Running an online business? There’s something called eCommerce API you should probably pay attention to
In recent years, a lot has changed in the way that eCommerce businesses operate — brands aren’t afraid to make entertaining TikTok videos, the use of emojis is totally relevant, and bold designs and content are actually expected to keep up with customer expectations.
But a lot has also changed about how eCom works behind the scenes. We’re talking about APIs. We know…it can be boring to think about but very crucial to understand if you’re planning to run your very own digital-savvy empire.
APIs can sound quite complicated, but the good news is that you don’t have to understand much about how they work in order to be able to use them effectively. In this article, we’ll take you through some API basics: what they are, how the API economy functions, and the types of eCommerce API that can help make your business more agile.
What the heck is an API?
APIs like that friend of yours who loves to talk to everyone!
We use APIs all the time, usually without realizing it. API stands for Application Programming Interface, and it’s really just a way to let two machines or computer programs communicate with one another.
Every time you shop at an online marketplace or compare prices for flights or insurance, there’s an eCommerce API involved. It lets one system retrieve information from another and display it to you in a way that’s simple to understand.
And there are hundreds of more ways that APIs can help an eCommerce business operate more efficiently, improve user experience and grow their profits. Other examples include converting currencies, processing payments, and displaying reviews.
API providers vs consumers
There are two sides to the API economy: API providers and API consumers.
The names are fairly self-explanatory. API providers supply the APIs, and consumers develop the applications or websites that use them. Let’s examine these in a bit more detail.
Providers look at a single function within an app, website or wider IT infrastructure, and they develop it into a service which can be shared online. An API usually comes with a developer portal which gives API consumers all the instructions and support they need to get the API set up.
At the time of writing, there are over 23,000 APIs available, and that number is growing every day. Some come from familiar names like Google, PayPal, and Shopify, while others are independently developed.
So what about API consumers? If you’re building an eCommerce website for your business, chances are you aren’t going to develop the whole thing from scratch. What would be the point, when other people have already done most of the work and made it available to you in the form of eCommerce APIs?
From shopping carts to product reviews to payment gateways, ready-made APIs mean you can set up an online shop in a matter of days if you wish.
But how do APIs work?
Here’s an interesting way to demonstrate how an API works (sorry if it makes you hungry!):
Imagine you go to your favorite Italian restaurant for dinner. You want a 10 oz steak, some breadsticks, a glass of red, and end the night with the lemon meringue. Do you go and help yourself at the bar and then stroll into the kitchen and start instructing the staff? Of course not. You place an order with the waiter, who informs the kitchen of your request, and the chef start’s preparing it. In simple terms, he communicates to relevant people in the restaurant to make sure you get the right food on the table. In this case the waiter acts like an API, communicating between you and the restaurant staff.
Certain things have to be in place for this to happen smoothly. For instance, the restaurant has a menu which tells you what you can order and how much you’ll pay for it. If you want tacos, you’ll have to go somewhere else. In the API world, this is known as a ‘contract’. It essentially lays out how the API will work so both parties can be in agreement.
With this in place, anyone can walk into the restaurant and order a pizza without any real understanding of how it’s made.
There are two types of API: Public vs Private
There are many different types of APIs, but it’s Web APIs that are most relevant to you as an eCommerce retailer. These can be divided into two categories: public and private.
Public APIs are publicly available and we use them all the time without even thinking about it. Online banking, checking the weather, browsing social media and checking the news all involve APIs. They are the most well-known type, partly because many of them come from big companies. However, they only make up a small part of that 23k we talked about.
Businesses are generally more interested in private APIs. These are custom solutions created by developers, usually for a fee. By making use of these, companies can become more agile, innovative and productive. APIs open up opportunities for new partnerships, cut operating costs, and allow businesses to quickly respond to changes in the market.
We can also categorize APIs by their architecture — you may have heard terms like REST, SOAP, XML and JSON — but we’ll save those for another time.
The main benefit of eCommerce APIs
What you need to know for now is that the API economy is changing eCommerce, and if you don’t get on board now you’ll be left struggling to keep up with your competition.
But really the simplest reason to start using eCommerce APIs is that they can save you money and increase your profits. Not only will you cut costs on complicated in-house development, but you’ll be able to integrate with other systems — including those of potential partners — in a quick and reliable way.
So, is it time to start breaking down your monolithic IT system and switching to a microservices architecture using APIs?
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