One of the most apparent impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is how it has irrevocably altered the retail landscape. While shifting consumer preferences were already driving more customers to shop online, the pandemic has made it apparent that retailers need to (metaphorically) take stock and reassess how they will navigate the new retail landscape we find ourselves in.
Catching up to a world that’s constantly changing can seem daunting. Still the process can be made much less painful by harnessing data within the business to guide key decision-makers in the future.
Knock down data silos
To access and harness your data in any meaningful way, retailers must first knock down the data silos where it resides. Data silos are created inadvertently as a result of SaaS applications proliferating an organization. As more systems and processes are added, data is moved from an initial portal downstream to another application. By the time the data is processed, it has been duplicated across multiple other applications, making it difficult to synchronize across the organization.
Retail, in particular, is an industry that has remained siloed despite advancements in technology. Often retailers with a long history rely on legacy systems that become increasingly inefficient each year and fail to support interoperability. Completely overhauling the business’s front- and back-end systems would cause too much downtime for a retailer to survive, especially given that customers now expect the same experience online as they do in-store. This is where taking an API-led approach can help.
Introducing an API-led approach
Creating individual point-to-point connections between every system in your IT stack can be a Herculean task, but there is an easier way. Businesses can use MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform to create a single focal point that sits in the middle of these disparate systems, unlocking the data held in silos and allowing it to be harnessed for use across the rest of the business.
One of the customers MuleSoft has recently worked with, ASICS has done just that, using MuleSoft as a means to migrate its operations to a new eCommerce platform.
The global footwear and apparel company was facing challenges around creating a consistent customer experience and was only generating a small percentage of revenue through its eCommerce channel, so it decided to switch to a new platform.
The new eCommerce platform migration presented even more problems, as ASICS struggled with connecting its disparate legacy systems like order management and product management. The issue was only compounded when it came to unifying these systems across ASICS’ seven worldwide brands.
Rather than creating point-to-point connections between each system, a timely and expensive process, ASICS used Anypoint Platform to build its own APIs to access customer information, order status, real-time inventory and pricing, all of which were previously locked away in data silos. ASICS managed to connect more than 10 of its critical product management systems to the new eCommerce platform in the single-phase alone. ASICS was able to roll out the new eCommerce platform in just four weeks, when it was expected to take 2.5 months.
The advantage of reusable APIs
APIs built on MuleSoft are also reusable, whether they’re private or public facing. ASICS, for example, developed an email API during the first phase of the project, which has since been reused dozens of times as the eCommerce platform is progressively rolled out worldwide.
APIs can also be used to great effect when it comes to improving operational efficiency using data your business already has stored away in silos. For example, the pandemic has led retailers to reassess their supply chains to bring distribution closer to the point of demand. Using a private API that allows staff to keep track of orders better could shed some light on more efficient ways of fulfilling those orders, such as revealing customer buying patterns, what time of day they like to shop and how close they live to a distribution point.
Retailers that release their APIs to the public give existing and potential new ways and reasons to interact with them. Businesses can in essence outsource innovation by knocking down data silos and making hidden data visible through a public API, which may have even been reused from a different project.
For example, 7-Eleven, the global convenience store behemoth, wanted to unlock the previously inaccessible data from the hundreds of silos it was stored in to create omni-channel services and products. Rather than having to create a unique API for each individual project, 7-Eleven used MuleSoft to quickly build a catalogue of 30 foundational APIs that can be used and reused across the business. Now whenever the company wants to stand up a new digital offering, they can use one of the foundational APIs to launch a product in a matter of days or weeks rather than years.
The pace of change within the retail industry isn’t slowing down any time soon, so it’s imperative that retailers give themselves every advantage they can. There’s no better advantage than information, and by taking an API-led approach to their digital transformation projects, retailers will stay ahead of the competition with information and insights that couldn’t have been gleaned with the human mind alone.
Learn how to build connected retail experiences using reusable APIs by downloading our eBook.