A guest post from Drew Bartkiewicz – about why retailers need to change their thinking and be like Amazon i.e. distribute their ‘buy buttons’
It’s hard to believe, but not too long ago we lived the catalog years. Radio Shack, J.Crew, Avon, and Izod, each crafted their own retail bible, every season, every year, all in an attempt to distribute their products to as many buyers as possible. The Internet exposed flaws in this model: it’s high cost, low impact, and a detriment to the environment. The average catalog was looked at for 11 minutes, left in stacks on the kitchen counter, and dumped into the trash often within the same month. The catalog business is dying a slow death, thanks to email, search and other Internet marketing innovations that we now consider “boring.”
Commerce is about to undergo another upheaval as it moves to a distributed system via mobile phones and social apps, all powered by billions of application programming interfaces (APIs) — the means by which retailers will transformed from commerce web sites of products to dynamic, product data platforms, changing form based on device, context, and purpose. For the consumer, the distributed commerce world of “buying apps” offers unparalleled shopping power: buy it now, later, here, there, anywhere your heart desires, always at a price compared immediately to others. Powered by open data and almost unlimited apps, consumers now get the e-commerce of me.
To benefit from this new era, however, retailers need to change their thinking. They need to open up digital catalogs and distribute their “buy buttons” to as many digital points of sale as possible, to as many partners as possible, at the lowest cost possible, and think like a platform. It’s time retailers emulate Amazon. Amazon is not a commerce powerhouse just because of supply chain mastery (though that is formidable) but because it is a massive data and commerce platform that is agile, partner friendly, and has a technology layer for data that is device proof. What powers these agile commerce possibilities of Amazon is a little known technology called APIs. They are the logic between the many gears of Amazon retail, merchant services, cloud, and even Amazon Video. They don’t think like a platform, they are one. They distribute everything and behind everything is a wide array of APIs to deliver product, price, and Web services to any channel they wish.
This is a shift that has to happen because consumers have already made the shift, and retailers with closed strategies are going to be left in the dust. We now browse for products more on a handheld device than we do on a Web browser, according to research conducted by www.apinomic.com.
Many retailers are already adapting to this changed environment. The API directory ProgrammableWeb cites more than 227 retail and shopping related APIs in its most recent index, up more than double from a year ago. Best Buy, as an example, distributes its commerce via API’s for points redemption, affiliate partnerships, in-store apps, and over 1,000 signed developers continuing to innovate on their behalf. ASOS, the leading fashion retailer in the UK, distributes its commerce by opening its approximately 50,000 item seasonal catalog to the world via their product APIs, supporting localized ASOS apps from Australia to the US to Germany. ASOS plans to distribute its commerce prowess to international developers (and therefore customers) with personalized APIs to maximize in session purchases, empowering customers with ratings, promotions, buying options, and availability. The agile part happens next. That same ASOS API platform can be used for extending the ASOS buy button when the customer is on the move, at a fashion event, on the train, or even at a different branded storefront powered by the ASOS product APIs behind the scene.
The future of e-commerce will be driven by APIs at grand scale. Those retailers that can aggregate, distribute, and sell anything at efficient levels across these multiple digital channels will win. Those that do not think like a platform (and use distributed APIs to do it) may very well be the next Borders, Circuit City, or Bradlees. Distribute or die. Manage commerce. Welcome to the API era.