The retail sector experienced turbulence from the pandemic throughout 2022, with customers shifting their buying habits to avoid delays from global supply chain issues. Let’s look to 2021 for some insights. Even when shoppers in the United States opted to do the bulk of their shopping in October to avoid supply chain delays, retail sales still rose in December. As an example, Australia lifted their lockdown restrictions just in time for holiday shopping, leading retail sales to grow 7.3 percent to $33.4 billion in November 2021.
Evolving customer expectations
No matter which angle you look at it, the retail sector will continue to bounce back as we enter the post-COVID era. Still, it’s critical for retailers to acknowledge how customer expectations have evolved throughout the pandemic, and seek agility to meet these expectations better.
The retail environment is much more complex than catering to foot traffic, and businesses are now faced with the challenge of delighting customers from anywhere at any time while delivering their products without issue. For retailers to remain competitive, they must acknowledge that customers increasingly expect digital experiences to offer the same quality of services they would receive from an in-store experience.
One of the most effective ways retailers can increase their agility and quickly respond to these growing expectations is by adopting a composable business built on reusable APIs. These organizations are inherently more agile and secure, and can respond faster to changes in market and consumer trends.
APIs at their core allow different, disparate systems to communicate and share information that would otherwise be incompatible. The true value of APIs comes from how decoupling from an inflexible system generates valuable data for a retailer and transforms it into a series of interchangeable and secure “building blocks” that employees can use and reuse for other solutions, either customer-facing or for backend operations.
Breaking down APIs for retailers
Not all APIs are the same; there are two different forms. The first is RESTful APIs, which are best suited for low-bandwidth web-based applications that don’t prioritize data transfer speeds. These are powerful APIs under the right conditions but have limited use-cases in today’s retail environment, where agility is paramount to success.
This is where event-driven APIs come into play. These APIs are based on direct user input like a button press or card swipe to set off a series of transactions to deliver the intended outcome, such as a credit card charge. These APIs are reusable and can be integrated with multiple services and products. Event-driven APIs are more flexible than RESTful APIs and can support real-time transactions that customers now expect as a standard.
Employees are a critical consideration
Just as consumer expectations have changed amid the pandemic, so too have the employees’ expectations, who increasingly demand modern, user-friendly tools to spin up new services and experiences. But employees who lack programming knowledge or technical expertise have been turned off from using APIs due to their perceived complexity. This is where low-code and no-code platforms come into play, which allows non-tech-savvy employees to securely integrate their data sets to create new solutions using building block-like APIs rather than typing lines of code.
These platforms that enable all employees, not just the IT team, have been transformational for the retail sector. Gone are the days when retailers needed to partner with a large marketplace aggregator like Amazon or eBay to launch an online store. All the components required are available off the shelf, from shopping carts, payments, logistics, and customer care. It’s no wonder then that 96% of organizations globally are using APIs today, and 36% of them claim to have a mature approach to enabling non-IT users to utilize APIs as well.
With digital commerce now ingrained in the DNA of the retail industry, organizations must continue seeking agility in ways that empower the entire organization, and reusable APIs are the answer. If you think your business would benefit from a composable model, there’s no need to rush to start integrating everything in one go.
Start slowly with one process at a time and gradually build up your collection of assets. You’ll eventually have a library of reusable assets and APIs that can be redeployed infinitely across the business, saving time and money while also meeting the growing demands of customers.