Blog / Business, Tech / API

Integrating Shipment Tracking API into Your Business

  • Rating — 5 (3 votes)
  • by Ksenija Kolomiiets
  • Updated on March 18, 2021
  • Read —
    19-20 minutes

There is no doubt that technology is increasingly affecting the world of logistics. According to statistics for 2019, about 40% of carrier companies have switched to digital systems to ensure uninterrupted operation; this includes using the shipping API.

We have seen the shipment API gradually replace the popular but outdated EDI standard for electronic document exchange in recent years. Experts and supply chain executives note that many companies are still using EDI, while many are becoming frustrated with the system.

  1. Definition of shipment tracking and how it works
  2. What is the Shipping API?
  3. What is EDI delivery?
  4. Common delivery API
  5. Shipment API Integration
  6. Shipment platforms and tech providers
  7. Global cargo carriers and their shipment tracking solutions
  8. What to look for when choosing a shipping API

The shipment API gives companies more flexibility by integrating delivery functionality directly into their business systems or e-commerce website. You can customize the shipping application programming interface (API) for specific business needs and carriers to optimize order fulfillment.

Each business faces its distinct hurdles that must be overcome to improve the user experience and grow the company as a whole – understanding the variables of an effective shipping strategy and how a shipping API can help your business in the long run.

In this article, we will talk about the difference between EDI and API delivery and how the API can simplify the delivery process for both you and your customers.

Definition of shipment tracking and how it works

Tracking packages is the process of determining the status of shipping containers, mail, and postal items at different points in time during the sorting, warehousing, and delivery of packages to verify their origin and forecast and assist in delivery.

Tracking of parcels is continuously evolving as customers need to know information about the parcel route and the estimated date and time of delivery. It is especially important when delivery is carried out by several carriers in different conditions, leading to loss of shipment.

Two methods are used to locate a shipment or package. One approach is to report the arrival or departure of a parcel and record the parcel’s identity, place, time, and status. This approach has been used to track packages provided by shipping companies such as Deutsche Post, AirRoad, or FedEx. Another method is to use a GPS-based vehicle tracking system and modern beacons to locate the vehicle in which the package is located and record it in real-time.

With the development of tracking technologies for parcels, it became possible to provide more information and indicators about the package to the user at the time of transportation, in addition to reporting about essential factors for fragile or perishable content such as location, temperature, humidity, pressure, acceleration, altitude, and exposure to light at different times.

Let’s take a look at how the parcel tracking system works on the example of E-commerce:

#1 Barcode generation

The first step in the process is when the online seller hands over the product to their courier company for delivery, a barcode is generated for them and attached to it. A barcode is a unique identifier containing all the data associated with the parcel, for example, information about the receipt and destination, the buyer’s contact information, etc.

#2 Scan barcode

The next step is to download the item for delivery, the courier company scans its barcode, and this data is stored in the tracking system on the courier company’s website.

#3 Storing scanned data

After scanning the barcode, all information is saved in the courier company’s tracking system, such as when he left the courier’s warehouse, where he was intended, and so on.

#4 Receiving the product

After the parcel leaves the courier service warehouse, the shipped goods arrive at another branch of the courier agency at the buyer’s location.

#5 Re-scanning the barcode

As soon as the courier service office at the destination receives the goods, it scans the barcode and stores the parcel data in a tracking system that includes information about receipt time.

#6 Delivery of products

After the item is delivered to the end-user or customer, the tracking system is updated with the item’s delivery status (e.g., “Delivered” in this case), delivery time, recipient name, etc.

The client can track the parcel’s movement by entering the barcode number (or AWB number) on the courier company’s website. Barcode status to see the progress of the package from point to point in real-time.

One of the main advantages of a tracking system is that it reduces the likelihood of package loss, thereby improving the user experience. Tracking systems have enhanced due to the advanced technology platforms they are using now. Even if your package is thousands of miles away, you can track it with just one click.

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At every stop along the way, the label is scanned to locate the package. This data, stored in the carrier’s tracking system, can be retrieved from there through an API or other data exchange method.

As we said earlier, today, carrier companies use two methods of data exchange. Therefore, further, we will consider what these methods are and their advantages and disadvantages.

 

What is the Shipping API?

Although the API appeared more than ten years ago, it has been introduced in the world of logistics over the past few years. The shipping API, better known as Application Programming Interface, uses cloud SaaS to quickly transfer documentation and delivery data from one interface to another. This API provides flexibility in customization and operation by allowing you to integrate multiple delivery functions directly into your website.

Since every business has its own unique set of challenges and requirements, the shipping API allows each company to customize its shipping platform to suit their specific needs; it also enables shipping companies to improve order fulfillment.

The shipping API allows brands to integrate the shipping process directly into their e-commerce stores. Understanding the various variables that make up an effective shipping strategy and using the shipping API can ensure your business’s long-term success.

How does it work?

APIs provide companies with customizable solutions for a variety of shipping and logistics needs. These interfaces allow two or more applications to exchange information while displaying information to users in a single interface. It makes it much easier for transport companies to use third-party applications.

The API includes instructions for accessing Internet applications that allow the software to communicate with each other. Online retailers and shipping companies are building APIs by keeping some parts of their web software “open,” allowing other applications to integrate with it and easily exchange information.

A great example of using the Shipping API can be seen when making an online purchase. After you enter your credit card information to make a purchase, the e-commerce store uses its API to send your data to remote applications that verify your credentials. The e-commerce shipping API can transmit information within seconds, allowing you to complete a purchase quickly.

For shipping companies that want to manage their shipping documents easily, APIs integrate with various local and global couriers. You can use the UPS Shipping API to process your UPS shipments efficiently, and so on.

Need help with automated shipping solutions for your business?

What is EDI delivery?

These interfaces appeared about 30 years ago and are also used to optimize various business processes. Their main functions are delivery notifications, purchase orders, and billing. EDI sets different messaging standards that transfer data from one system to another without the need for paper.

How does it work?

EDI is still a commonly used communication technology for transferring shipping documents between systems. In addition to providing e-commerce businesses and shops with an easy and secure way to send information electronically, using a standard electronic format makes it easier for computer systems to process information.

EDI uses a variety of media to communicate; standard options include serial links and peer-to-peer networks. These solutions are programmed to provide access only to authorized users. To further address security issues, audit trails are used to track the use of such information.

Delivery APIs exist behind the scenes and serve as a link between customers and couriers. They are integral to creating a positive e-commerce customer experience as they help automate the most sophisticated online commerce aspect.

Common delivery API

The scope of shipping APIs varies by carrier and the third-party provider. For example, some operator APIs allow developers to display available self-service addresses, while others do not. In turn, third party shipping APIs support international shipping, while others do not.

However, there are three common shipping APIs: address verification, multi-carrier support, and shipping tracking.

  • Checking the address

When customers enter their address on the checkout screen, the website sends a request through the API to validate the address and identify possible shipping issues. If the address is found to be invalid or incomplete, the site will issue an error and notify the buyer of the problem.

This prevents delays or errors in delivery. It also eliminates the problems associated with removing and reprinting shipping labels and any other shipping documents.

  • Multi-carrier support

Each postal carrier has its unique advantages. For example, FedEx specializes in time-bound delivery, offering next-day and 2-3-day delivery services. UPS has offices worldwide, which means your shipment won’t needlessly go through a dozen different companies between pickup and delivery.

With the Shipping API, you can offer customers options from multiple carriers with real-time rates and shipping estimates based on their purchase and location. Customers can choose between the fastest or cheapest shipping method, whichever best suits their needs. Being able to accommodate your customers’ shipping preferences is a significant difference and can encourage shoppers to re-purchase from your store.

  • Tracking the shipment

Shipping APIs allow you to integrate real-time e-commerce order tracking information into your mobile app or website, email, or text message. Each time the package’s status changes (for example, from accepted to during delivery to delivered), the API ensures that this update is carried over to your software. You can then use this alert to trigger a notification for your customer through their preferred communication channel. This approach is highly appreciated by customers and provokes an increase in business loyalty.

Shipment API Integration

As mentioned above, delivery APIs run in your site’s background to retrieve data from external servers and display this information to customers. REST APIs are the most common and include “requests” and “responses,” where your site requests information from a server, and the server responds with that information.

Shipping API providers such as ShipEngine will post API documentation on their website that provides developers with the following information:

  1. Resources. This refers to information that the API can provide.
  2. Endpoints. This is how your site accesses the resource, and the methods are the allowed interactions.
  3. Methods. Examples of methods include GET, which is used to retrieve resources; POST creates resources; and PUT, which is used to change or replace resources.
  4. Supported parameters are criteria that you combine with the endpoint to specify the format of the response.
  5. The sample request and response objects give you an idea of ​​what the inputs and outputs should look like.

Developers use this documentation to integrate the shipping API on a website, allowing your customers to track important shipping information such as affordable prices and shipping options.

Let’s look at the most popular shipping platforms, global carriers, and their shipment tracking tools, namely what electronic document exchange standards they use and, if APIs are used, what kinds of them.

Interested how can you benefit from shipping API integration?

 

Shipment platforms and tech providers

Many technology providers link up with different operators and tracking systems. They can serve as a single source of tracking information from multiple carriers. By connecting to them via the API, you can follow the delivery performance through your carrier and display the relevant tracking data on your side, whether it’s an e-commerce tracking module or any other system.

# Shippo, the delivery software provider has several ready-to-use courier integrations. It helps integrate shipping with multiple carriers through their API and web applications. The solution compares carrier rates, generates labels, verifies address, and provides branded tracking pages and notification emails to customers.

Shippo’s carrier network includes carriers that provide regional, national, and international shipping such as DHL Express, FedEx, UPS, AxleHire, and CDL, to name a few.

The Shippo APIs do the following:

  • address validation by specifying the precision of the returned address
  • prepare international shipping documents
  • provide tracking status
  • return unused labels
  • arrange reverse logistics and returns

API connection. The Shippo REST Tracking API allows you to track shipments of all available carriers. The API keeps track of labels purchased from Shippo. It can also check the tracking status of off-platform shipments if provided by the carrier and tracking number (assuming the carrier is supported). Shippo offers complete tracking history and receives real-time tracking data. You can also set up push notifications from your carrier.

Terms. Shippo offers three pricing plans with API available for each one. The Pay As You Go plan starts at five cents per order. The professional plan starts at $ 10 per month and gives you five user accounts. Premier serves 15 of your accounts and helps you with technology adoption. At the time of writing, the first two were offering free trials.

# AfterShip: support for over 1,500 carriers

AfterShip is a Hong Kong-based startup that tracks shipments and processes returns. AfterShip can be integrated directly with the control panel. It loads delivery data into the system and alerts you at every stage of the transit path, saving you unnecessary support requests.

By integrating the AfterShip RESTful API, you will receive tracking updates from any carrier supported by AfterShip, which currently has 683 couriers.

API connection. Before you can start working with the AfterShip REST API, you need to create an account with AfterShip. Then, when you are logged in, you can generate your API key. Once that is done, you are ready to request data from AfterShip in a JSON string. It’s worth noting that AfterShip users report poor documentation on tracking page integration and the API in general.

Terms. But consider the limit: 10 requests per second from one account. Just in case, AfterShip recommends authenticating users keep the restrictions out of reach for each one. Alternatively, you can opt for an Enterprise plan with customizable API rate limits. As for other tariff plans, AfterShip has a reasonably large assortment of them. Your choice will depend on the number of tracks you do monthly. You get API access even with the Forever Free plan, which lets you track 50.

AfterShip also has a tracking widget called Track Button that you can add to your site with a few code lines. With the tracking button on your website, your visitors need to enter their tracking number to track their delivery.

# EasyPost: SOAP XML Tracking API for 100+ Carriers

EasyPost is a dedicated shipping API provider that works with over 100 carriers worldwide.

API connection. Take the first step by registering an account with EasyPost. You can test the EasyPost tracking solution before making any decision. SOAP / XML Carrier Tracking APIs with tracking, rating, address verification, and insurance functionality.

For tracking, EasyPost creates a Tracker object with all the tracking information associated with the package. It is the case if you purchase shipping labels through EasyPost. Otherwise, you will have to create a Tracker yourself to enable tracking via the EasyPost API. To do this, you will need to provide the tracking code and the associated carrier. The latter is optional and can be detected automatically.

Terms. Tracking packages not sent via EasyPost will cost you one penny per package. If you are sending 10,000 parcels a month, EasyPost offers you special discounts.

Global cargo carriers and their shipment tracking solutions

In addition to technical providers, you can also integrate with individual carriers, so further, we plan to consider several of them. The main thing is remembering that using these APIs will only receive information from one carrier, not as from technology providers.

Maersk is one of the largest transportation operators. This carrier has both sea and land transport at its disposal. Maersk digital tracking solutions include:

  • Web solution. After entering the platform, you can manage your delivery online: find out the price, book shipments, send documents, and track the cargo.
  • Maersk Shipment app. This mobile solution has features such as instant booking, shipping management, requesting a quote, scheduling, tracking, and sharing transport plans and container lists.
  • Maersk Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) package. EDI links Maersk systems to yours, allowing you to manage your shipments from your own system. It makes it faster and easier to exchange data such as transport and customs documents.

CMA CGM is a French container shipping company with over 500 vessels that provides  EDI and API integration.

EDI connection. Like other major players in the market, the company provides EDI to track containers and get additional shipping information, including timetables, booking confirmation, invoice, etc.

API connection. Besides EDI, the company offers an API solution. Unfortunately, there is no documentation available online, so you need to contact CMA CGM directly.

What to look for when choosing a shipping API

#1 Carriers & Fulfillment

One way to measure the success of a delivery API is the number of carrier integrations. The more carriers you have, the more likely your shipping API will scale with your business. Also, the long list of partners and carrier integrations attests to the API’s stability and reliability.

As we said earlier, there is Open API, they are also free APIs, and there are those, the documentation for the integration of which is available exclusively on request, and you have to pay for their use. There are three generally accepted types of payments:

  • Pay as you go: Pay per shipment – typically $ 0.01 to $ 0.05 per shipment.
  • Subscription: A subscription-based plan typically allows you to send between 5,000 and 10,000 shipments per month.
  • Volume-based: An agreed plan typically targeted at large customers with more than 5,000-10,000 shipments per month. Additional support and advanced features can be included at this level of the plan.

#2 Speed

The time it takes to receive an API response is almost invisible to humans. But once you start making hundreds or thousands of calls per hour, the delay becomes more noticeable. The API call should take a split second. Anything that takes more than 0.5 seconds can have a significant impact on your workflow.

#3 Limits and Rates

The number of calls you are allowed to make to the system API endpoints over a while (often per minute or hour) is your speed limit. Once you exceed your speed limit, error (429) Too Many Requests will be returned. The number of API calls you are allowed to make varies from system to system. However, if your business exceeds your current rate limit, you can pay to increase it. (Note that one call does not equal one order. A single API call can update thousands of shipments.)

#4 Old Tech (carriers) vs. New Tech (shipping API)

Shipment providers are not always in a hurry to update their digital resources and tools to new RESTful APIs, for example. Building a direct carrier integration may require working with the tedious old SOAP APIs, XMLRPC, or even older EDIs. Be sure to check the technologies with the carrier, the API of which you want to integrate into your website.

Conclusion

The creation of an automated system for processing orders and organizing delivery is necessary for the owners of online stores or when the production process is organized in different cities. It is essential to track the movement of goods between them to focus on developing their business. Having all the information and tools you need helps ensure the best possible quality with the shipping API.

Using the shipping API, you can streamline the entire process and stay ahead of your competition by efficiently delivering goods to many regions and countries around the world.

The shipping API, better known as Application Programming Interface, uses cloud SaaS to quickly transfer documentation and delivery data from one interface to another. This API provides flexibility in customization and operation by allowing you to integrate multiple delivery functions directly into your website.
Shipping providers should provide API documentation with the following information:

  • Resources. This refers to information that the API can provide.
  • Endpoints. This is how your site accesses the resource, and the methods are the allowed interactions.
  • Methods. Examples of methods include GET, which is used to retrieve resources; POST creates resources; and PUT, which is used to change or replace resources.
  • Supported parameters are criteria that you combine with the endpoint to specify the format of the response. The sample request and response objects give you an idea of what the inputs and outputs should look like.

Developers use this documentation to integrate the shipping API on a website, allowing your customers to track important shipping information such as affordable prices and shipping options.

#1 Carriers & Fulfillment One way to measure the success of a delivery API is the number of carrier integrations. The more carriers you have, the more likely your shipping API will scale with your business. Also, the long list of partners and carrier integrations attests to the API's stability and reliability. As we said earlier, there is Open API, they are also free APIs, and there are those, the documentation for the integration of which is available exclusively on request, and you have to pay for their use. There are three generally accepted types of payments. More information you will find in the article.

#2 Speed. The API call should take a split second. Anything that takes more than 0.5 seconds can have a significant impact on your workflow.

#3 Limits and Rates. The number of calls you are allowed to make to the system API endpoints over a while (often per minute or hour) is your speed limit. Once you exceed your speed limit, error (429) Too Many Requests will be returned. The number of API calls you are allowed to make varies from system to system.

#4 Old Tech (carriers) vs. New Tech (shipping API). Shipment providers are not always in a hurry to update their digital resources and tools to new RESTful APIs, for example. Building a direct carrier integration may require working with the tedious old SOAP APIs, XMLRPC, or even older EDIs. Be sure to check the technologies with the carrier, the API of which you want to integrate into your website.

Streamline your business processes with shipping API. Don't know how?

 

Ksenija Kolomiiets Expert & Evangelist in business optimization tools like fintech, logistics, on-demand services apps who will help you to understand the core ideas of the outlined themes by my articles. I also have great expertise in social media and education platforms so let me know "in comments" if you want me to describe a theme you're interested in.

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