Making inventory and location data available to online and mobile consumers can ensure they can buy what they want, when and where they want.
In the pre-smartphone world, malls were a meeting and hangout place for teenagers. The co-location of teenagers, parents, and stores was a major advantage for traditional retailers looking to drive demand and sales in their customers' natural social scenes.
However, in today's post-smartphone world, social scenes have expanded to social networking services like Facebook and Snapchat—contributing largely to the decline of the mall. Now to attract customers, it's not enough for traditional retailers to simply provide product transactions. They also must create a seamless retail experience across their online and physical presences to meet customer demands and ultimately decrease customer abandonment.
Core to achieving this multichannel strategy are application programming interfaces (APIs), which are the digital glue that allows applications to talk to each other and exchange data. Before diving into the specific APIs that I believe will help define the future of shopping, let's first step into the shoes of a modern-day shopper.
In the shoes of a modern-day shopper
Meet Briana, a tech-savvy, decisive millennial. Briana needs that pair of blue jeans she saw her favorite Instagram blogger wearing. She searches Google and finds similar ones at Clothing Haus in the right size and color. Briana puts the pants in her cart and clicks on the checkout button.
However, the shipping options page indicates that the jeans will take three days to arrive and that just won't work since she wants to wear them tomorrow. Also, she remembers that Clothing Haus fits small, so she needs to try the pants on before purchasing.
Briana abandons her online checkout. She then copies the URL of the product page and pins the blue jean on her “To Buy” Pinterest board. She searches Google for the nearest Clothing Haus store and opens the address in Google Maps, intending to use the navigation to head over.
At each step of Briana's journey, she could abandon her purchase of the blue jeans and, in fact, did abandon her digital checkout. With customers frequently moving from web pages to physical stores mid-purchase and vice versa, it's imperative that traditional retailers use technology to create consistent and personalized customer experiences to ultimately decrease abandonment.
Using technology to improve the shopping experience
Below are five common scenarios where traditional retailers can use APIs to improve the overall shopping experience for customers like Briana.
Searching for stores
Briana is determined to try on sizes at the nearest Clothing Haus store, but Google Maps is showing a few different store locations. Also, she's almost positive one of the locations changed a few months ago.
To help customers like Briana confidently locate brick-and-mortar stores, retailers can create location APIs that surface all current store locations to third-party navigation apps like Google Maps. Location APIs allow customers to quickly determine the nearest stores, easing their switch from a digital to physical purchase.
Looking up store inventory
Traveling to Clothing Haus, one of Briana's biggest concerns is arriving only to find the blue jeans are sold out at that location. Even worse, Briana is worried the store won't have any of the pants in her size to try on, in case she wants to order them online later in the right color.
To avoid this customer pain point, retailers can build inventory APIs that expose the inventory position of specific products to their web pages. Inventory APIs allow customers like Briana to see the availability of products in different sizes and colors at nearby stores. Gaining this visibility helps customers determine what stores to visit and eliminates any frustrations resulting from sold-out merchandise.
Placing reservations for in-store pickup
When Briana arrives at Clothing Haus, she's frustrated to find that the last pair of blue jeans just sold. She's frustrated that the store didn't allow her to place a reservation, as she traveled all the way to the store specifically for them. She immediately walks out of Clothing Haus with negative feelings toward the brand and questions if she still wants the pants at all.
To make customer journeys more worthwhile, retailers can use inventory APIs that allow customers to place reservations on specific products at specific locations by hitting “reserve” on the brand's online checkout page. This would trigger a sales associate to immediately retrieve the reserved product and hold it behind the checkout counter until the customer arrives.
Purchasing and picking up products
Walking down the street, Briana decides she still wants the blue jeans; However, she wants to purchase them right away on her iPhone for pick up at another Clothing Haus store nearby. Her frustration returns when she realizes it actually isn't possible.
To solve for this scenario, retailers can build selling APIs that create order capabilities for any product in any physical or digital location. Now, Briana can buy the blue jeans while on route to Clothing Haus, ensuring the pants will be ready for pick up shortly.
Linking products to other digital ecosystems
Briana returns home without the blue jeans. After a couple weeks, she goes on her “To Buy” Pinterest board and notices the merchandise's link is broken and decides to delete the pin. She officially abandons her purchase.
To appeal to tech-savvy buyers, retailers can build product APIs that allow customers to link or pin product pages to other digital ecosystems like Pinterest. The product APIs also ensure digital ecosystems always have the most current information. Additionally, linking products directly to customers' digital ecosystems helps retailers build a better understanding of their customers. This paves the way for building loyalty and crafting promotions in a more custom and targeted manner.
Briana's journey, while simple, was filled with unnecessary steps, showcasing the opportunity retailers have to craft stronger brand experiences that delight customers. As retail analyst Jan Kniffen said, millennials are buying experiences. Therefore, every brand's experience needs to be highly efficient, consistent and personalized across every touchpoint to gain a competitive advantage.
This post originally appeared on Internet Retailer.