1) What is a Shipping API?
Shipping APIs are a fundamental part of any efficient shipping process. Proper use of Shipping API can ensure advanced automation and optimization of any ecommerce shipping operations. API stands for Application Programming Interface, and as the name suggests it is an interface through which specified programs for different applications can be configured.
An API for any given application or system is essentially a repository of knowledge for that system. The API is then programmed to carry out specific functions with the use of certain information received. For example, the YouTube API lets third-party websites display YouTube videos using the same interface as the popular video site. Similarly, carrier companies and delivery management software make use of Shipping API to perform a wide range of shipping-related tasks.
2) How Do Shipping API Work
API are units that work within a system to process information, push forward an action, allow multi-system communications, and many other tasks. Shipping APIs in particular jump into action when it comes to, you guessed it, shipping. There are a multitude of different shipping APIs for e-commerce stores that are absolutely vital to the provision of services. Don't worry, we'll go into detail about those in a bit. But first, we're going to explain exactly how various APIs for shipping operate.
The simplified explanation is that a particular activity can be programmed to trigger other functions to spring into action. However, some API for shipping work in a more complex manner that relies on chain reactions. A physical representation of some of these ecommerce Shipping APIs would be comically reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg machine.
To get a clearer picture of it (that is slightly less cartoonish) we'll take the case of one specific type of shipping API for e-commerce, the Order Tracking Shipping API. This is an API used by courier aggregators and shipping software to track ecommerce orders with carriers and send the updates to both the enterprise and the customer.
How the Shipping Tracking API works: It connects the aggregator/software with the courier system. When the courier system gets an update on an order, this shipping API is programmed to be notified. So it immediately springs into action, pulling the updated data from the carrier and handing it over to the ecommerce business via a dashboard.
This same API can also be programmed to automatically send the same data to the respective customer via different channels. These are called Pull API as they pull data from the required system. Similar to this, each shipping API is given its own function and operational requirements. Some Shipping API help in order creation, warehouse management, failed delivery responses and a variety of other shipping functions.
3) How to Use Shipping API for Ecommerce
Ecommerce businesses stand to gain a lot from using shipping APIs. As mentioned in the previous passage, they help to automate and streamline a variety of functions and keep the flow of data moving effortlessly and accurately. And the goal of these shipping APIs is to ensure shipping operations are simplified.
However, each ecommerce shipping integration needs to be carefully set up and programmed to perform its respective functions. Otherwise, you could find yourself dealing with an equally chaotic shipping process.
Accordingly, there are 3 effective ways for you to make use of shipping API integrations for your ecommerce store. The first is to build an in-house tech team. This essentially means setting up, on your own, an internal automated shipping infrastructure. So you would need to hire experts in ecommerce shipping integrations to handle everything from implementation to maintenance and upgrading.
Building this kind of internal infrastructure is not the most popular option, typically used by exceptionally large companies and marketplaces like Amazon. The cost of managing a team of this magnitude and skill level can often render the cost-cutting benefits of the shipping APIs useless.
The next best option for ecommerce businesses is to tie up with multiple carriers through an aggregator. Shipping aggregators typically make use of a preselected list of shipping APIs. So for certain basic functions, aggregators provide shipping tracking APIs and other shipping integrations.
Another easy option for automating some of the more basic functions is to make use of the free shipping API. These often come in the form of extensions and plugins. Many of these may be available as Shopify Apps in the Shopify App Store. You can also gain access to some free shipping API through existing operations management software. These include other virtual storefronts, marketplaces, WMS (warehouse management software) and ERP (enterprise resource planning).
However, for more advanced services, better maintenance and faster shipping API integration, Shipping Software is the way to go. Most shipping software also provides access to a wider range of ecommerce shipping integrations, enabling connectivity with hundreds of carriers.
Many also provide shipping APIs that perform more specialized tasks that are exceptionally important for medium to large ecommerce businesses. These include tasks related to post-purchase customer experience like automating customer communications, increasing delivery speeds, reducing delayed deliveries, and even RTO reduction.
4) Benefits of Using Shipping API
4.1) Reduce Shipping Costs
Certain types of ecommerce Shipping APIs pull data about shipping rates and pin code serviceability from various carrier systems. These are called shipping cost API. Using a certain type of ecommerce shipping integration that works with shipping cost API, along with the help of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning), the best shipping rates can be selected.
Essentially, what these shipping cost APIs do is compare the shipping rates for each order in real-time at the moment customers place an order. This allows you to select the carrier you want based on their serviceability and costs, keeping shipping rates low and delivery speeds high.
4.2) Real-Time Tracking
In the above section where we explained how shipping APIs work, the example we led with was the Order Tracking Shipping API. As we explained above, this particular ecommerce shipping integration pulls tracking information from carriers, and is hence named a Pull API.
Another Shipping Tracking API that works alongside this one is called a Push API. It basically pushes the concerned carrier to provide updates within specified time frames, thereby reducing delays in updating order statuses. The result of this is faster and more effective real-time order tracking. A lack of push APIs is another one of the many differentiating factors between shipping aggregators and shipping software (as most of the latter use push APIs).
4.3) Streamline Your Supply Chain
The main purpose of any shipping API for ecommerce is to simplify the delivery process and optimize shipping operations through automation and data collection. From the moment a customer places an order, a variety of shipping APIs need to jump into motion. API shipping primarily involves using these integrations to make first mile, mid-mile and last mile delivery operate more smoothly.
Ecommerce shipping integrations can automate a multitude of processes in your end-to-end supply chain. These include order creation, picking and packing of orders, tracking of orders, communicating with customers, and even collecting customer feedback. There are even free shipping API that integrate with Warehouse Management Systems, Inventory Management Systems and storefronts to keep things moving.
4.4) Secure Shipping Operations
In addition to simplifying certain shipping processes, discrepancies in delivery, also known as delivery exceptions, can also be identified and weeded out with the help of shipping APIs. So errors in route calculations, delayed deliveries or stuck shipments can all be addressed using a variety of shipping API integration. With the help of shipping tracking API, you can keep a close eye on each individual order as it moves across city and state lines to reach customers.
This is a hugely important mechanism for securing your shipping process. With these tracking updates coming in regularly, you can quickly find out where a delivery exception has occurred and why. This information gives you the tools you need to address the issue and not only resolve this issue, but reduce the likelihood of that particular issue arising again.
4.5) Easier Administration
A major problem faced by most ecommerce businesses when it comes to shipping is duplication of administrative efforts and inaccuracy of data. In fact, most delivery exceptions occur as a result of errors in record-keeping, for example, if a customer inputs an incorrect address at the time of checkout. API shipping protocols will automate the process of data collection to ensure such inconsistencies do not arise.
Similarly, this automation also works to reduce duplication of information and unnecessary manual efforts. For example, once a customer places an order, the order has to be created on the carrier platform by inputting order details which also need to go on an AWB and a shipping label. Using a shipping API, inputting the order details into both the carrier system and the shipping label becomes an easy automated task.
4.6) Improve Data Analytics
When it comes to using Shipping APIs, data is the name of the game. It's also the ball and the goal posts. Data plays such a huge role in logistics because it lets you know how you can keep improving your game. With the help of data analytics, logistics service providers and shipping companies have been able to determine optimal routes for delivery and reach a wider range of industries.
On the flipside, ecommerce businesses also have a lot to gain from data analytics including information about customer preferences and cost-cutting shipping mechanisms. With the help of Shipping API, more accurate information is collected on the delivery process. This means more pertinent changes can be made to shipping operations to keep them optimized and even customer experience strategies can be targeted.
5) Challenges of Using eCommerce Shipping Integration
5.1) Lack of Standardized APIs
Since shipping APIs have to be programmed to perform different functions, you’ll find a varied set of shipping APIs for ecommerce. Different tech teams would likely design these Shipping APIs in unique ways which may have a few benefits but would not be able to work uniformly across multiple platforms. This creates numerous problems when it comes to synchronization of data, updates and communications.
5.2) 3PLs Have Limited Tech Knowledge
You know the importance of having well-functioning shipping APIs for your ecommerce business. However, not all carriers and other 3rd party logistics service providers (3PLs) do. So following through on API shipping may be a tougher process if the 3PLs you’re dependent on are unable to integrate with your requisite programs.
5.3) Different API Standards Available
3PLs like carriers and transportation management companies are not often the most tech-savvy organizations as the bulk of their work revolves around operations. This usually means that they have varied and often unstructured shipping API documentation. Major complications can arise at this point as some 3PLs use different API standards. Some use SOAP, a few use Graphql, and the remaining use REST. These differentiations in shipping API standards can impact the flow of data.
5.4) Difficulties in Upgrading and Maintenance
Using Shipping APIs for ecommerce is not as simple as integration and installation alone. It is an ongoing process that requires regular checks and balances to function properly. In fact, many shipping APIs require constant maintenance. So any shipping API integration you have implemented needs to be monitored on a regular basis, both for maintenance purposes as well to ensure all updates and upgrades are in place. This is a difficult task without a dedicated team of tech experts as many of these changes occur in an unscheduled manner.
5.5) Legal and Regulatory Changes
The nature of regulations relating to shipping and delivery are in a constant state of flux. New laws and regulations are pushed out at such a fast pace, it can be difficult for you and your carriers to keep up with them. Ecommerce shipping APIs are the first to face the brunt of these changes in the legal system that impact your operations.
6) Different Types of Shipping API
6.1) Shipping Tracking API
Shipping tracking API are likely the most common one for all ecommerce businesses. As the name suggests (and as we discussed above), these shipping APIs help you pull data from carriers to track the journey of your shipments and update customers on their orders.
6.2) Warehouse API
Warehouse API, also known as warehousing API, are an absolute necessity for ecommerce businesses working on an enterprise grade level. These shipping APIs submit order information and product details to the warehouse to ensure your stock is being moved accurately.
6.3) Edit Order API
The Edit Order API is a shipping API that gives you an exceptionally important advantage in the shipping process, as this is not an ecommerce shipping API that is universally available. As you can guess from the name, with this API you will be able to edit the details of an order after it has been placed. In case of errors in delivery details, carrier details or your business details (which are quite common), this shipping API comes in very handy.
6.4) Serviceability API
There are so many carriers with such varied reaches, it can be hard to determine which one is best equipped to deliver to the location(s) you need. A Serviceability API quickly processes the pincode serviceability of each carrier you’re tied with and compares it to the order data you’ve inputted. So you can quickly determine and select which carrier has the requisite serviceability for each order placed.
6.5) Manifestation API
Order manifestation is essentially the process of order creation. Anytime an order is placed on your website/storefront, a basic Manifestation API will automatically create that order on the selected carrier’s website. This reduces all the added manual effort typically spent in creating an order on each carrier’s platform for each individual order. When you have 100+ orders a day, this is a must.
6.6) AWB Generation API
When an order is created on the respective carrier platform, an AWB needs to be generated. AWB stands for AirWay Bill, which is essentially the receipt for the order being shipped. The AWB number is the unique identifier for each order. What’s important about the AWB Generation API is that it automatically generates and assigns an AWB to each order. It can also be programmed to assign AWBs in bulk.
6.7) Label Generation API
Once an order has been placed and the AWB has been assigned, the next major step in the delivery process is to get it ready for delivery. This is done with the help of a shipping label that contains all information about to order, including the to and from addresses, business and customer details and, of course, the AWB.
For efficient order tracking, most shipping labels also have barcodes that are scanned at different points in the journey. A Label Generation API ensures that not only can these labels be generated automatically and in bulk but with greater accuracy thereby reducing delivery exceptions.
6.8) Authorization API
The Authorization API is an absolutely vital ecommerce shipping API that comes into play right after generation of the AWB and shipping label. The Authorization API is all about customer safety and security. When a customer requests a shipping label, this shipping API needs to be used to ensure the request is authenticated so the data can be passed securely. It allows you to remove the risk of customer information reaching the wrong hands.
6.9) NDR API
The NDR API is an innovative and upcoming shipping integration that specifically deals with failed delivery management. The NDR API quickly processes NDR (Non Delivery Reports) and categorizes them into buckets based on the cause. Based on these buckets, communications to customers can be made. Failed deliveries can be converted into successful deliveries more easily using this method of communication.
6.10) Cancellation API
In case an order is canceled at any point during the delivery journey, or even at the time of order receipt, it then has to be returned to the origin warehouse. The cancellation API is yet another of the few ecommerce shipping APIs that essentially creates a new order with carriers. This one specifically creates a new canceled order with the same carrier to return the item.
6.11) Return Creation API
Returning orders requires a similar process of order manifestation and order creation as orders being delivered to customers. However, it’s important to ensure that these returning orders are being created with carriers that have expertise in reverse logistics. The Return Creation API combines these two goals into a single automated process.
6.12) Pickup API
Now that we’re discussing the returning of orders, the next step after return order creation is to pick up the order. However, unlike with forward logistics, the delivery agent is not picking up the order from a warehouse but directly from the customer. To ensure the pickup goes smoothly and with minimal pickup exceptions, the Pickup API helps immensely.
6.13) POD API
POD stands for Proof of Delivery. So as you can guess, this particular shipping API enables the collection of digital proof of delivery at the time of handing over the order to customers. This API also works when it comes to proof of pickup with returns. Requisite digital photographs and signatures are collected and transmitted back to your system using this ecommerce API integration.
7) List of Top Shipping API for Tracking Shipments
Beyond the different types of shipping APIs that we mentioned above, the API integrations that you’re most likely to be dealing with, including any free shipping API, are the shipping API listed below. This list contains a combination of the leading courier API, shipping tracking API, shipping cost API, international shipping API and many other major ecommerce shipping API integrations that are most commonly used by enterprises. These shipping API integrations help automate and optimize most of the core functions in a variety of ecommerce shipping operations.
7.1) ClickPost API
ClickPost is a leading multicarrier and Shipping API integration platform that helps ecommerce companies provide ideal delivery services and post purchase customer experience. With this shipping software, you get access to the smoothest carrier integrations and can even go live with new carriers in a single day. ClickPost provides the following important services with the help of Shipping APIs:
- A single API to automate the processes of order manifestation and order creation with carriers, which also includes AWB and Shipping Label generation.
- Automated selection and allocation of carriers based on previous performance and a variety of other metrics.
- Dual API integrations (Push and Pull API) for real-time order tracking which is all displayed on a customizable Branded Returns Page.
- Send automated notifications to customers with tracking updates, including notifications regarding the delivery delay and failed delivery for delivery exceptions management.
- A self-service returns portal for customers that enables you to automatically accept or reject return requests.
7.2) DHL API
DHL is a global carrier that provides express delivery services. The beauty of this International Shipping API is that its API documentation is extremely clear and therefore easily integrated with. Most importantly, integrating with this carrier is done with the help of a Free Shipping API. Here are the salient features you can benefit from as an e-commerce business integrating with the DHL shipping API:
- Automated shipping label creation
- Use of shipping tracking APIs for updating tracking statuses
- Address validation prior to dispatch to ensure smooth delivery
- A location-finder which denotes the location of DHL service points for the sending and receiving of packages by customers
7.3) Gooten API
The Gooten API is among the most recent ecommerce Shipping API to be introduced to the market. Gooten provides bulk print on-demand services with the help of this easily integrated with API that provides community-supported documentation. While Gooten isn't a free shipping API, it is available at extremely viable rates.
Here are a few of the other shipping APIs and services offered by Gooten.
- Address Validation API to ensure successful delivery
- Shipping Tracking API which traces shipments and provides milestone based updates
- Shipping Options API which enables you to give customers a variety of delivery choices.
- Shipping Cost API, so you can reduce logistics costs by comparing estimated shipping rates
7.4) FedEx API
FedEx is one of the most well-known carriers in the world and, luckily for ecommerce businesses everywhere, it offers a very easily used shipping API at extremely fair prices. This documentation includes a multitude of ecommerce Shipping API integrations, including shipping track API, international shipping API, and many others. Here are a few of the features you can expect with the FedEx Shipping API :
- Overnight shipping services and express shipping services
- Real-time tracking updates for all shipments
- Offers a variety of ecommerce shipping services including FedEx Freight, FedEx Express and FedEx ground.
7.5) UPS Tracking API
Another major global carrier, the UPS API makes use of both SOAP and XML standards so tech expertise is still required for integration. However, the documentation is still simplified which makes implementation easy. Here are some of the features you’ll get access to with this shipping API:
- Address validation services offered on a city, street, state and zonal level
- Offers access to a UPS locator which gives the location of the nearest UPS Access Point or UPS store to the user
- Compare and contrast shipping rates (with a shipping cost API), transit times and delivery services before choosing a particular service.
- Use UPS Signature Tracking services (thanks to shipping tracking API) to get accurate tracking updates and POD at the time of delivery.
7.6) Aftership API
- Aftership is a Hong Kong-based shipping software that is known for its tracking services. It offers quick integration with the Aftership API that enables you to integrate with multiple carriers. Once implemented, this shipping API integration will give you access to this range of services:
- A shipping tracking API that tracks all orders and displays statuses on a branded tracking page
- - Sends notifications to customers with immediate tracking updates
- - Provides rules for routing and delivery
- - Automates the returns process through a separate returns portal.
7.7) ShipEngine API
ShipEngine is an ecommerce shipping solution that offers pay-per-order delivery services. The ShipEngine API is an easy shipping integration to work with and comes hand in hand with shipping tracking API and shipping cost API. As a result, you can expect the following services when using this particular shipping API:
- Comparative shipping rates for over 30 different carriers
- Creation of shipping labels at discounted shipping rates
- Address validation protocols to ensure delivery accuracy
- Order Tracking updates for orders with multiple carriers
7.8) EasyShip API
EasyShip is among the more advanced shipping software available, outranked only by a few, like ClickPost and Aftership. This shipping API integration is one of the easiest to implement as its documentation is super simple. Once you're tied up with this popular shipping software, you can take advantage of these useful features:
- A multicarrier integration platform that works with a variety of courier companies
- A shipping cost API for automated shipping label generation at lower shipping rates
- A financial tracker that operates via a cloud-based system
7.9) USPS API
USPS is one of the most prominent carriers in America, which is no surprise given the full-form of this initial is United States Postal Services. With over 50 years in the business, this free shipping API is known for having a wide reach across the country. That being said, it isn’t known for having the easiest ecommerce shipping API to integrate with. In fact, shipping integration with this carrier is not advised for companies new to the ecommerce market. In case you are experienced enough to take the risk, here’s a few of the benefits you can enjoy:
- Address Validation systems that make sure orders are delivered to the right locations
- Shipping rate calculators enabled by shipping Cost API, which includes rates determined via international shipping API as well.
- Shipping Tracking API that sends regular tracking updates to both ecommerce businesses and their customers.
- Options for scheduling pickups with carriers equipped to handle reverse logistics
7.10) EasyPost API
EasyPost is yet another high-end shipping software that operates with the help of international shipping API. One of the unique benefits of this shipping API is that you can also make use of shipping insurance for more high value orders, which is charged at 1% of the order value (with a minimum value of $1). Another added bonus is the pay-per-order scheme offered. Here are a few of the advantages offered by various EasyPost shipping API:
- Multicarrier integration that collects data and applies the same to optimize the shipping process for every order
- Shipping label creation and printing, which comes with discounted shipping rates.
- Use of a shipping tracking API to keep customers updated
- Affordable shipping insurance
- A guarantee of 99.99% uptime, which may be inclusive of system maintenance and upgrades.
Shipping APIs are a fundamental part of ecommerce supply chain operations. For every ecommerce shipping API integration that you accept into your system, you gain significant advantages over less developed companies. A major benefit of using shipping software and plugins is that it reduces the need for you to have tech expertise. That being said, there is an incredibly urgent need for all business owners to have a basic knowledge of how shipping APIs function, what are the salient features they offer, what challenges they might face while using them, and which ones offer the greatest benefit. This is what we’ve endeavored to break down for you in this article. API shipping is the cornerstone of modern logistics, providing ecommerce enterprises with an ever-evolving system that makes use of the latest advancements in the tech sphere.