The e-commerce era has been a boon for hard-working entrepreneurs. Instead of being confined to physical stores and a geographically limited customer base, shops and customers can be located anywhere in the world and still do a brisk business.
Online businesses have completely taken off, thanks to online tools like Shopify that reduce the number of start-from-scratch technical issues that shop owners have to face. Thankfully, they do not have to understand the intricacies of how data is exchanged online in order to turn a profit, but knowing a bit about this back and forth can make a big difference in how your online shop gets collects orders and payments from customers.
For online businesses, getting accurate information sent and confirmed immediately is crucial. No one wants orders delayed for days or arriving with with missing items. Or having zero order notifications for hours, only to have an avalanche of them arrive all at once.
Having smooth, organized communication about ordering activity is obviously the best way to go, and Shopify uses a technique called webhooks to make it happen without overloading your site -- or Shopify's.
Please note that this article isn't a technical piece on how your Shopify site collects data. It is simply an overview so you can better understand how you can put webhooks to work monitoring different facets of the transactions that happen in your shop.
Before webhooks were developed, your server (or your suppliers) had to pull order information from Shopify, kind of like tapping it on the shoulder to ask if there were any new orders to process. Even though these requests were automated, some stores were doing a status check-in every 5 minutes, or even as often as 30 seconds, which was creating a lot of traffic on their servers -- and hammering Shopify's servers with queries.
It may seem smart to check for orders more frequently, but an uptick in traffic, even if it's a electronic tap on the shoulder, can start clogging up the server. You can really run into problems if you're asking for orders every 30 seconds, but it takes 41 seconds for Shopify to reply. Before long, messages are getting crossed or backed up, some might be getting delayed, and soon you're not sure what's really happening.
It's as inefficient and irritating as having a shipping manager calling the sales department every few minutes to see if there's been a new order. If sales steps away from their phone for a minute or is on the line with someone else, then orders can get fumbled. And then there's the problem of tying up phone lines and needing personnel to spend their days on the phone.
Webhooks to the Rescue
Shopify started using webhooks to end this barrage, and it can work to your advantage too.
Essentially, webhooks are simple but insanely efficient notification tools. For you technical folks, they're user-defined HTTP callbacks. Instead of forcing your server to keep polling Shopify for order updates, certain webhooks tell Shopify's server to automatically send a message straight to your server every time there's an order.
Think of a webhook as your personal butler that Shopify contacts when certain actions happen in your store. You can take care of other issues in your business, and when you need to look at activity -- and details within that activity -- the webhooks will have it all collected and organized in the place of your choice.
Shopify has an extensive list of plug-and-play webhooks here that just need a URL where the data will be stored. Let me give you a few examples of how these can go to work for you.
Ordering webhooks can be set up to notify you when an order has been made, modified, cancelled, fulfilled, or when a return or refund is needed.
Cart webhooks fire when carts are created or updated.
Customer data webhooks can tell you when a customer has created, enabled, revised or deleted their account.
Product webhooks can collect information about products that have been added, changed or deleted.
Want to track what kind of merchandise is returned most often? A webhook can grab that data and add it to a Google spreadsheet.
Want certain sales numbers integrated with your accounting software? A webhook can steer that information to the correct place.
Do specific actions require an immediate response from you or your staff? Send the notification to your project management software, like Trello.
Simple or Advanced
You can put webhooks to use in your store right away using these instructions. As long as you have an accurate, functional URL for the webhook to use, you can get started.
This URL can be to your server, like we discussed, or to another server like your supplier, dropshipper or even a 3rd party service like Zapier which can send webhook data out to hundreds of apps.
Here are a few ways that webhooks can help make your business better when connected to your own private app:
- Want a text whenever someone makes a comment on your shop's blog?
- Need to know when an especially large order has been placed?
- Need to know how often a speciality item is being ordered?
- Want to log all orders in a database that you use analysis tools on?
And my personal favorite: playing a cash register "cha-ching" sound on your phone whenever you get an order.
All of this information can be collected by a webhook in a private app and stored in a way that's easy for you to access and review.
Webhooks Bring Data Directly to You
If you're just hearing about webhooks now, take a little time to think about how you could use the standard Shopify webhooks to capture and organize more information about your customers and their orders. There are hundreds of ways to use them and add incredible value to your shop.
If you're thinking about contacting a developer to build a custom app for your store, start building a list of data that you'd want to get out of Shopify and how that data can help you shape your business, communicate with customers, or make ordering more efficient.
Stop chasing data manually or guessing your shop's performance. Webhooks can serve that data to you right now, giving you real-time, granular data that creates an exceptional perspective.