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How to Work With Multiple Suppliers When They All Speak Different Data Languages

Written by Marketing Team on July 1, 2020 in Strategies & Tips

Communicate With Suppliers From Around the Globe, No Matter What Data Language They Prefer

Data language

As an eCommerce retailer, communicating with new suppliers isn’t as easy as picking up the phone. You likely have several unique and complex systems amongst your various suppliers that need to be able to talk to with your data management system. Unfortunately, manufacturers and suppliers use a hodgepodge of languages including EDI, XML, Flat File, CSV, and more.

How do you translate these languages for your eCommerce business? And how can you translate multiple data languages into a streamlined experience for your customers?

In a retail marketplace that relies heavily on staying ahead of fads and providing customers with the latest trending products, that’s the million dollar question.

The Many Data Languages Used By Suppliers

many data languages


In a perfect world, suppliers and retailers would use one data language across the globe, and all orders, invoices, returns, etc. would be seamlessly processed magically on the “cloud.” Basically, that’s what your average customer imagines when they click “purchase” on your website. They expect it to arrive, without incident, at their front door in days.

But as we know, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and almost all of it is automated.

For the last two-plus decades, manufacturers and suppliers have been communicating with suppliers through the use of various data languages like EDI, CSV, Flat File, and more. Basically, these data formats enable suppliers and retailers to share data automatically and reliably. With these formats, retailers no longer have to go through the lengthy, expensive process of faxing and mailing invoices for individual orders.

Over the years, various suppliers have settled on their favorite data formats:

  • EDI (Electronic Data Exchange): This language is over 30 years old, with origins in military communications.

  • XML (Extensible Markup Language): An XML file is a plain text file that can be read by basic text editors and integrated with complex systems.

  • Flat File (unstructured file with no markup) These files can be easily shared and take up little space, but require the recipient to know exactly how it’s organized. Flat Files can be useful in conjunction with a customized API system.

  • CSV (Comma Separated Values): Often used when sharing data from a spreadsheet application like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.

Many suppliers also use XLSX, which is a data language specific to Microsoft Excel.

While these various data languages are highly efficient and customizable in and of themselves, the difficulty comes when you’re trying to pipe multiple data feeds into a single user interface. To solve this problem, many eCommerce companies have developed custom APIs for their business.

A Custom API For Communicating With Suppliers

custom API for communicating

 API stands for Application Program Interface, and it is essentially a computer program that translates incoming data for your servers to digest. APIs have thousands of uses, and it’s very likely that your eCommerce website already uses APIs for your shopping cart, order tracking, etc.

Creating a customized API to communicate and integrate with suppliers is a tried-and-true method that has worked well for years. However, it can be time and labor-intensive to troubleshoot and onboard new suppliers via your API.

An API is a great way for your servers to communicate with your suppliers’ servers, so you can gather tracking codes, shipping details, dimensions, etc. In fact, you may already be using multiple APIs to enable more efficient use of third-party systems for marketing, customer service, etc. in an effort to improve the customer experience.

When it comes to communicating with your suppliers, a custom API will allow you to translate their data feed, whether it’s flat file, CSV, or any of the data languages described above, and display it for your customers on your eCommerce site.

Drawbacks of API for Communicating With Multiple Suppliers

multiple suppliers

Perhaps the biggest drawback to utilizing a custom API solution is its cost. There’s no way around it — coming up with a custom solution yourself will require significant development hours from an in-house team of experts. Once you’ve launched your own API, there’s constant maintenance to make sure it continues to work. When you onboard a new supplier, you’ll need to make sure they can communicate with your specific API, which requires meticulous troubleshooting.

Any kind of hiccup or error in your API integrations, and you could be risking the valuable relationships with your customers you worked so hard to build.

The Future of Cloud-Based Sourcing

the future of cloud-based sourcing

Thankfully, the landscape of data communication between suppliers and retailers is shifting due to the rise in cloud-based computing. With Doba’s cloud-based platform, you can communicate seamlessly with manufacturers from around the globe, no matter what data language they prefer. Our single supplier management platform allows you to continue connecting with your current suppliers and onboard new ones at a fraction of the time you’re used to.

A cloud-based supplier management solution is the future of product sourcing.

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