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A guide to APIs in e-commerce

Sana Editorial Team
June 20, 2021
A Guide to APIs in E-Commerce

If you work with websites or other applications, chances are you have heard of or even used an API. An application programming interface, or API, is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. An API specifies how software components should interact with other software components. They can be one of the key pieces of technology needed to power your online store.

One really common example of an e-commerce API is Google Maps. If you need mapping functions on your e-commerce site, you can use a code to embed Google Maps software into your website rather than creating your own.

APIs add functionality and ease of use to e-commerce stores. Essentially, developers will implement APIs for certain functions (like shipping, mapping, or even fraud detection) so they don’t have to code those functionalities from scratch themselves.

The benefits of e-commerce APIs

There are many advantages to using e-commerce APIs. APIs can help your organization save money and time and present a more accessible, user-friendly e-commerce store to your customers sooner. Here are a few other benefits of using APIs on your e-commerce website:

  • Reliability: Using an established API, like Google Maps, means that you can rely on their services to be stable and consistent;
  • Agility: APIs give your business the agility it needs to adapt to changing customer needs without having to overhaul your entire IT system;
  • Partnerships: When you partner with an organization like Google or Trustpilot to add functionality to your website, it gives your customers a higher level of confidence when using your site;
  • Increased Security: APIs improve the security of your software systems. The API protects your e-commerce data with security features, like encryption.

The types of e-commerce APIs

There are many types of e-commerce APIs that you can use and implement on your website. These are just a few of the most common types, plus examples for each one. All of these e-commerce APIs provide functionality and integration to your online store.

E-commerce platform APIs

An e-commerce platform API helps create an online store for your business to sell and market your products. These types of APIs are comprehensive and provide your website and online store with everything from marketing to payment solutions. A few of the most commonly used e-commerce platform APIs are provided by Shopify, WooCommerce, and Squarespace.

Marketplace APIs

Marketplace APIs allow your online store to reach a wider audience of potential customers by partnering with another established online marketplace. There are many online marketplaces that you can partner with, including some popular options like Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Walmart, Rakuten, Wish, Bonanza, and Groupon.

Payment APIs

If you need to implement payment capabilities on your website, you should consider using a payment API. These options provide your online store with payment solutions for their customers, and often integrate with other APIs so that your customers have a seamless, easy experience when using your website. Some of the most commonly used payment APIs are provided by PayPal, AfterPay, and Square.

Inventory APIs

Inventory APIs are APIs that allow online retailers the opportunity to simplify their day-to-day product operations. This is especially helpful for stores that have operations across different distribution channels. You can use these APIs to assist with everything from purchasing new products and warehousing to receiving orders and updating stocks. The most commonly used inventory APIs are provided by Fulfil.IO, SellerCloud, Sellbrite, Veeqo, and Venzee.

Marketing APIs

Marketing APIs allow your website to reach more potential customers through an array of different channels. Whether it’s connecting with social media platforms for reviews or setting up a newsletter that they can sign up for through your website, there are many opportunities for your business. Some of the most used marketing APIs are provided by MailChimp, Google AdWords, HypeAudtor, Sprout Social, and Marketo.

Monolithic vs. microservices architectures

Monolithic IT architectures mean that there is a single codebase where all the functionalities exist. With this type of system, services overlap and dead-ends find you at every turn. It is an outdated, inflexible architecture style that most organizations are moving away from.

Comparatively, a microservices architecture uses APIs to create functionality for a website or application. Microservices architectures are more efficient and agile, and allow for more functionality within your applications.

Organizations that are looking to improve productivity, agility, and customer experience should embrace a microservices architecture for their website. Microservices can help with speed development, testing, and deployment, as well as accommodating all current and future digital needs for your business.

Choosing an e-commerce API

Choosing an e-commerce API can be challenging because of the sheer number of APIs available. Here are a few tips for choosing the best e-commerce APIs for your business:

  • High quality: You want to look for high-quality APIs that have a good performance history for the companies that have used them;
  • Developer history: Look at the history of your API developer. When you work with a company like Google, you have a general idea of its history. But when you work with an unknown developer, you should research their history and client experience so you have a better idea of the developer;
  • Complimentary software: It’s important to find software that complements your online store. You want to use an API that integrates solutions for your e-commerce site. It can be tempting to use the most commonly used APIs, but you want to ensure that you are using APIs to increase the functionality of your store. If you employ Microsoft Dynamics, SAP, or another common ERP solution, you will want to ensure you can support integration with your e-commerce solutions and website management tools for end-to-end control and data access.

Best practices for using e-commerce APIs

There are a few best practices to follow when you use e-commerce APIs on your website:

  • Select the API: You will probably already have an API in mind, but the first step is selecting the one you would like to implement. There are both free and paid APIs;
  • Get an API key: An API key is used to identify your e-commerce brand as a valid client, set permissions, and record all interactions with the API. As previously mentioned, some API keys are available for free, while others are not;
  • Review API documentation: The API developer will send you documentation, which is essentially a user manual, and guides you through the rules, policies, and general guidelines for using the API;
  • Connect to the API: Lastly, you will connect your online store to the API so you can officially start using it and recording data.

Follow these best practices for using e-commerce APIs and you’ll soon turn your e-commerce store into an easy-to-use, highly accessible online venue that’s easy for you to regulate and for your customers to enjoy!

Need more key e-commerce tips?

Download our E-Commerce Project Guide for best practices from implementation to go-live.