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What is a shipment tracking API?

Published on: September 13, 2023

Updated: November 21, 2023

A Shipment Tracking API (Application Programming Interface) is a powerful tool that bridges your ecommerce platform with shipping carriers’ tracking systems.

Shipment tracking APIs are especially useful for ecommerce, because orders typically go through several stages and transit points before they make it to their final destination. A shipment tracking API fetches these updates and presents them on your platform in real-time, so your customers are kept informed on the status of their orders.

Essentially, this API enables merchants to implement parcel tracking automation and streamline their processes for providing order updates to customers.

Ultimately, a shipment tracking API helps you offer a better customer experience—which is where the real value lies. A shipment tracking API goes beyond parcel tracking; it’s about providing transparency to customers, instilling trust, and cultivating brand loyalty.

And in an age where customer experience is paramount, winning the post-purchase journey is a must. In fact, research by McKinsey found that 76% of consumers will switch brands if they’re unhappy with the retail experience.

How does a shipment tracking API work?

The inner workings of shipment tracking APIs can vary, depending on the applications involved. Broadly speaking, however, here are some of the key steps involved.

  • Shipment creation. When a shipment is created, a unique tracking number is assigned by the carrier. This tracking number is shared with your ecommerce platform.
  • Data flow and exchange. The shipment tracking API facilitates the transfer of this tracking number between your ecommerce system and the carrier’s parcel monitoring system.
  • Logging updates. As the package moves through various stages of the delivery process (pickup, in-transit, out for delivery, delivered), these status updates are logged by the carrier’s system.
  • Fetching updates. The shipment tracking API frequently requests these updates from the carrier’s system.
  • Sharing updates. The fetched data is then sent back to your ecommerce platform and translated into a format that’s understandable to your customers.
  • Customer interface. The ecommerce tracking updates are sent to your customers through your branded assets and communication channels. The objective is to provide shoppers with real-time visibility of their package’s status and estimated delivery time. This can come in the form of:

How do I integrate a shipment tracking API into my ecommerce platform?

shipment tracking analytics - integrating shipment tracking API

Steps to integrate shipment tracking APIDescription
Obtain API accessMay involve creating an account with the API provider
Review API documentationGo through the API documentation and identify the steps and requirements for making API requests
ProgrammingCreate the code to integrate into the API
TestingRun tests to ensure that the API is working correctly
DeploymentGo live with the API integration and monitor its performance

The exact steps to integrate a Shipment Tracking API into your ecommerce platform may vary depending on the specific API and the applications that you’re using—i.e., your ecommerce platform, order management system, ecommerce marketing automation software, etc.

At parcelLab, for example, the API setup is part of the process for implementing our post-purhase experience platform. The parcelLab team also does the heavy lifting when it comes to setting up the data transfer via RESTful API.

Other providers may have a more self-serve set up, which may involve the following steps.

  1. Obtaining API access. You may need to create an account with the provider and register for API access. This process usually involves agreeing to terms of service, and it often provides you with an API key, a unique identifier required for making API requests.
  2. Review the shipment tracking API documentation. Thoroughly read the API’s documentation. It should provide detailed instructions on how to integrate the API into your platform, the endpoints to use for different functions, the request format, and how to handle the response data.
  3. Programming. Your development team (or hired developers) can write code to integrate the API into your existing platforms. This code will be responsible for making requests to the API using the tracking numbers of shipments and then handling the response data.
  4. Testing. Run rigorous tests to ensure that the API is working correctly and providing the right tracking information. Check that the data displayed on your platform matches the data from the shipping carrier.
  5. Deployment. Deploy the features across your platform. Be sure to monitor the performance to ensure everything is working smoothly.

Why having the right API is crucial

shipment tracking process - why having the right API is crucial

Having the right API is crucial because it can significantly enhance the overall efficiency and user experience of your ecommerce platform. It can also make you more efficient so you can reduce ecommerce business expenses.

Firstly, it elevates operational efficiency by automating updates and connecting disparate systems, like your ecommerce platform and a shipping carrier’s tracking system. This increased transparency not only leads to higher customer satisfaction but also helps maintain a positive standing with entities like the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which advocates for transparent business practices.

And if you do business across borders, aligning your processes with the guidelines set by the Department of Commerce can facilitate smoother international transactions—and having the right shipment tracking API can make this easier.

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