, real little guys. It's not a very reliable way to parse, so you know, if it's something we can't reliably do for you, we try to say, let's try to get you in a format we can actually, reliably parse or figure out.

Dean Soto: Yeah, because even with Zapier parser which they're always updating and everything like that, you'll have errors.

Charles: And the problem is that they're silent too which is even worse.

Dean Soto: Yeah.

Charles: It's one thing having the error, if you know you have the error. It's even worse having the error when you find out three weeks later when someone's calling you and they're upset because they didn't get their product. Those are the worst errors, when you think everything's okay and it's not okay. We'd rather if it breaks, to know that it breaks or to have it in a format where it won't break. Also, we work with a lot of, SparkShipping, a lot of the client base is global, so a lot of the carriers, it's not UPS and FedEx, we can just look for that ID, it's global carriers and then also a lot of them are smaller, a lot smaller courier type people, where you have, somebody's tracking them, you've never even heard of them before. The format is, sometimes, it's just four numbers, the tracking number. I'm like, oh, okay. It's like, very little tracking, because these are like little regional carriers. So, you can't get a really reliable process, versus if you throw in some sort of format like a CSV, we can reliably say okay, we know, even if that tracking number is four digits, that’s the tracking number and we'll take the carrier, we'll believe you whatever it's in there and can pull that in, so it's a lot more reliable.

Dean Soto: That's cool. I love that. I love that. Kind of going on that, what was the question I was going to ask, had to do with the tracking numbers. Oh yeah. With Amazon, I send my vendor a CSV with five products, hey when you get these products, just put the tracking number in there blah, blah, blah. And they do that and it goes into SparkShipping, will SparkS shipping actually put the tracking number into Amazon?

Charles: Yup. A, we put the tracking number into Amazon which is important, right because you want to get the tracking number in there as quick as possible. If they send it at 9 p.m. at night and you're not sitting in front of the computer, we actually pull that in, put it up there. And then B, you can also, I don't know if you've seen this either. If they, a lot of times the vendors what they'll do is they'll call UPS some kind of code. U-P-G-R-N-D, or U-P-S-G-R-N-D. You can't send that to Amazon. Amazon accepts UPS, FedEx, they have a list, you've probably seen it. You need to select it from that list. So, we allow you do, wherever we know that carrier's going to be mapped, you can map vendor carrier codes to Amazon carrier codes. We can do that translation for you. They say it's just 1-D-G-R-N-D, it's one-day ground, but you know that's going to be UPS in your head, map that in the tracking update in SparkShipping, every time we see that from the vendor, we'll automatically translate that for you to UPS.

Dean Soto: That's cool.

Charles: The same goes for orders too right, cause the vendors, they get your Amazon shipment, what you're looking for and it's the Amazon, standard something. It's very ambiguous and the vendor will sometimes freak out and they'll say is this FedEx, is this UPS, what are you sending me right now? You take whatever those Amazon codes are and map them to whatever you want the vendors to see. So, if you just want to say FedEx Ground, just map that. You can do that on SparkShipping, so two-way mapping.

Dean Soto: I had no idea you could do that actually. It's funny, whenever I'm sending emails off, it'll say, yeah, free economy shipping or whatever and…now the vendors that I know, they're like okay, I get it, just pretty much ignore it and do our own shipping, but the first time, they're like, uh, we don't offer free, we can't do that.

Charles: And if you'll email them, luckily that guy Fred or whatever his name is. Fred, he'll figure it out eventually, but if you're emailing some huge vendor, they're just going to take your order and reject it and that will be the end. It'll just never get fulfilled. You're like, oh, okay. For those, you really need to. For the little guys, it's just nice and the nice part is if you want to change it up one day and go from UPS to FedEx, just do that in SparkShipping and all your orders are mapped and such.

Dean Soto: That's cool. That's cool. That's great man. That really answers the questions that I had. I know a lot of people, it's kind of hard getting them to SparkShipping first. Really, it's not a, I didn't really have that much of a problem aside from not knowing you could do certain things, but it's not drag and drop type thing. When people sign up, you guys have kind of an onboarding process still.

Charles: Yeah. We usually, I think we still reach out to every new sign up. Someone from support will probably ping you on the first day or two. Just kind of ask, do you need any help sort of thing. A lot of folks, we have guides on how to map products. You create your vendors, you can associate the products with that. It's pretty straight forward. We even have articles that kind of walk you right through it. If you're doing things just like a plain text email, a CSV, a lot of guys go in there and do it themselves. We also offer a service, it's like $99 one-time fee if you're doing like API, EDI, definitely do it with us. You can send us the spec, we can look at it, we can basically get it all ready for you and all you have to really do is map your products. Kind of walk through some testing with us, basically. In our team, we know how to do a lot of leg work. A lot folks even do that too. Let's say they're doing five, six CSV vendors. They might do it for the first one. After you see the format, it is pretty straight forward, but at first you go in there and you're like, I don't know, there's a lot of stuff. A lot of times they have us do the first one and they kind of just clone it and you know, it's pretty easy, once you see it done once, just follow it.

Dean Soto: Even with that, when I was doing the CSV stuff, I was like, okay, is that variable right? Is that variable right with different headers and things like that? It's definitely beneficial the whole onboarding stuff that you offer.

Charles: It would be great to do that sort of drag and drop thing, but with this, there's so many…

Dean Soto: Yeah. I don't even know how you do it because there's so much stuff.

Charles: And that's the problem. You don't want to box yourself in to say we only do these formats. The whole goal is doing as many formats we possibly can and if that kind of decision to make the product more open, by nature it becomes a little more complex, right? If we locked you in and we just sent emails, this one format, you're done, that's it. We don't do any of these other things, it'd be easy. But, saying we work with APIs, EDI, any format CSV and XML files, by nature, it's a little more complex to set up, but analogy I always use, Spark Shipping is kind of like a heating system in your basement. It's one of those things you kind of buy it, install it, get it set up and then once you do it and it's running correctly, it just kind of runs and hopefully you don't have to go and fiddle with it. It just does its thing and your house is warm for the next 20 years.

Dean Soto: Totally.

Charles: That's kind of our goal, to get. Once it gets set up, orders just come in from the shopping cart, they go out, tracking comes back. Everything just kind of happens every day and we just kind of sit there in the basement and do our thing for as long as you want.

Dean Soto: No, it's cool. I had a sale. A $549 sale on one of my products last night and I always tell my students, the best thing is when you see a sale come in, you're like, oh, that's cool and you just go about your day. Rather than going, oh, crap I have to go email this vendor or which one was that? Which SKU is that? Okay, this SKU. These two SKUs. Oh, okay. Email, grab the shipping, all that stuff. It's okay, I made a sale. Then this morning, getting a confirmation from one of my vendors just saying oh, cool, got it. I'm like this is great.

Charles: And, getting it in sooner. Certain vendors, when you start getting low stock, let's say under 10 for a certain item, whoever gets that email in first, is actually getting that stock. If that email comes in Friday night at 9 and you're out, you're not paying attention and you don't send that until Sunday afternoon, someone might have already got that stock from you. So, getting in actually helps you cause the vendor usually comes in in the morning, sorts the email and says okay, this guy gets it, this guy gets it and these five guys, sorry out of stock. There are times…being the first is beneficial too for those reasons.

Dean Soto: That's great. That's great. Man alright. That's it. I need to go and modify some of my stuff now thanks to you.

Charles: Good. If you need any help contact support, we'll be here.

Dean Soto: That's awesome man, I appreciate it. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule. It's cool because this is what, to me, this type of software separates the real drop shippers from people who are just kind of dabbling. I even had one student who, when we first started Dream Drop Shipping, I just mentioned EDI and I had a coaching call with him. I mentioned EDI in one of the videos that we did because of SparkShipping and he was like, as soon as you mentioned EDI, I knew that you had a serious drop shipping course. He used to work for a company who used EDI to do all their drop shipping.

Charles: Yup. A lot of the big guys, that's when you start seeing EDI or APIs. EDI, a lot of folks have tried to kind of get that standardized format. A lot more people are using that, but also then APIs and those completely across the board. Either of those two usually indicate you're probably one of the bigger manufacturers or warehouses or whatever.

Dean Soto: So cool. I love it man. Alright cool. Well, I'm going to let you go. Guys. If you guys are making enough profit already. I always tell people, if you're up to at least $500 in profit with your drop shipping business, there's no reason why you shouldn't do SparkShipping. I was even having lunch with a Dream Drop Shipping student who's doing about that, I think even more, and I'm uh, why aren't you using SparkShipping, it doesn't make sense. Cause you're able to delegate all that stuff to an automated process. Thank you so much Charles, I appreciate your time and we'll definitely stay in touch and hopefully make some more of these videos.

Charles: Yeah. Absolutely. Great. Any questions, feel free to reach out to us. My email also is charles@sparkshipping so I'm here, feel free to let me know if you need anything.

Dean Soto: Awesome. Awesome. Alright guys, we'll see you later. Definitely get out there if you don't already have Spark Shipping, take Charles up on it and get going. See ya.

Charles: Thanks. See ya.

Choose What Orders Route to ShipStation Using Spark Shipping

Many users depend on Spark Shipping to automate their drop-shipped orders, but what about orders they want to fulfill internally? Spark Shipping is now able to connect with your ShipStation account, to help you process your in-house orders and print shipping labels fast and easy.

Your ShipStation account is created as a Vendor in Spark Shipping. You can then choose what products are routed to ShipStation and which are routed to 3rd party vendors.

Spark Shipping will appear in ShipStation as a custom store after completing the integration in a few steps. Orders will be sent to ShipStation as they come in from the user’s store through Spark Shipping, and Tracking data will be sent back from ShipStation through Spark Shipping and back to the user’s store, your store then notifies your customer their package has shipped, it’s all automated!

If Spark Shipping receives an order with items for both ShipStation and a 3rd party vendor, Spark Shipping will split this sending the correct items to ShipStation and correct items to the 3rd party vendor. This way, the vendor does not see your ShipStation inventory and only the correct items are included in orders inside of ShipStation.

This works great for dropshipping or when you’re vendors already use ShipStation for their fulfillment. Using Spark Shipping you can select exactly what products & orders are sent to each ShipStation account. You control what orders are sent to each account without vendors seeing products and orders from other vendors. For vendors that already use Ship Station then can now see orders they need to fulfillment right inside their current ShipStation account.

New Dashboard Widgets

We've just added enhanced visuals to the Spark Shipping Dashboard!

The orders graph has been upgraded to better display orders over the past 30 days. Also, a pie chat has been added to help visualize SKUs mapping across vendors.

These new visuals will go live today for all Spark Shipping accounts!

Spark Shipping Dashboard Widget

Even More Complex Vendor Fulfillment APIs are Now Supported

To date, Spark Shipping has made a single API to a vendor for each order.

For example:
                        <item>Item 1</item>
                        <item>Item 2</item>

We’ve excited to announce that we can now make make multi API calls to a vender for a single order.

This now comes in the form of:

  • Order Header API Call (once per order)
  • Order Item API Call (once for every item in the order)
  • Order Footer API Call (once per order)

This now allows us to handle even more complex APIs like never before!

This new feature can be easily enabled in Vendor -> Fulfillment Settings

Are Multiple Request Required to Create a Single Order

If you need any help enabling this please contact us at Spark Shipping Support.

SOAP v1.2 Support Has Been Added

Dropshiping automation SOAP 1.2 SupportIn addition to SOAP v1.1 we’ve now added support to use SOAP v1.2 for vendor API calls.

You can update your SOAP version in Vendor -> Fulfillment Settings

Include a Custom PDF Packing Slip with Each Order

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve added the ability to automatically generate PDF packing slips to be included with each order.

This feature can be enabled under Vendor -> Fulfillment Settings

Enable PDF Packing Slip

Once enabled a PDF will be generated and emailed to your vendor with each order. Each packing slip will only include items that are fulfillmented by that particular vendor.

Also, you’re able to further customize this PDF by adding your logo to the top of each packing slip.

Packing Slip Example

Second Generation Spark Shipping Data Processing Engine is Released

We’re happy to announce that we’ve officially released the second generation of the Spark Shipping Data Processing Engine.
The Spark Shipping Data Processing Engine is the core of Spark Shipping that processes inventory, orders, tracking, etc. This does all the heavy lifting and makes Spark Shipping tick.
Over the past few months, we’ve been releasing the engine in incremental releases. With each release we’ve been getting closer to completing the second generation engine… and today marks that day it’s complete.
Our “secret sauce” is our highly scalable distributed architecture. Processing is distributed over multi processes/multi machines… This means when the load increases, Spark Shipping goes even faster.

What does this mean to our users?

Spark Shipping users can now process large datasets (such as inventory updates) faster than with any other ecommerce automation company.

Welcome to Spark Shipping

Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Spark Shipping my name is Charles I’m the founder. At Spark Shipping our gals provide full end to end e-commerce automation. Let me tell you a little bit more. What that does it starts with auto formative. For all you drop shares out there you know this is one of your first parts of your business day quite should be automated. What we’ll help you with is when an order comes in we help you process that order with the correct supplier, vender, 3rd party filming house. We’ll get that order to determine where it should be processed and who should be contacted about this order. We then send out the crack e-mails, sent if they have to go to multiple venders we speak about the order we know it where it goes to and we send out those for you on your behalf. We can also copy on these e-mails so you know that the crack e-mails went out to the crack place. All this happens in Virtual real time so you know this is happening as quick as possible if it’s a Sunday night at 1 am you do still want to send out so you are first in line mind in mind to have your order full filed. Second we help you with pricing some of the most difficult time is knowing what exactly to price your product and the ecommerce business margins them then and pricing means everything. We determine based on unit’s height, size of product, weight of product we can contact shipping companies such as UPS we’ll even work with negotiator rates. We then know what market you’re selling into and the cost of these markets whether that’s a credit card fee on your side or 3rd party like the Amazon where you pay a commission. We then crunch all the numbers in over each product what is the breakeven price that you should be selling. Also you could specify desired margin and we tell you what the price to hit the margin is and also the possible breakeven price that way you know you’re not going to lose mindless products and you know if you can compete. Third we scan mark at searches Amazon and let you know where there are prices that you could beat the current competition. So if you’re selling an item for $10 and you know you can drop the price and you can beat everyone on the Amazon market down to $8 but still make a profit we send you alert, these alerts could be seen on a dashboard but also we give real time e-mails you can then go to Spark Shipping see your breakeven price, see your targets and know exactly your cost and you can feel confidence setting your prices. Our goals are one at the time much more but this is where we’re starting and we hope that we can help you automate e-commerce business. If you have any questions at all please feel free to e-mail me at Charles [at] sparkshipping.com. We’d love to work with you so give it a try any questions please feel free to e-mail me Charles at sparkshipping.com and I hope to hear from you soon. Have a great day. Thanks!

Update 01/01/14 - Please note that we no longer offer a 30 day trial but we do provide free setup and support on all accounts.

Spark Shipping now Supports WooCommerce

Today Spark Shipping is very excited to announce that we now officially supports WooCommerce!

WooCommerce is a rapidly growing platform and we're very happy to be part of helping site owners automate their stores. WooCommerce users can now enjoy the same automated order processing and inventory automation that our other users do. Also, as with all our users, we’re now processing inventory and orders for our WooCommerce sites in near real time.

For WooCommerce (same with Magento) we do not require any plugins or third party code to be installed on your system to work with Spark Shipping. We connect to the WooCommerce core API which makes installations and upgrades a breeze.

By now supporting WooCommerce we hope to help even more eCommerce sites increase their business though automation.

If you would like to see how we can help you just checkout Spark Shipping free for 30 days.

Best Web Analytics Software for Ecommerce Sites

  • Google Analyticsgoogle.com/analytics/

    What would a list of analytics software be if it did not start with Google Analytics. For a feature rich analytics platform that also happens to be free it's a no-brainer. Install it, setup your goals and let it collect data. It's the gold standard and in my opinion should be installed on every ecommerce in store.
  • Clicky  - clicky.com

    Clicky is a lesser know analytics software but it has some killer features that most of the other's do not.

    Let's start with looking at the scope of how Clickly sees the world... If Google Analytics gives you the 50,000 foot view then Clickly is the 10,000 foot view. It's fantastic to observe today's traffic and drill down the the individual visitor level.

    You can select a visitor, see their location, OS, browser, etc. then follow their click path around the site, time on each page, etc. It helps to give you a feel for what an the individual user is doing on your site. An awesome feature that helps you watch your site in real time is Spy. It allows you to watch user on your site move from page to page as it happens. Spy works very well with their Alerts feature that gives an audible ding every time someone lands on the site or performs a predetermined action. (Trust me, the ding is much better than it sounds)
  • ClickTale - clicktale.com

    ClickTale is the Analytics I would is a must at the very least any time you make a design change to the site. It also works very well in conjunction with Clicky's Spy (above). The killer feature of ClickTale is the recorded visitor playback.

    If Google Analytics is the 50,000 foot view and Clickly is the 10,000 view then think of recorded visitor playback as pretty much standing on the ground with your nose touching whatever you're looking at.

    Visitor playback allows you to actually watch an individual visitor interact with your site as if you were standing in the same room with them looking over their shoulder. You get to see their mouse cursor move around the screen, click on the page, fill in form and move about the site. This really gives your a true feel of what an individual user is doing... and should I even saying thinking when using your site. 

    Your checkout page is not converting as much as you would like? Let's watch some users on ClickTale and find out why!

    The only downside of ClickTale is price, it's a bit expensive but they do have a free plan so start with that and see how you like it.
  • HitTail - hittail.com

    Last but not least is HitTail. The HitTail use case is totally differently than the Clicky and ClickTale. With some work Google Analytics can be adapted to somewhat do what HitTail does but HitTail gives you a much simpler, more actionalble view of the data.

    What HitTail does is analysis your traffic then provides a reports of long tail keywords that are driving traffic to your site. Using this report you can then come up with a highly targeted list of topics for your next blog post. This will help to drive even more organic traffic to your site in the future. This of HitTail as a post mortem for your Ecommerce sites' traffic. 

    In their own words it will help you - Drive targeted search visitors to your website by focusing on the most promising organic keywords in your existing traffic.

Reasons to Automate Your Drop Ship Process

  1. Save Time & Money

    Most drop shippers process orders manually, when an order comes in the store owner or another employee need to stop what they are doing to send time reviewing an order and placing it with the appropriate vendor(s). Depending on who is processing the order this is either costing the store owner time or money... Either way this is a waste of resources that can be easily solved.
  2. Process Orders 24/7

    When vendors fulfill their orders it's on a first come/first serve basis, the first orders received are the first to be sent out. That also means for popular items you have a chance of submitting an order for an item that has recently gone out of stock. For example, if an order comes in Sunday at 8 AM that's not processed until Monday AM, there's a chance that you're vendor will no longer have this item in stock.

    This is why setting up an automated system to processing orders 24/7 is so important. When an order comes in it is automatically sent to your vendor. Whatever time or day, you'll be first in line with your vendor.
  3. Reduce Human Error

    Let's face it, we all make mistakes and in E-Commerce mistakes cost the store owner money. If you have not already, you'll eventually process an order for an incorrect SKU.

    That's going to cost more in return shipping cost, lost time sending the correct item and customer support time.
  4. Give Yourself Freedom

    Freeing yourself from the menial task of processing orders gives you time to work on other parts of your business. Having to constantly be checking for new orders and processing those orders as quickly as possible forces you to stop working on the task at hand. This distraction is totally not necessary, once you setup an automated order fulfillment system you give yourself the time focus on growing your business.