Prior to the advent of shipping APIs, shipping management for online businesses was entirely manual. This meant that for every order placed, you’d have to input customer information to create shipping labels one by one. This manual system is not only a time-consuming process—it’s also highly prone to human error, and requires extreme care and vigilance.
Now, thanks to shipping APIs, you can automate the entire process with the click of a button.
And while many carriers—including Royal Mail, DPD, UPS, FedEx, and DHL—offer their own shipping APIs, this isn’t always convenient for eCommerce companies who have multiple logistic partners, as integrating multiple shipping APIs into one eCommerce system can be both taxing and complicated. It’s also not a great choice for those not backed by a team of developers.
Thankfully, there are shipping API options for PrestaShop site owners on a budget, and for those who want a simple, clear-cut solution for their shipping needs.
What is an API?
If you’ve ever used a popular social media post queueing program, such as Hootsuite or RADAAR, you’ve used an API. If you’ve ever created an account with a website by logging into your Facebook or Google account, you’ve used an API. If you’ve ever paid for an online purchase using PayPal—you guessed it. You’ve used an API.
In layman’s terms, an API—or, Application Programming Interface—is a system that allows two applications to communicate with each other. Think of it as a middle-man between two applications speaking different languages.
Now, this may sound confusing, but an API is designed to make your life easier.
In the context of shipping APIs, you have two systems: your eCommerce site, and the carrier’s system. With a shipping API configured, your system says to the carrier, “I have this order to ship. It weighs this much, has these dimensions, is going to this customer, and requires this service.”
The carrier’s system receives this communication, then replies, “Okay! We’ve logged that on our system, and we’ll bill you for the postage. Here’s your shipping label!”
Every shipping API is different, and until recently, they required immense technical knowledge, or help from a team of developers. Creating a bespoke shipping API add-on (or, module) for your PrestaShop site from scratch would cost at least £5,000 – £10,000—that is, for a simple, budget-range shipping API. A more complex one would cost you even more.
Now, you can purchase a pre-configured shipping API—a ready-made module from the PrestaShop marketplace that only requires installation—for just a few hundred pounds. This will save you thousands in development costs.
Plus, you don’t have to be a tech whiz to use one. Pre-configured shipping APIs take all of the expensive customisation and development out of the picture, leaving you with a program that’s ready to use right off the bat.
What do shipping APIs do?
Shipping APIs allow you to automate the entire shipping process by automatically generating shipping labels using the customer data, order information, and product details stored in your PrestaShop back-end. Label generation can be done in a single click from your PrestaShop BackOffice.With a shipping API, you can easily cancel and edit shipments. You can also easily alter customer details as needed. This means no more manual data entry, and no more human error!
Who should use shipping APIs?
Shipping APIs are usually geared towards mid-sized (or larger) eCommerce businesses who process dozens of orders per day, where it would be easy to make mistakes when packing and shipping orders. Even so, shipping APIs are used by even the smallest of Etsy stores—so, if you’re looking for a simpler solution for shipping, an API is your best bet, no matter the size of your store.
Royal Mail says that shipping APIs are designed for tech-savvy business owners and those backed by a development team. But of course, this leaves out the less tech-literate among us, when these are likely the people who most need a shipping API.
This is where pre-configured shipping API modules come in.
Thankfully, you don’t need to be tech-savvy or backed by an expensive development team to use a pre-configured shipping API module. Once installed, the pre-configured shipping API will do the technical work for you.
Preparing your Site for a Shipping API
When it comes to preparing your PrestaShop site for the installation of a shipping API module, you won’t have to do much—but there are a few important items of note that you’ll have to configure yourself in BackOffice beforehand to avoid any issues when it comes time to ship.
Above all else, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve inputted the correct weight and dimensions for each of your products before using a shipping API in your store. This is because the program will automatically gather the weight and dimensions of the products in a given order and send these details to the carrier’s system, which will generate the cost of your shipment based on these measurements.
It’s pivotal to ensure you have the correct values entered into these fields to avoid being over or undercharged for your shipping labels, and to avoid your parcels being rejected or returned to you for having inadequate postage. Without configuring your products beforehand, your shipping API won’t have the correct data when it communicates with the carrier’s system.
Cons of Relying on Shipping APIs
There aren’t any cons to using shipping APIs, but there are a select few downsides to relying on them.
Aside from the occasional bug in the API itself (which can usually be negated by having a pre-configured module), there are rarely instances where one side of the communication—on the carrier’s end—is disrupted by a service outage. This can happen when an internal or external force causes communication from the carrier to stop, such as issues with the carrier’s web server.
Luckily, even in the rare instances when there’s a service outage on the carrier’s end, you still won’t have to revert to manual shipping. Most major carrier services, such as Royal Mail, DPD, and DHL, offer backup solutions, where you can upload your shipments to their system via a single CSV file.
A CSV file is essentially a spreadsheet-like document containing all of your configured files, shipment details, and customer data, which can be uploaded to the carrier’s system when there is an outage. While shipping in this instance will take more effort than your simple one-click label generation, it’s still a far cry from entirely manual shipping.
Conclusion: Shipping Made Easier
Shipping APIs take manual data entry out of the shipping process, removing any opportunities for human error. And with a pre-configured shipping API module on your PrestaShop site, you can get a working, high-end, universal program that’ll cost you thousands less than one that’s tailor-made for you by a development team.
While configuration requires a small amount of preparation, shipping APIs simplify what was once a time-consuming and inevitably error-ridden process, replacing manual effort with single-click label generation and easy shipping management tools. For this reason, just about anyone can manage their PrestaShop site with a shipping API—no technical wizardry needed!