February 11, 2016
The wine eCommerce business is a tricky one due to the many laws and regulations surrounding the product category. When our client approached us to integrate compliance software into an existing eCommerce solution to create both a seamless shopping experience for users, and an automated process for the business itself, we knew there would be a variety of challenges that a bottle of wine alone could not solve.
The first order of business was to discuss the requirements for the project. What are the non-negotiables?
For any eCommerce project it is important to lay out what the requirements are for completing this project. It may be items related to the technology used or may be related to features. Whatever it is, requirements are essential to help both the client and the agency understand what the baseline is for a successful project.
Below is a list of some of the requirements we were dealing with for this particular project:
ShipCompliant was the compliance software we were were integrating with.
ShipCompliant is a leader in the wine, beer and spirits industry for compliance software. ShipCompliant offers a variety of tools that take the burden of age verification, address checks, tax reporting, and fulfillment management, to name a few, off of a company’s plate. Uproot Wines, our client, already worked with ShipCompliant, and wanted to continue using the software.
This was not to be a generic or traditional wine eCommerce site.
For Uproot Wines, it was vital to present themselves as a cutting-edge company that happens to sell wine, as opposed to the other way around. Based on this requirement we had to eliminate the option of using two of the content management systems that had pre-existing integrations with ShipCompliant, VineSpring and Vin65. These platforms are very limited in the amount of customization that can be done to the overall experience. We did not want our limitations from these systems dictate the decisions we made from a design perspective. Out of this mindset, the need grew for a custom solution.
A SaaS solution was desirable.
The Uproot team had limited resources to keep the website up and running, so it was important to use a solution that made for easy updates and order management. We looked into a number of SaaS eCommerce platforms, as described below, to help determine the right fit.
With the requirements laid out we were off and running completing research to determine the right eCommerce fit.
Finding the Right eCommerce Solution
For any eCommerce project it is vital to pick the best technologies to lay the foundation for the platform. We knew right off the bat it was important to use a trusted SaaS solution, one that would require minimal dev. ops knowledge and could be easily maintained by the client in the future. As a younger company with limited resources, the platform needed to be both robust and easy to use.
After looking into a number of eCommerce options, we landed on Shopify Plus. Shopify is a well established eCommerce solution with a great community of users, and a wonderful support staff. When building a custom integration it makes a difference when you know you have access to a support team for the platform. This allows you to bounce strategic ideas off of them, and to ensure that you never go too far into a direction that simply won’t work. Shopify Plus is an enterprise version of the software that allows for the greatest flexibility and customization, so it would allow our team to tailor the checkout flow as desired.
Once we were sure Shopify Plus was the right decision, the build phase began.
Creating the Custom Integration
The custom integration between Shopify and ShipCompliant had been attempted in the past, according to the ShipCompliant team, but it had never been successful. This news did not frighten us, but instead motivated us to find a solution.
We had one developer dedicated to this custom integration, while a team of two additional developers worked on the remainder of the site.
Using the ShipCompliant API and Shopify’s embedded SDK, we were able to create a custom private Shopify app bridging the two services.
Here is a general sense of how this integration works:
A user is ready to check out on the website. Prior to being able to successfully complete checkout, they must pass the first level of age verification built into the site. When a user places an order for the first time, they are asked to enter their birthday. If the entered birthday demonstrates they are under the legal drinking age (21 years old), they are unable to purchase via the site, and see an error message explaining to them why this is so. In addition, they must choose a shipping address within the states that Uproot is able to ship to. If a user chooses a state outside of the region that Uproot has licenses to ship to, they receive an on-screen prompt letting them know they are unable to get product shipped there.
If a user does pass the age verification test they are able to complete their purchase.
Once placed by a user on the frontend of the site, an order is fed into the admin dashboard of Shopify. Immediately that order triggers the compliance check, via the custom ShipCompliant API integration. If there are any issues with the order they will appear within the details for that order. Issues may arise if there is an age verification issue on the ShipCompliant level, a problem with the shipping address, or a number of other flags that ShipCompliant can throw. If that is the case, the Uproot staff can remedy this in a variety of ways, by updating the order information, or by reaching out to the customer to determine the best course of action.
Uproot Wines specifically requested that credit card information be authorized automatically, but to be captured manually. The staff has the ability to go into the Shopify admin panel and manually capture any outstanding orders.
The Uproot staff then has the ability to choose the fulfillment location they want to use for that specific order. With multiple fulfillment locations, the ShipCompliant integration allows Uproot to connect and send orders to all of the warehouses they work with all using a simple dropdown.
At that point the order is sent to fulfillment and a confirmation is sent to the customer. The order information is fed into ShipCompliant for tax reporting purposes and the process is complete.
There were a number of challenges that arose as we moved through this custom integration project. All of these challenges forced us to be creative to come up with workable strategies.
The two largest challenges we had to overcome included:
Working with API documentation that had not been updated. While ShipCompliant does offer an API, the documentation for that API was very limited, and rather outdated. We had to work very closely with the ShipCompliant team, and even prompted them to make some updates to their API based on our feedback to ensure everything worked smoothly.
Custom tax rates – there are unique tax rates for not only every state, but every county and every city as it relates to liquor taxes! Shopify does not yet allow uploads of custom tax rates – due to that we had to manually enter all of the tax rates. This was a time consuming process, but one that needed to get done.
Putting it to Work
Uproot Wines launched just over a year ago, and the results have been tremendous. The integration has ensured that the business runs smoothly even with a small team. In just four months Uproot received a 100% ROI. There was a 25% increase in conversion rate and a 30% decrease in bounce rate with the launch of the new site. Even more exciting is the fact that we were able to tackle a custom integration that had never been done before.
Be sure to check out the site at drinkuproot.com!
Words by Caroline Dau. Senior Producer at Verbal+Visual.