by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 14 December 2012
In an earlier post on this blog, I had discussed the importance of opting for a fully-integrated e-commerce solution, one that enables conversation between different departments, such as enterprise resource planning, of your small business.
This week we will review a solution that extends integration points from your online store to the logistics of shipping products. In the process, it helps cut down the time required to process and ship a product after the customer has placed an order at an online marketplace.
We will review ShipStation - a SaaS solution that simplifies your shipping needs. We will look at its features, interface, and see how it can be of use to you.
ShipStation is an enviable sweet spot. Most SaaS solutions focus on the more glamorous (and lucrative) counterpart to shipping in the selling space: e-commerce.
In this case, prior experience made a difference. Jason Hodges, co-founder of ShipStation, had already had already created eBay's most popular shipping solution - Auctane Shipping Manager - in August 2009.
"It became evident that I was onto something," says Hodges. So, he teamed up with a colleague and "extraordinary developer" Byron Wier to launch ShipStation in November 2011. As it turns out, Hodges' hunch proved correct. In less than a year, ShipStation has garnered over 4,000 customers and integrates with practically all major checkout stores on the Internet.
Hodges defines ShipStation as "the bridge between online sales and real-world fulfilment." for small businesses, this means that ShipStation automatically connects your offline small business with an online presence. This presence can be your own independent website or an online marketplace like eBay. Hodges likens this connection as one between online orders and offline warehouses. "We are able to automatically retrieve order information, which we can then use to automate the filling of shipping labels and custom forms," he says. After the labels are created, the system updates order status information and emails tracking details to customers.
According to Hodges, the solution's ideal customers are online merchants, who are interested in saving time in the order fulfillment process. "Since we connect with so many marketplaces and shopping cart systems, many of our customers sell on multiple channels and ship anywhere from five to over 5,000 orders per day," he says.
Connecting an online store front with offline shipping containers is more than a matter of connecting different systems through APIs. ShipStation tackles this problem by providing a hybrid mix of modules that span activities associated with order fulfillment, both in the online storefront order processing and offline shipping.
The first order of business involves entering and editing details related to your enterprise. In the next step, you enter details and linkages between your online presence and shipping systems.
The order processing screen is really the crux of the solution. It enables you to configure a broad array of details, templates, and metrics related to your order processing. These parameters can, then, be viewed against multiple filters and tags.
For example, you can configure customized shipping presets associated with the solution. These presets are a combination of warehouse, packaging and service. Configurations, such as backstop orders, enable you hold orders until further processing. This can be an especially useful feature for small businesses that have a backlog of pre-orders. One of my favorite features in the solution enables you to configure automated rules for customers. Thus, you can set customer shipping preferences based on shipping service codes, which specify customer preferences for carriers and packaging. The processing time for shipping products to a return customer is, thus, drastically reduced. Finally, the Shipment screen enables you to perform an assortment of tasks including printing labels, voiding shipments, and creating return labels.
Such details actually are the reason why I thought the solution is an excellent fit for small businesses. Besides automating several tasks related to order processing (such as automatic polling of online e-commerce storefronts), the solution simplifies and includes elements of customer relationship processing.
Another great reason to recommend the solution is its focus on aligning the different elements of a complicated logistical operation into a simple process. With the disruption of the payment industry and proliferation of numerous options, small businesses are caught in a bind about the best carrier or online payment solution for their startup.
ShipStation simplifies this problem by integrating with major carriers and online payment solutions. "This type of setup provides a complete 360-degree solution for online merchants," says Hodges.
Given its utility and functions, ShipStation contains a wealth of data related to your small business. You can harness the data using a set of pre-configured reports such as Daily Shipping Manifest or an Order Summary Report. While the list of reports is fairly exhaustive, additional custom reporting features will probably do much to enhance the solution's utility.
ShipStation supports shipping internationally as long as the package originates in the US and they hope to be able to support international shippers soon. Considering the global nature of the Internet, simplified global shipping will enable small businesses to look beyond their neighborhood or regions and develop markets elsewhere.
Overall, the solution is a great fit for small businesses looking for a quick and easy way to reduce product shipping lead times. That the solution is scalable adds to its advantages. An ideal use case scenario for small businesses could be to try the solution for free.
The interface and its simplicity have been repeatedly praised in numerous customer testimonials on ShipStation's website. The interface consists of a tabbed grid, where each tab corresponds to a specific task or series of tasks in the system. The screens are fairly simple and intuitive. In addition, they are flexible. This means you can upload data from multiple pre-configured formats such as .csv files.
ShipStation supports users through its help desk ticketing system. According to their website, responses are typically received within an hour between 8 am and 5 pm Central Time. While their blog doesn't necessarily function as a support mechanism, it contains several helpful tips for small businesses to simplify their shipping practice. In addition, it has a plethore of customer testimonials that provide a window into how other small businesses are using the solution.
As I mentioned earlier, ShipStation is an excellent niche product, one that works well in an untested space. With better integration and internationalization, ShipStation can, literally, make your small business products go places!