What haven’t I seen in the cloud – music, services, payments, (dreadful photos) and now even logistics. One such shipment service provider, which has now made it in the online print sector too, is called shipcloud. I have taken a closer look at what it does.
Almost exactly a year ago I talked about the “Physical API” online print business model and on a related note mentioned the start-up shipcloud as a multi-carrier solution for logistics requirements. At the end of last year the millionth shipping label was produced on the Hamburg-based firm’s platform and the company, which was established in 2013, now serves more than 2,600 users.
The principle behind this model can basically be explained very quickly and onliners have been familiar with this concept for several years in the form of payment service providers handling payments. shipcloud is a shipment service provider and handles shipments. shipcloud enters into partnerships with the largest logistics and shipping service providers and interlinks these via an interface (REST API). This API is so flexible that it can (now) be integrated into practically all established store systems as well as into ERP systems. Store operators integrate the API into their stores and thus benefit from the prices that shipcloud has negotiated with the shipping service providers or utilize their own contracts. When orders are received in its store, the online print company retrieves these orders via the API and selects the shipping service provider it wants to commission. On the one hand it obtains an overview of pricing and on the other an outline of what services the provider offers, e.g. express, collection or even returns.
Once a carrier has been commissioned, i.e. had an order assigned to it by a shipper, the shipping labels can be printed out and the track & trace function can be utilized. That’s about it as far as the benefits to online store operators are concerned. It’s ideal that end-customers can choose from a pool of logistics service providers, because they usually know better than most which are the best carriers in their region, because not all carriers are the most reliable in every country or region.
The shipcloud idea was born of “necessity”, relates Claus Fahlbusch, co-founder and CEO of shipcloud GmbH. “Like most really great ideas, the shipcloud one was generated in a pretty relaxed atmosphere. That is when we have breakfast together with the entire team, which we still do to this day. We previously operated an online store for exclusive watches with the original members of the team and experienced at close quarters just how problematic it was as a small merchant dealing with the major logistics service providers. The problem delivered the solution.” The two CEOs, Stefan Hollmann and Claus Fahlbusch, currently operate with a team of ten, and that team is set to grow further, given the almost monthly announcements of new partnerships with service providers or ERP/store systems. Familiar online print customers of shipcloud include printmate and mimeo.
The cloud service comes in 3 different packages and billing is performed on a monthly basis direct with shipcloud. The Basic package offers up to 100 shipments per month and max. 1000 API requests and can be tested for free in the first month, after that it costs 9.99 Euros/month. The Plus package is available at 24.90 Euros/month (500 shipments, 3000 API requests) and the Premium package at 49.90 Euros/month (1000 shipments, unlimited API usage). Total costs are a combination of the standing charge for the cloud service package selected and the costs for the shipping labels or service depending on which carrier is used.
“Shipcloud is a simple, flexible and versatile service, for all those who want greater choice and are apprehensive about single tie-ups, this solution is definitely well worth considering.” – Bernd Zipper
Of course shipcloud is not the only provider operating along these lines. Similar solutions are provided by LetMeShip, Metapack or Packlink PRO. But I like shipcloud, because the idea is simply how I would want software or cloud solutions to be – smart & simple – a simple, flexible and versatile service. No complicated modules where you don‘t know where one finishes and the next one starts and a dashboard that keeps you in the overall picture and enables you to communicate direct with hotline customers. Some online print providers have certainly already negotiated better rates with their carriers, but for all those who want greater choice and are apprehensive about single tie-ups, this solution is definitely well worth considering. Furthermore shipcloud is currently increasing its appeal to larger online stores, although the latter were not originally its target audience (these were small and mid-sized stores), but this development could have a positive impact on the network and on pricing.
And what is shipcloud planning in the near future? “We are working on some really exciting innovations, to make multi-carrier shipping even more convenient for our clients and to give them the technical opportunity of competing with the eCommerce big boys. A key issue for us continues to be internationalization. But that is less of a technology problem, more of an issue of negotiating with the logistics service providers. In Europe you sometimes feel like an eCommerce diplomat,“ Claus Fahlbusch relates with North German composure.
My Take: shipcloud therefore represents just the start of the future process of digital integration in the logistics sector. A lot will happen in the next two years to ensure that this market speeds up and features greater transparency – not just in terms of the linkage between stores and logistics service providers but also with ERP systems. At any rate these innovative logistics service providers need to be involved in modern online print providers‘ shipping planning processes. They can certainly benefit from the inexpensive rates …