December 28, 2012

APIs and the Retail Omni-channel Grail


If you are approaching the final days of 2012 feeling like this holiday shopping season was a complex one - perhaps from a consumer perspective alone – you’re not alone. Holiday shopping reached a peak frenetic state this year, with most major retailers capitalizing on a range of device form factors to vie for your purchase.

Google suggested that a majority of shoppers would eventually make holiday purchases offline, but not before browsing on tablets, emailing themselves links, relying on bookmarks or shopping carts, or returning to search engines to pick up where they left off on the last device. If no fewer than 88% of shoppers did indeed start a purchase on one device and end it on another, let’s congratulate them for inevitable feats of manual cross-device data integration (albeit “copy/paste” style in some instances).

Today, it seems consumers still often complete the check out on a desktop: be it security, form factor, habit, etc. However, looking just over our shoulder, the anecdotes from the last week of sales make a convincing argument for APIs to drive a true omnichannel approach to ecommerce. As one media report did, consumers will be building lists in their heads (and perhaps online) of the brands (their shopping carts, to be precise) that stuck with them across devices and channels. By one media account,, Nordstrom, Target, Macy’s and Gap All make the grade. Those who didn’t are undoubtedly looking for a better way forward in 2013.

With mobile devices taking such a clear role in the consumer’s buying journey, how does a retailer create an elegant experience on the front-end without creating chaos on its existing back-end services? The recipe can become unwieldy amid the back-end complexity of tying together a shopper’s identity, location, presence, and the real time details of their online purchase. An experience that is transferrable from the device to the desktop to sometimes in-store above all needs to be able to operate in real time without missing a beat for the consumer.

Like Java’s “Write-Once-Run-Anywhere” principle, commerce APIs leverage a conceptual shift on the part of the retailer, from complex to managed: from running myriad channel point solutions to powering true omnichannel marketing with an API that runs consumer experiences across standard HTML, mobile Web, apps and even the myriad of connected devices. The commerce API approach allows one instrument (your API) to affiliate with purpose built experiences across all platforms and devices, whether you build it or partner with specialists in each environment.

Want to learn more ? Read our Retail Whitepaper. We’d love to hear from you as well.