Jay Manciocchi | Sr. Marketing Communications Manager
August 14, 2014

Retail Industry APIs and API Management: Helping Us Shop Til’ We Drop

 

Retailers constantly strive to attract new customers and reach operational precision. However, it has become increasingly difficult for them to achieve these core goals via traditional methods, not to mention execute effectively across multi-channel strategies. Most retailers have discovered that they need to meet increasing consumer expectations and create personalized shopping experiences across web and mobile channels in order to drive engagement and, ultimately, conversions. That’s why many retailers are leveraging application program interfaces (APIs) to enable the development and management of full-featured applications for customers, partners, and vendors.

Historically, most retail industry applications were connected by proprietary protocols and were often highly distributed. But, with the advent of mega online retailers and trends toward expanding geographic distribution, the demand for APIs has surged. At the same time, retailers around the world face significant pressure to cycle through inventory as quickly as possible. Aggressively managing inventory supply chains has become more challenging because consumers have more access to online shopping opportunities than ever before. They can easily purchase products anytime, anywhere, and from virtually any internet-enabled device.

Retailers have responded to this environment by accelerating inventory cycles and gaining greater visibility on partner websites to maximize the exposure of their available inventory. Their ability to quickly implement secure APIs that enable innovative sales opportunities and aggressive supply chain management can deliver advantages in competitive markets.

At the same time, customers expect retailers to have the items they want in stock. If a retailer doesn’t have it in stock, the shopper may simply turn to another online market or similar storefront that carries the same product. Brand loyalty and reoccurring retail business can easily be disrupted if there are breakdowns in a supply chain. The use of APIs and the ability to accelerate integration with partner systems not only helps retailers increase sales opportunities, but it also helps them gain greater visibility over purchasing patterns and supply chain demands.

Primary Uses of APIs in the Retail Industry

Retailers now attempt to engage buyers wherever they may be—whether they’re in a brick and mortar store, shopping on computer, or surfing deals on their smartphones. They use their API programs to personalize online experiences, enhance customer service, and some even offer shopping cart management features, as well.

Multi-channel retailers endeavor to give their customers the most immersive shopping experiences possible. Their customers’ online experiences are increasingly location-specific and tailored to each shopper’s identity and buying history. APIs have become key to ensuring consistent shopping experiences across multiple retail channels. The very best API programs offer a much faster online experience to app users. Retailers with solid API programs spend considerable time optimizing their backends and proxies by using caches and other features.

The most common retail services exposed as APIs include:  store locator services, which help online buyers discover physical storefronts; product catalogs, which shoppers search for and learn more about products and services; and order services, which help users place and check the status of their online orders.

APIs can have an even greater impact on retail markets that feature products with shorter shelf lives. For example, both clothing and perishable goods retailers are aggressively deploying APIs. Ensuring the delivery of food products with minimized spoilage requires an data-centric approach to supply chain management. Food service retailers and grocery stores both depend on real-time information about product availability. In this environment, innovative APIs into third-party applications can also yield a competitive advantage.

The Importance of API Management for Retailers

In the world of APIs, what is often less discussed is how essential a sound API management strategy is to the success of a retail API program (and relatedly, to the success of a retailer’s mobile channel). While opening data and services through an API is great start, a retailer also needs to make sure that their API is secure, well observed and presented coherently to ensure that it has a significant impact. A retailer’s API traffic needs to be monitored and controlled to make sure that developers using the API do not overload their system(s).  And, in turn, the developers that use the API should have a one-stop shop for any needs or concerns they may about the API through a developer portal.

A retailer’s API is a way for them to expand and grow their business beyond traditional, controlled channels. If managed and structured well, the API program has the potential to significantly increase sales, brand awareness, and grow the retailer’s overall the customer base.  An API program could become one of the most important tools for a retailer’s business growth; but, only if it is treated like an active product. And, like all products, it needs to be carefully monitored and promoted. Without a proper API management solution, a retail API will likely be no better than a poorly designed website.

Conclusion

Today, APIs are becoming increasingly commonplace in retail operations that offer multi-channel experiences through mobile apps, in-store kiosks, and personalized in-store services. Recognizing that APIs are active products that have to be managed is essential for a retailer that endeavors to have a successful API program. Intel® Mashery™’s API Products and Services Portfolio provides all of the necessary API creation, management and orchestration features necessary to meet multi-channel retail goals. By adopting Intel’s proven policies and procedures for managing secure APIs, retailers can aggressively scale their initiatives and potentially reach more customers than ever before.

To learn more about Intel® Mashery™’s API Products and Services Portfolio, please visit services.intel.com