What is an Inventory Data Feed?

If you are in the dropship ecommerce world you have likely heard the term “Inventory Feed” or “Data Feed” in your day to day dealings with partners and suppliers. However for those new to dropship, ecommerce, or online retail in general you may have never come across such an odd and technical-sounding term. What an Inventory Data Feed lacks in sex appeal it makes up in practicality, power, and efficiency.

A data feed essentially is what it sounds like. Data is stored in one system and it is “fed” into another system. The mechanism that accomplishes this is a “data feed”. Add the word “inventory” before that and boom! You have inventory data feeding from one system to another.

Now you may already be thinking of the next question I am going to pose…

Why Do I Need a Data Feed in Dropship Ecommerce?

To answer this question, we’ll need to think about how dropship works and why connecting inventory data is so important.

In the dropship model as outlined the diagram below, dropship online retailers advertise products for sale on their website that are actually stored in their supplier’s warehouse. The supplier sells to this retailer along with many others after the retailer receives an order from a customer. As products sell, and inventory quantities decrease with each unit sold, the online retailer has no idea if the item has been purchased by other retailers and is now sold out at the time of purchase. Unless they sync inventory quantities using… an inventory feed!


What is in an Inventory Feed?

So now that you understand the importance of an inventory data feed, let’s talk a little about what it looks like and what data you can find in it. You may have noticed a few three-letter acronyms in the diagram above. A data feed can come in many different formats and it seems they are always broken down into a three-letter acronym. They can be a placed on an FTP server. They can be simply a XML doc accessed via a direct link. You can connect to an API and pull the data needed for the feed. Finally one of the more archaic yet extremely common methods in Enterprise Retail is via EDI.

These are all just formats or “protocols” on how to store and access the data. The simplest way to think about it is in the first example as a CSV file and opening the file using a spreadsheet software like Excel. It is just rows of data with columns and headers.

Typically the “headers” or “fields” you would find are things like SKU, UPC, Price, and (obviously) Quantity. In some more data rich feeds you can also find data such as descriptions, categories, attributes, weights, and even image links.

Here is an quick snap shot image of what a feed can look like if you open it in a spreadsheet program.


In Conclusion

It is critical to connect to an inventory data feed when selling from dropship suppliers that also sell to other online retailers to avoid running the risk of selling products that are out of stock. However, it is also beneficial for uploading initial product data and auto-loading new products as they become available in the feed. Data feeds can come in all shapes and sizes and can change frequently, so leveraging dropship software that automates the connection to your store and syncing with your supplier can save you a ton of time and headaches along the way.