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How does BigCommerce Inventory Management work?

Jul 26, 2023

In this blog post:

How does Inventory Management for BigCommerce save time?

Online merchants who source their products from third-party vendors (or suppliers) always have the problem of keeping their store's product catalog in sync with the constantly changing product information from their vendors. Inventory management software provides the bridge between the vendor and BigCommerce. By keeping the product catalog updated automatically on a regular basis, it can save the merchant huge amounts of time of tedious, manual data entry, thereby freeing up time for more productive activities like marketing and product selection.

Who does not need Inventory Management?

Merchants who are manufacturers of their own products, who create custom products, or those who sell digital products, do not need inventory management feeds. These merchants typically curate their product catalogs directly in BigCommerce, and do not depend on a third-party supplier.

What does Inventory Management data look like?

When thinking about inventory management data, it is useful to break it down by function into the following four parts:

The SKU (also known as Product ID, Part Number, Stock Code, etc.) is a unique identifier for each distinct product. It is typically either a number, or a short, abbreviated alpha-numeric value.
The SKU serves a critical function in matching up data from the vendor to data in the BigCommerce product catalog.
To avoid matching issues, the BigCommerce product catalog should contain the SKUs exactly as they are found in vendor data, whether in the actual SKU field or a custom field.
BigCommerce merchants who source from multiple vendors/suppliers also need to include the vendor name in their catalog, typically in the bin_picking_number field.
Inventory quantity and price
Price and quantity are different from other inventory data in that it is a small amount of data that is subject to frequent changes. Updates are quick, and need to run frequently.
By contrast, product images are a very large amount of data that is rarely updated. This typically does not need to be updated, but is only needed when products are initially added. Processing multiple, high-resolution images for thousands of items can take a long time.
Product descriptors, or everything else
Product descriptors are all the other attributes of the product. The most important pieces for SEO purposes are title/name, description, category, brand, manufacturer part number (MPN), global trade item number (GTIN), 12-digit universal product code (UPC), dimensions, weight, size, and color.
Functionally, this data is typically only used when products are added, with the additional step that the merchant manually adjusts the titles and descriptions for search engine optimization.

How does the merchant sync the inventory with a feed?

From the merchant's perspective, the inventory updates done by an automated feed service like ours are ‘set it and forget it’, meaning the updates run automatically on a schedule, and the merchant does not need to do anything. The inventory management software fetches the product data from the vendor and uses that to update the BigCommerce product catalog using the rules set by the merchant.

For merchant's who need more control over the process, there is a two step process:

  1. Merchant uploads the supplier/vendor data file (XLS, CSV, XML, etc.) to an FTP site
  2. Merchant logs into their dashboard and clicks the Submit button for the desired feed

What is needed to set up an Inventory Management feed?

Inventory management feeds require significant, up-front setup work. However, once set up and tested thoroughly, they work reliably with little maintenance. The following items must be identified to set up inventory management:

  1. The supplier/vendor data location (FTP, SFTP, HTTP, email, etc.)
  2. The common SKU that acts as a link between the product catalog and the vendor data
  3. The operations to perform on the product catalog, such as Create, Update, Delete, Mark Discontinued, Do Nothing, etc.
  4. The frequency of updates
  5. The business rules, such as price markups
  6. The backup/restore functionality, if any

What algorithm does an Inventory Management feed follow?

Inventory management feeds follow an Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) design pattern.

In this step, the software will fetch the product data and import it into a local database.
If there are multiple, related files, they will be merged into a single table
In this step, the raw source data is transformed into BigCommerce create and update Application Programming Interface (API) commands, using the business rules defined by the merchant.
In this final step, the API commands generated by the Transform step are executed, errors handled, and all results are logged.

In our dashboard, the Refresh button will complete the Extract and Transform steps, and API commands will be visible in the Product List/Detail. This allows the merchant to review all operations before they are actually executed.

The Submit button runs all three steps, Extract, Transform, and Load. This ensures that the latest data is used for each update.

How can I find out more about Inventory Management product feed services?

If you are a BigCommerce merchant struggling with inventory management, hopefully the above information will help you learn more about what is inventory management for BigCommerce, and whether it might be right for you.

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