The way people shop is changing. Today the average consumer uses at least 2 to 3 channels when it comes to shopping. This shift towards multiple channels has created many opportunities for retailers but also many headaches, especially for those that have traditionally operated in the ‘brick & mortar’ world and have over the years grown, expanded, merged and introduced additional ‘digital’ channels to connect and transact with their customers.
Most retailers have many different systems running in their organisation both for their front-end and back-end operations. From point-of-sale systems and loyalty applications to stock control and warehouse management, over the years retailers have adopted (or inherited) numerous, often heterogeneous systems to perform their day to day activities. As these systems age, they become incapable of meeting new business demands around interoperability, flexibility, scalability, architecture and design.
IT departments not only have to build and support new platforms to manage the growing number of digital consumers, but they also have to integrate those modern platforms with legacy systems to have a holistic view of who their customers are and how they are shopping.
Point-to-point data integrations might have once presented a viable solution, but as the number of systems and applications grows together with the organisation, such integrations become complicated, fragile and at the end impossible to manage and support.
APIs (application programming interfaces) are the modern age solution to help retailers bring together siloed systems and applications whilst streamlining their mobile, web, social, app, and in-person interactions with their customers.
The incremental benefits of APIs
Public APIs allow 3rd party businesses and developers to create applications using the retailer’s existing data that were made available in a controlled manner via an API. This starts building a connected microcosmos of shared information that enhances an extended network of consumer experiences, which in turn not only increases brand awareness and sales, but also feeds back to the retailer who can now create more appealing offers on the back of these augmented data.
Not all APIs however need or should be public. Private APIs are used internally in the organisation, connecting, for example, the ERP platform to the stock control order management systems in order to optimise their inventory management and time-to-delivery processes across geographies. There are many examples of retailers that have extended these integrations to their partners’ systems and are today operating under a more flexible and cost-effective make-to-order model. In one of our own implementations, we have used APIs to connect the self-service machines installed by a major Coffee chain in outlets around the world, to its central CRM and stock control systems eliminating consumable shortages and enabling instant processing and redemption of customers’ loyalty points.
There is no doubt, APIs are the way forward for retailers that want to compete in an increasingly connected world. They help build a complete view of the customer by connecting marketing, POS and ERP systems; they help unify the brand and the customer experience across in-store, web and mobile; and they help optimise the supply chain by enabling event-driven, real-time flow of information to both internal and external partners.
If you would like to find out more about how APIs could help you make the most out of your current infrastructure while enabling you to open your digital horizons, do give us a call at +44 (0)203 475 7980 or email us at email@example.com.
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