APIs are enabling
the store of your future

Published October 6, 2021

The innovative future of retail rests on open communication enabled by APIs

While the pandemic continues to present major challenges for retailers there is some hope on the horizon. According to Coresight Research, as of March this year “store openings are beginning to outpace closures for the first time since the pandemic began” with 3,199 openings and 2,548 closures. That’s welcome news for retailers who can look towards the future, but what they see on the horizon may be overwhelming—so much has changed.

Innovations that were just emerging before the pandemic, like social commerce and influencer marketing—plus all the shopping behavior changes like wanting less contact including contactless payments and the need for more control—are now part of consumers’ expectations.

That makes innovation incredibly important and for retailers who are operating with legacy systems, that can sometimes seem impossible. And that’s where microservices powered by APIs come in. By incorporating a cloud-based, API-first strategy into your current infrastructure, you can adopt new cloud services, expand your current innovative capacity and extend the lifetime or your existing point of sale.

API-enabled microservices allow you to quickly innovate

An architecture that is independently deployed and loosely coupled with the capability to communicate with other devices makes it much easier to bring on new innovations—without replacing existing platforms. So keeping up with all the new retail trends doesn’t have to seem like a gigantic or even an impossible task.

Here’s a look at some of the innovative trends you’ll be able to take on with API microservices:

Selling to customers in their social media channels. The phrase “social commerce” was coined in 2015 by public relations executive and professional blogger Steve Rubel. Since then, companies have been taking their products to their customers’ Facebook and Instagram feeds like gang busters, which is something their customers love. In fact, if you don’t have a presence in social media feeds your brand is at a serious disadvantage. According to a survey by Facebook for Business, respondents say “they perceive brands on Instagram as popular (78%), creative (77%), entertaining (76%) and relevant (74%).”

It’s not difficult to understand why consumers love social commerce. When they’re already happily checking their Instagram feed and a product that they want pops up so that, with just a few clicks, they can purchase it, the convenience factor is off the charts. Just think of all that they don’t have to do because of it—remembering that they need or want the item, taking the time to either visit your website or your brick and mortar, pickup the item and complete the purchase. It’s also a way to show your customers that you know and understand them, a key factor for strong customer loyalty.

Social media endorsements. Influencer marketing, having someone people know and trust make an endorsement for a product, isn’t actually new. Going back to the 18th century, praise from King George III gave Josiah Wedgwood a royal stamp of approval that made his pottery a big hit. But today people are making a living out of being social media influencers with some celebrities, like Kylie Jenner, making nearly a million dollars per post. So is it effective? If the results from a recent survey by Mediakik are accurate the answer is absolutely—89 percent of their respondents said their ROI from influencer marketing “is comparable to or better than other marketing channels.”

Trying on a product virtually. Augmented reality (AR), the try-before-you-buy virtual shopping experience, had been introduced before the pandemic, but now, according to IBM’s Retail Index, the growth of it has advanced nearly five years. With people staying home and unable to shop in person, AR is delighting shoppers who use pictures of themselves or their homes to see how something looks. The technology behind it isn’t quite as simple as it might sound. For example, Nike has an app that allows consumers to try on shoes and store them in their “locker” using the following technology:

  • A combination of computer vision, machine learning, AI, data science and algorithms that “measure the full shape of a user’s feet [to] know the perfect fit for each Nike shoe style” using 13 data points all within seconds

Operate like Amazon. Again the pandemic made its’ mark on the demand for online order speedy deliveries—there is a reason why Amazon made $386 billion in 2020—a nearly 40 percent increase from 2019. This stat from a PwC study conducted before the pandemic speaks volumes: 41% of consumers will pay for same day delivery and 24 percent will pay even more to receive their orders within one to two hours. Surely, with the pandemic, those numbers are higher so having the ability to ship products as quickly as possible will be a priority for retailers.

Related: What is social commerce and what does it mean for brick-and-mortar retailers?

APIs enable functionality and interoperability for seamless integration

A RetailWire article from 2019 addressed how retailers were making a shift from the desire to replace their legacy system to incorporating “smaller point solutions” on multiple projects as opposed to one large one for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Gaining fast returns
  • Replacing legacy systems usually take years
  • Having the ability to focus on the scope of one project that addresses immediate needs
  • Speeding ROI
  • Shortening timelines = less disruption = continuous improvements

The result is that “instead of undergoing enormous change every few decades, retailers can target immediate pain points as they arise, evolving with the industry without falling behind.” And for retailers in a pandemic nothing can be more important than keeping up.

And APIs give you the functionality and interoperability to seamlessly integrate new technologies onto your existing systems. This will also remove any friction from your platform and connect any disjointed systems. 

API-enabled microservices enable digital transformation for an omnichannel experience

Chances are good that your customers will use all of your service channels, your website, brick and mortar, app and social commerce and the experience they have on each of them needs to be the same with as little friction as possible. Often your customers will start a transaction in one channel and complete it another and it should be a seamless process. For example, if they begin an order online and then visit your brick and mortar to pick it up and pay for it the order should pop up in your POS—they shouldn’t have to start over again.

So how important is the omnichannel experience? According to a recent survey by Aspect Software “Businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies achieve 91 percent greater year-over-year customer retention rates compared to business that don’t.” And APIs are a critical component to achieving an omnichannel experience. That’s because they open up communication at all the various customer touchpoints allowing data to flow freely for seamless integration.

The retail future looks to be full of change and opportunities

Last year was one of the most brutal for retailers, but 2021 is looking more encouraging. In a recent Forbes article they reported that the National Retail Foundation is predicting a 6.5 percent to 8.2 percent growth, the highest in 17 years. And as the industry moves forward in the time of digital transformation, staying agile and on top of trends is key. Whether you want to provide next gen analytics, modernize your ordering process or try something entirely new, integrating API-based services into your existing business systems can increase the success of your future.

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