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eCommerce APIs 101: What Your Brand Needs to Know

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eCommerce APIs 101: What Your Brand Needs to Know

Do you want to know the secret to keeping your eCommerce store at the forefront of the industry? It’s building an API-based ecosystem.

Selling online is more competitive than ever. Your store needs to innovate fast and rapidly adopt new technologies just to keep up. You can’t do this using outdated legacy platforms. Instead, every aspect of your business can be integrated easily and efficiently with APIs. Upgrading product pages or shopping cart functionalities becomes as easy as adding an additional line of code. Even larger changes like integrating additional web stores or offering new shipping solutions is just as simple. 

eCommerce APIs are crucial to your success. Here is everything retailers need to know about them and the benefits they bring. 

What is an API?

At its most basic, an API (application programming interface) is a specific way two pieces of software communicate with each other, says technology writer and startup advisor Simon Jones. “Essentially they provide pre-fabricated functionality that you as a programmer can utilise to build your own application.”

There are two types of APIs that businesses can use, explains software engineer Saimon Sharif in a General Assembly article: internal and external. “An internal API is one that’s used within a company or organization, although the company can choose to make portions of it accessible to the public.” External APIs are more common. These are public APIs that any developer can use to integrate another company’s software or data into their product.

APIs let platforms provide greater levels of functionality without having to build their own solution, writes developer Harish Pillarisetti. “Say if a user wanted to find today’s weather, the user obviously doesn’t have an inbuilt barometer in his phone or wires connected to the local weather station from his phone. Instead, the user can just use a weather app which uses the location from the user’s phone’s GPS and sends it to a remote web-based API which in turn responds with the current weather data to the user’s phone.”

Man typing on Mac computer browsing hubspot

How Are APIs Used in eCommerce?

Retailers use APIs to add features and functionalities to their online stores that would be too difficult, costly, or cumbersome to custom-code themselves. Most product pages already use several API integrations, writes Product executive Daniel Elizalde . Youtube-hosted videos appearing in the image carousel thanks to API integration is one example, but so are dynamic pricing engines and customer ratings pulled from third-party review sites.

eCommerce APIs are also used to improve the shopping experience, notes Platformable Founder Mark Boyd. For example, APIs add advanced search features to your store or personalize the shopping experience for each consumer.

In addition to adding more features to your site front-end, APIs are also used to connect the back-end of your eCommerce operations. For example, Twilio provides several communications-based APIs that retail stores and SaaS companies can use to integrate omnichannel messaging fast and at a much lower cost than developing the technology in-house.

APIs can also protect brands with additional layers of site security added to the shopping experience. For example, ShipEngine’s address validation API automatically verifies shipping details to prevent delays and unnecessary returns.

The right API can help your business grow. A multi-currency exchange rate API makes winning over international customers much easier. By providing real-time currency exchange rates, these APIs make viewing products and making purchases in local currencies a breeze —increasing corporate conversion rates while increasing customer trust. 

Make the most of eCommerce APIs with Headless eCommerce Solutions

Headless commerce is “essentially a standalone eCommerce management system,” says Growcode Founder and COO Pawel Ogonowski. Unlike traditional eCommerce systems where there is a back-end platform that manages product information and a front-end store that visitors see, headless eCommerce decouples these two parts and makes upgrading your infrastructure that much easier.

“As the front-end and back-end of a headless system are decoupled, it is possible to make updates to the content layer without disrupting the business,” e-Zest Solutions President Satish Chavan writes. “For example, your marketing team wants to launch a new promotional campaign without having to rely on developers and a full system reconfiguration. This can be easily achieved through headless e-commerce implementation.” In fact, your eCommerce store becomes infinitely customizable without the need to hire developers with specific skill sets.

Headless commerce also future-proofs your site, writes Kunal Khullar, Co-Founder at The Brihaspati Infotech. When you connect third-party applications using a plugin, you’ll need to keep it constantly updated. Failing to do so can lead to big security flaws. That’s not the case with APIs. “Once the integration is set up, it is not required to be updated again as APIs allow software platforms to communicate with each other easily and foster seamless connections and transfer of data.”

What Are the Advantages of APIs?

The biggest benefit of API integration is the ability to add all the site functionality you need at half the cost and effort by outsourcing requirements for data and functionality to a seperate third-party. Even when your store and the API provider don’t have anything in common, the API provides a fast and easy way to communicate, writes David Berlind, Editor-in-Chief at ProgrammableWeb.

APIs also significantly speed up your operations. APIs make sharing data with your fulfillment partner instantaneous, writes Dion Beary at Justono.  As soon as someone makes a payment on your site, your fulfillment partner will receive the order,minimizing delays and making the fulfilment of two-day delivery timelines much more likely.  APIs are also used to create the perfect experience for consumers, whatever they need. “Rarely can one product satisfy and anticipate every need and expectation,” writes Anna Fitzgerald at Hubspot.. With eCommerce APIs brands can integrate almost any feature consumers demand. Preventing negative shopping experiences is another hallmark of APIs. As with address verification APIs, a single line of code can prevent disaster from occurring.

Increased security is another reason to opt for an API-based ecosystem. That’s because representational state transfer APIs are inherently secure, says technology writer Danko Kovacic. “Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption, which REST APIs use along with HTTP, is the mechanism for ensuring the privacy of the data sent between servers, or users.” There’s no way for a malicious individual to read or change that data. That means any private customer information you send through APIs, like credit card numbers, is secure.

APIs don’t just promise to improve your site right now. They also future-proof your site for the demands and needs of tomorrow. When your eCommerce ecosystem is connected using APIs, upgrading any part of your operation is as simple as adding in a single line of code. 

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