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Fork in the road south of Keyingham, East Ridi...

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There is a lot of chatter about APIs right now. Should companies implement them? What is the best functionality to expose to the world? Will this help or hurt the brand? These are all common questions that have different answers depending upon a given brand. Choosing which fork in the API road to take, or choosing to take multiple paths, is a matter of careful consideration.

After a decade or two of eCommerce continually reshaping itself, suddenly we’re in an environment where it makes sense to share certain aspects of a business with everyone. If a brand is represented online, it’s usually in the context of a shopping experience and most of the back-office functionality is fully integrated to handle inventory inquiries, payment, shipping, and the like. So why would a company invest in exposing this functionality and data access outside the confines of their site?  The answer: To make your products and/or brands more accessible to potential buyers in a world moving rapidly toward mobile commerce.

Many shopping apps that exist aggregate information from various sourcing points for example, apps such as Shop Savvy already offer the user the ability to scan a barcode and check prices online. I’ve used these apps myself and find them useful as long as I’m in a store and there is a barcode to scan. Shop Savvy also has an API spec that includes location-based capability which can direct shoppers to your location should they be nearby. This app and many others have such APIs that can extend your reach to new buyers.

The capability of allowing third-parties to funnel buyers to your store, online or physical, is the great advantage of supporting third-party APIs. There are three things to consider before choosing to implement an API:

  • Don’t ever forget that third-party APIs are developed for the interest of the third-party.
  • Should the API change (and it will), there will be effort involved to continue to support it. Many times this is presented as a lovely surprise and is something difficult for which to plan and budget.
  • Pick and choose APIs wisely. Don’t run to an API because your competition is there. Do what makes sense for your business, your brand. If a brand is so unique that representing it alongside similar products from a big box store may make it seem less exclusive, then an API might not be the way to go.

When evaluating third-party APIs, don’t just look at the technical details. Look at the context in which all products are shown within the third-party application and how your brand is likely to be positioned. Being properly presented should outweigh how many are implemented.