Sasha Kamenetska | Contributor
October 10, 2012

Retail’s Newest Product: APIs


We’ve been talking about retail a lot on this blog in the past few months, and with good reason – more and more people are realizing the importance of mobile to the survival of traditional brick and mortar retail stores.  A study published a few weeks ago by Econsultancy, found that more and more young people are using mobile to shop and price compare.  The proportion of consumers using a mobile phone to make a purchase rose to 28% in 2012 from 12% in 2011 (according to the same study). 

More and more retailers are recognizing that mobile is as key to their future success as the Internet was about 20 years ago.  According to Visa Europe, 50% of all transactions will be made via mobile by 2020.  And considering it’s already October 2012, if you are retailer, you don’t have much time to build out a successful mobile strategy.  Mcommerce is here, and there is little you can do to stop it. 

So, how should retailers master the mobile space?  With APIs, of course.  APIs provide the best solution to making your data and services available outside your company.  For retailers that means providing the most accurate product and pricing information all through one channel, as well as being able to distribute a “buy” button outside of their own site.  Retailers can also use the BestBuy example and create an affiliate program tied to their API to reward/incentivize developers to create more business for them. 

APIs in retail are not new news of course.  Ebay and Amazon have had APIs for years, and they were key to the two companies success.  Even traditional brick and mortar retailers like Saks and Nordstrom have joined in mobile game with great shopping apps (which we can assume are API-driven) to bolster their stores.  What is less often talked about, however, is how a good API management solution/strategy is also vital to a great retail API program, and therefore a successful mobile channel. 

While opening your data and services through an API is great start, retailers also need to make sure that their API is secure, well observed and presented in a coherent manor for it to have a significant impact.  Traffic needs to be monitored and controlled to make sure that one of your developers is not overloading your system.  And developers should have a one-stop shop for any needs or concerns they have about your API through an API portal

A retailer’s API is a way for them to expand their business outside of their traditional, controlled channels.  If managed and structured correctly, the API program could increase sales, increase brand awareness and expand the customer base.  An API program could be one of a retailer’s most important tools for business growth, but only if it is treated like a product.  And like all products, it needs to be carefully monitored and promoted.  Without a proper API management solution, a retail API will do no more than a poorly designed website, which we know can mean, more harm than good.