It’s hard to believe, but not too long ago we lived in the catalog years. Radio Shack, J.Crew, Avon and Izod crafted retail bibles to distribute their products to as many buyers as possible. The Internet exposed flaws in this model; it was high-cost, low-impact and detrimental to the environment. The average catalog was looked at for 11 minutes, left in stacks on the kitchen counter or trashed often within the same month.
Commerce is about to undergo another upheaval as it moves toward a distributed system via mobile phones and social apps, all powered by billions of APIs — the means by which retailers will transform from commerce websites of products to dynamic product data platforms. For the consumer, the distributed commerce world of buying apps offers unparalleled shopping power: buy it now, later, here, there — always at a price compared immediately to others.
To benefit from this new era, retailers need to change their thinking. They need to distribute their “buy buttons” to as many digital points of sale as possible, to as many partners as possible, at the lowest cost possible. And they need to think like a platform. It’s time retailers emulate Amazon, which is not a commerce powerhouse just because of supply-chain mastery. Amazon is a massive data and commerce platform that is agile and partner friendly.
What powers these agile commerce possibilities is APIs, the logic between the many gears of Amazon retail, merchant services, cloud and video. Amazon doesn’t think like a platform — it is one. It distributes everything, and behind everything is a wide array of APIs to deliver product, price and Web services to any channel it wishes.
The future of e-commerce will be driven by APIs at grand scale. Those retailers that can aggregate, distribute and sell anything at efficient levels across these multiple digital channels will win. Those that do not think like a platform (and use distributed APIs to do it) may very well be the next Borders, Circuit City or Bradlees. Distribute or die.
Welcome to the API era.
Drew Bartkiewicz is the API strategist at Apinomic, a New York-based agency that specializes in expanding data platforms and digital channels.