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The Critical Role of APIs – Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed how cloud-based APIs are redefining everything we do in the digital world. Plugging into APIs optimizes productivity and helps companies focus on their core business offering while not having to build out every functionality on their own. Innovation is quintessential to success today, and leveraging APIs will help companies expedite solving critical business problems. Let’s consider commerce. There are myriad paths to purchase and APIs can help every step of the way. Here are three particular examples:

DISCOVERY

There are so many things to buy. How do you narrow down the choices to what’s the right thing for you? How do you make it easier to find the right black sweater for you? Technology plays a big role here. If you can leverage your social profile and technologies like AI and machine learning, discovery can become much more fruitful, beneficial, and satisfying.

Discovery has always been a problem with shopping. Department stores tried to address this by providing a larger assortment, a broader basket of goods to choose from, while having more assistants on the floor to guide and assist you in the discovery process. There are buyers and other players on the back-end who curate products based on demography. The buyers know their customers well and can select the products they know their audience will appreciate.

People-based curation has now been replaced by technology-based recommendation. Its impact has been profound – not just online but also in the physical store. You now see a lot fewer assistants on the floor because stores know that their customers have done a lot of the research online. Innovative companies like Nordstrom plug into the Nordstrom API and display the most “pinned” and popular products in their stores. It not only merges the online and in-store experiences but also enables most social shopping.

Search is an aspect of discovery that is a rather inefficient way of discovering the right product since you need to click on every link to find the right one. The value of search for the first level of discovery has increased because the number of products has increased, and the number of people providing similar products has increased. Algorithms that are better at inferring what a consumer is searching for provide increasingly better search results, while supporting information and simple visualization aim to make the search-based discovery process more productive for the consumer.

CONTEXT

You might discover a set of sweaters online that you like, but if you are living in Seattle versus living in Maine, the type of sweater that is suitable and relevant for you is going to be different. The sweater that you desire may also have something  to do with your specific profile, demographic, even mood.

Context is more of a micro-demographic, a micro-profile. The music that appeals to you walking down the street is different from the music that appeals to you at work. The same goes for products. If you’re looking for a pair of speakers, the context of where those fit in is important. The discovery process when refined with context becomes even more relevant and salient for what is important to the consumer.

The standardization of attributes and categorization of products can help here, making discovery more efficient. On the context side, your needs, wants, desires, views and so on can be declared or inferred. Think about Netflix, how it learns about you and makes increasingly personalized and relevant suggestions over time.

Context is an elegant compliment to the discovery problem, where sometimes you just need brute force to infer the consumers’ preferences. However, if you’re able to declare in a secure and private way what you’re looking for, then it’s easy for businesses to tell you what to start off with.

Ideally, every person should have a personal API that s/he can control. You spend enough time telling whoever is out there what you like and prefer. Although Facebook has done a great job of compiling our personal profiles, we have little control over it, and it’s only available to entities Facebook says it’s okay to expose it to. But what if you owned your Facebook profile or something like it, and shared it and exposed it to valuable services. That would be ideal – a personal profile API.

Every product should have standardized attributes and we should have our own personal standardized attributes as well. Now there’s a business opportunity!

LAST MILE

Getting the product into your hands – that’s the last mile. From the time that you make your decision to the time that you experience gratification, it’s all part of the last mile. Given that there are so many ways for something to get to you, there’s much that technology can do. Everything from shopping baskets, buy buttons, billing, delivery, and returns, can all be implemented through APIs. Companies like Revolabs use APIs to go that last mile and power their “Buy Now” buttons.

By powering a universal shopping cart, a company like Two Tap helps developers build innovative shopping apps where they don’t have to worry about the checkout process. Amazon Go is a defining illustration of where the last mile experience is headed – a seamless, almost invisible process. Along with AI, machine learning, and other technologies, APIs are integral to making this almost magical experience possible.

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