Not all commerce APIs are created equal and why you should care
The ProgrammableWeb directory eclipsed the 22K API mark in June 2019, highlighting the growing importance of APIs in today’s modern digitally connected world. APIs are an extremely important part of any modern commerce solution. They are required to deliver consistent experience across multiple touchpoints, enable new ordering of services, including IoT and provide support for multiple business models including B2B2X. Support for new touchpoints Customers all over the world are going beyond traditional touchpoints which include web, mobile, physical store, call center, etc. According to the Sci-Fi shopper report: 57% are likely to use voice commerce 57% are likely to use to use smart devices 55% are likely to use facial recognition Enterprises need to be able to experiment with emerging touchpoints, to identify what experiences are relevant for their existing and potential customers and which are not. They need to quickly adopt new touchpoints, make changes when necessary and do this all at low cost. This can only be achieved with a comprehensive well-documented API layer. Omnichannel customer journeys To deliver superior customer experiences, enterprises not only need to enable support for new innovative touchpoints – they also need to ensure that customers have a seamless shopping experience across all these touchpoints. Customers want to be able to complete the whole shopping journey through any touchpoint andeasily switch between any touchpoints even in the middle of the customer journey.To enable this, business logic needs to be removed from the frontend applications into the API layer. This allows businesses to maintain consistency across touchpoints and implement quick changes without touching systems of record. Enabling new business models According to the world economic forum, new business models will be responsible for over 30% of enterprise revenue in 2020. These business models will leverage subscriptions, capacity usage, data monetization and M2M/IoT. To enable some of the business models, enterprises will need to enable API-driven commerce. For example, a tractor manufacturer could automatically order spare parts and schedule maintenance based on real-time data available from the equipment. This requires a commerce platform with an API layer on top to enable automated ordering without human intervention through APIs. Modern commerce API Requirements Almost every commerce platform in the market provides some kind of APIs, but not all APIs are created equal. One of the biggest challenges for enterprises is to identify how to evaluate those APIs to understand whether they can enable new touchpoints, provide omnichannel customer journeys and support new business models. Below are the key aspects a modern commerce API layer should have in order to satisfy business requirements in a digitally connected world: Extensibility. API layer needs to be easily extendable to accommodate new functionality without breaking backwards compatibility. This allows to simplify development and accelerate time-to-market since it minimizes the need of rework. Discoverability. API consumers should be able to explore the API with only the root endpoint provided. This allows businesses to accelerate development as user does not need to go back and forth across the documentation. Optimized Data Fetching. APIs should allow users to fetch only necessary data instead of all available data. This allows for optimized bandwidth and implemented device-specific use-cases where different data subsets are fetched for mobile, web and other touchpoints. API Coverage. It is important that most of the commerce functionality is exposed via APIs, preferably as close to 100% as possible. This allows to implement diverse use-cases and business models with minimum limitations. Orchestration. It is highly beneficial for an API layer to provide guidance for a developer on which calls should be executed in which sequence. This simplifies implementation of multi-step use-cases, i.e. make a credit check a required step in the checkout flow. Commerce APIs Today Most of the commerce APIs available today rely on popular API/WEB services formats, including SOAP, REST of different maturity levels, GraphQL and others. GraphQL is growing in popularity after its public release in 2015 but is still far behind REST in its adoption – with only 12% of organizations using the former against 79% using the latter according to “State of API 2019 Report” by SmartBear. Every API/WEBservices format has its own trade-offs and below is a short comparison between two of the most popular formats: REST and GraphQL. In a nutshell GraphQL’s biggest advantage is that it is easy to start with and provides a lot of handholding while REST Level 3 shines in complex enterprise environments where its benefits can be fully leveraged. In digitally connected world APIs are paramount to success of an enterprise. Like with any framework, each have its own strengths and weaknesses, but it is important to understand that a lot depends on an API implementation of a specific commerce platform. Technologies and frameworks can fall in and out of favor rather quickly, to maximize the value of the APIs, enterprises need to put business goals and business requirements before any technology choices. Finding the right commerce partner to help guide an enterprise through a digital transformation journey is often more important than making a specific technology choice.