What APIs can bring to brands and retailers

The online shopping experience is no longer just about home delivery

Innovations from digital and social platforms mean online shoppers can check real-time stock inventory, view full product catalogues or book viewings, and then buy instantly.

The API is now commonplace in e-commerce, delivering retail utility and as aids to overcome purchase barriers. And the most innovative brands and retailers are starting to connect all online communication outputs with the opportunity to buy, but bricks & mortar stores are slow to catch-up.

This is where digital technologies powered by APIs should come into play in-store, so that shoppers can access this information frictionlessly.

Not only can APIs connect bricks & mortar retail with real-time backend product information systems with opportunities for shoppers to ‘buy now’, they’ll be fundamental to driving loyalty from customers who increasingly expect to access the content and experience they get online at the same speed while in-store.

Plugging ‘buy now’ into every piece of content and comms

A select number of brands and retailers are already taking advantage of APIs to connect the moment of product discovery with the option to check-out.

Amazon’s new Buy with Prime feature uses an API so that Prime members can check out easily on third-party websites and get the same benefits such as same-day delivery as they would on Amazon itself. Media titan ITV has also recently used APIs to allow brands to feature shoppable QR codes in their adverts so that consumers can make a purchase during the ad break.

These innovations point to new opportunities for shoppers to buy something new they discover straight away – in line with growing consumer expectations. But despite the moves by giants such as Amazon and ITV, a large chunk of brands and retailers are still siloing the point of sale from their marketing outputs in bricks & mortar layouts, be it ads on display systems, AR try-ons or VR experiences. They are missing a trick. 

Connecting shoppers to stock inventory

Shoppers are online all the time and now expect the same information they get from e-commerce platforms when in-store – and APIs will deliver that connection. For example, the simplest question from customers – do you have my size? – often involves a member of staff having to find out by  using a POS terminal or checking a stockroom.

Outform’s research found that 83% of shoppers are online in-store. So why not use APIs to connect real-time stock inventory platforms to consumer-friendly brand and retailer apps? That way shoppers get access to information relating to a particular product through their phones, such as other sizes and colours.

And if the product isn’t available in-store, a check-out tool would let shoppers buy online, be advised when it’s back in stock, or connect to a map directing them to the nearest store where it’s available. 

The value of an API goes beyond retail operations and connecting marketing communications, it’s becoming a key tool in creating retail experience built on utility, convenience and value. 

Enabling personalisation

Personalisation is high on the agenda for shoppers. Some 42% expect brands and retailers in categories like beauty to deliver tailored experiences and recommendations.

In retail, APIs can enable personalisation around physical touchpoints – by connecting them with the platforms and software that send alerts and notifications. If a shopper has booked an in-store consultation to discuss a big-ticket item, brands and retailers can use an API to facilitate a personalised nudge to their inbox if they haven’t made a purchase by the following week.

But one-to-one personalisation is far from perfect. With that in mind, many brands and retailers are using new platforms to target a particular set of cohorts. For example, the activity tracking app Strava enables challenges to be set to win select discounts or offers. It uses an API to connect users to the brand or retailer website once they’ve run a set amount of miles or cycled enough hills without having to use codes at a check-out, which reduces friction in the purchase journey.

It’s an experience that considers wider health-conscious audiences and uses an API creates a seamless win.

APIs are already bringing immense value to brands and retailers online. Early adopters have taken advantage of them to allow consumers to make an immediate purchase as soon as they’ve discovered a product. They’ve also proven key to giving shoppers content that traditionally hasn’t been so accessible, such as stock inventory.

The next step for brands and retailers will be to integrate APIs into bricks & mortar layouts. This will ensure the information shoppers get online is mirrored in-store and with the option of making an instant purchase, whether that’s to collect in-store or doorstep delivery. It’s another step to unified commerce that meets customer expectations whose experiences reset with every click and every visit.


About the Author

Simon Hathaway is Group MD EMEA at Outform – the global agency working with some of the world’s leading brands to give people reasons to visit stores time and time again. Simon is a pioneer of retail experience, working with technology that is transforming our expectations of shopping and leading the way in the future of retail experience. He’s worked with brands including Google, Samsung and Intel on their retail environments, heading up agencies at the forefront of the field.

Featured image: ©Panuwat

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