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Cloud, social, mobile. If these three technologies are in orbit around each other, then APIs are the forces of gravity making it possible. APIs (application programming interfaces) are the glue technology making cloud, social, and mobile possible, and are gaining traction as the fast-track channel for retailing.
APIs, specifically web APIs, are simple, lightweight software interfaces that streamline access to data and services. For retailers, those APIs can offer up easy access to product information, store inventory, location details, and even mashups of other APIs from sources like Pinterest. These APIs in turn power the experiences on the retailers own web and mobile platforms and, more interestingly, on third-party apps, platforms and channels. APIs used to be a technical detail reserved for software developers, but recently APIs have become a primary customer interface as the digital channel is driving revenue and brand engagement.
The first modern APIs appeared in 2000 when Salesforce officially launched its API at the IDG Demo 2000 conference. That same year, eBay launched the eBay Application Program Interface (API), along with the eBay Developers Program. Amazon Web Services followed a couple of years later after Jeff Bezos famously mandated that all systems throughout Amazon will communicate through APIs, which had the side effect of driving data center innovations necessary for cloud over the following few years. In 2009, Foursquare launched their API and catalyzed API consumption through then exploding social and mobile. Publicly available APIs have been nearly doubling each year since, and in 2013 exceeded 10,000.
In 2014, the API is the brand. Health Graph by Runkeeper is a great example of how a company started with a simple mobile app consuming APIs, but evolved to a service platform becoming an API provider. Best Buy’s BBYOpen is a great example of a well-designed API with a keen eye on catering to the developer community that will make the most of them. Target’s Awesome Shop is a great example of how APIs from multiple companies, like Target and Pinterest, were quickly consumed to spin up a new site.
APIs are not just links between two parties or applications. APIs are about making reusable digital services and productizing data and processes in ways you can’t yet conceive, but need to be ready for. A well thought out API will keep retailers ready for the next connected consumers.