Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are an increasingly important way for software components to ‘talk’ to each other. They’re the ‘connector bits’ that allow one program to ask another questions, tell it what to do, access its data, and use it as it sees fit.
In ecommerce, APIs are particularly valuable, as they allow online retailers to make full use of all of the programs and data that is readily available to them via the internet.
But what do we mean by ‘full use’? Why does your average online store owner need all of these add-ons? The answer is simple: context.
Your customers leave a digital trail behind them wherever they go online, and APIs can help you access it in order to better understand them. This can help you personalize their shopping experience, which in turn, should see an improvement in your conversions.
Hopefully, that makes a kind of sense. But if not, don’t worry. We’ve put together all of this information in layman’s terms for you to mull over; what APIs are, why you need them, and how they can help your business today.
What is an API?
Basically, an API is a contract between one piece of software and another. They force one piece of software (let’s call it the ‘user’) to interact with another one (say, the ‘server’) in a way that it understands, so that they can work together easily. This agreement lets the user display the server’s information for its own purposes – kind of like a small window into the other program.
There are lots of different APIs: ones that allow webpages to talk to each other, ones that allow computer programs to do the same, and ones that allow your smartphone to work with your apps (and them to talk amongst themselves, too).
Why do we need APIs?
Without APIs, each program would exist in a vacuum, rendering them a whole lot less useful. Your phone wouldn’t know how to use your GPS, your GPS wouldn’t be able to get its info from a satellite, and you’d be lost forever in the back of beyond with only an expensive piece of plastic for company.
Apart from this obvious benefit, APIs allow one program (or website, like your ecommerce store for example) to utilize the data or activities of another one (like Twitter or Pinterest). So, one of your customers uploads a picture of one of your products onto Pinterest – you’d want to know about it, wouldn’t you? (You should, here’s why.)
Once you know, you can show your prospective customers that a real, live person, thinks your product is great. It’s like saying, “don’t take my word for it; take theirs!”
How else can APIs help?
It’s time to get ecommerce specific here. Whatever industry you’re in APIs can give you access to lots of lovely data, and let you use it to your own advantage. But what kind of data might you want? Well, here are a few examples:
As we mentioned in the above example, an API that allows your store to connect with social networks, and can do some of your marketing for you.
Say a product of yours is trending on Twitter (it could happen!), an API will stream this feed directly onto your site, so that anyone browsing can see how fantastic you are.
APIs can help you personalize a customer’s visit to your store by remembering what they looked at or bought last time. It can then start rearranging your content according to their tastes, and help you send them more targeted marketing.
It doesn’t stop there - they can also help you find out what your customers have been talking about on Facebook and searching for on Google, so that your site can customize itself according to that.
Once a customer has ordered from your store, an API can talk to your CRM and let it know to add them to an appropriate mailing list – one that knows what they bought and how much they spent.
Shipping and Delivery
These ones are particularly useful for drop shippers – they can automate your processes so that once a sale has been made on your site your supplier’s warehouse can send it out to your customer without your having to lift a finger. It can even provide a tracking tool for you, and your customer, to watch the goods go from A to B.
That’s APIs in a nutshell, pretty useful, huh? And if this little introduction has piqued your interest, you’re certainly in the right place.
Here at TheGenieLab we can help you do more online. By connecting your Shopify store to your fulfilment company, your accountancy package, your inventory system, and a whole lot more, our clever API developers can make your Ecommerce experience a whole lot easier. Don’t believe us? Let us show you!