The role of APIs in modern commerce

Application programming interfaces (APIs) play a crucial role in sewing together the various microservices that make up a headless ecosystem. In ecommerce terms, their job is to interpret requests and deliver data and functionality to help create digital experiences for the ever-growing number of touchpoints that customers interact with. Such capabilities enable forward-thinking brands to develop more efficient, scalable and customisable platforms.

How APIs underpin headless ecommerce

An API is an interface built before or on top of a software solution which authorises and enables communication with other applications. Typically, APIs are used to perform CRUD (create, read, update, delete) operations to datasets via the user interface (UI). They sit between a solution and a server, interpreting requests made through the UI before extracting and returning the necessary data.

APIs transform the way solutions communicate. They enable applications to make calls to other solutions without directly interacting with their internals. Instead, the solutions communicate through a single aggregated API layer, which dictates the necessary inputs to return the desired data.

But APIs do more than provide access to data – they are used to outsource entire functionalities. For instance, businesses often outsource online payment processes to third-party services. This means that two systems do not need to share their entire databases. Instead, the systems only share requested data, with the entire payment process handled swiftly and securely by the third-party APIs.

This is a fundamental headless ecommerce concept. The communication made possible via APIs allows microservices to integrate and share data and functionality without complicating one another. This flexibility helps digital architects create a ‘best-of-breed’ back-end environment.

How microservices architecture transforms your front-end capabilities

Customers today expect the best digital experience on every channel or touchpoint they interact with. This means your brand must become channel-agnostic. Microservices architecture – underpinned by the development and consumption of multiple APIs – gives your teams the power to optimise multichannel delivery and help your brand become channel-agnostic.

As APIs separate the concerns of front and back-ends, your developers can work more efficiently because they have the freedom to scale either end independent from the other. With your front-end teams no longer reliant on back-end complications, they can innovate and create better experiences on a single channel in a much shorter timeframe. Then, once they have optimised that particular channel, they can move onto the next priority.

This expedites the pace that you can deliver a more consistent Customer Experience. By connecting the network of microservices that form a headless architecture, APIs save you time and expense while permitting your teams to focus on innovating your unique digital proposition.

What does API-first mean?

To fully realise the value of headless commerce, you should adopt solutions that have been developed API-first. This means engaging with vendors that have modelled and developed a reliable and effective API before writing any code for their application. This distinction is significant because monolithic platforms have started bolting APIs onto their existing legacy systems, which does not offer the same agility.

Namely, if the solution’s API has not been effectively modelled before the application has been built, it can prevent you from quickly delivering experiences to new channels. API-first solutions negate this risk as the individual resources should map back neatly to their associated microservice. The resulting application is practical and futureproof.

Without the relevant experience, though, it can be a complicated task understanding whether a solution has been designed API-first. You should request the services of an external partner who can help you select the right solutions for your business needs: every brand has unique needs, and this must be factored into your decision-making process.

Learn more about the headless approach, and how it can enhance your brand’s digital capabilities with our professional development programme: the headless ecommerce masterclasses – module 6 is available from 22 July 2020.

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