Joel Reid at Axway explains how to use APIs to give customers what they want – when and how they want It
The pandemic has had an enduring impact on consumer behaviours and routines, with UK consumers confirming they now shop more online versus in-store compared to pre COVID-19 times.
That said, in-person shopping still retains a powerful draw, with younger mobile shoppers showing a strong preference for more hybrid off-and-online shopping experiences. The rapid rise of fashion, beauty and food influencers means that social commerce spend is also on the up, with almost a quarter of shoppers in the UK saying they now use social media to discover new products.
As online and omnichannel shopping habits continue to surge, retailers must ensure their stores, online ordering, fulfilment, and last-mile delivery ecosystems execute flawlessly. Which means unifying data and disparate physical and online systems to gain a 360-degree customer view, monitor operations, and identify logistics issues that may de-rail delivery of an optimised customer experience.
To address these challenges, retailers are turning to application programmable interfaces (APIs) and API management platforms to create the joined-up services and frictionless shopping experiences today’s consumers want. Whether that’s linking product pages to social media platforms, or serving up personalised recommendations, or making it easy for customers to see whether an item that is out of stock online is available at a local store.
Let’s explore three aspects of the customer journey to see how retailers can use APIs to re-invent themselves for today’s omnichannel world.
Pre-purchase – delivering real-time information faster
With shoppers just as likely to be looking for inspiration on social media platforms as a brand’s online storefront, retailers are using APIs to inject the value-add information customers want, the moment they need it.
This could be linking product pages to social media platforms like Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, ensuring these are constantly refreshed with the most up to date product information. Or using APIs to instantly link shoppers with detailed product information and marketing literature. It could be delivering API-enabled access to real-time inventory that makes it easy for shoppers to discover if the item they want is available in their preferred colour and size at a local store. Or receiving real-time alerts whenever inventory on items they have been browsing is low.
Similarly, giving customers the ability to create profiles and store wish-lists during their protracted buying journeys not only benefits shoppers; retailers also gain valuable insights for future recommendations and stocking decisions that would otherwise have been lost to them.
Finally, using API-powered apps that enable local branch managers and staff to submit insights and surveys creates a rich data source that can be used to optimise regional inventory decisions.
Purchase – streamlining fulfilment
Consumers increasingly expect to create their own shopping journeys, browsing products on social platforms before undertaking more detailed research on pricing and product features via an online storefront or visiting a physical store to see an item for themselves. But that’s not the only key element in the decision-to-purchase process.
Today’s shoppers also expect to encounter options such as Ship from Store, Click and Collect, Reserve and Collect, and Order in Store. Plus, they expect to be kept informed every step of the way with regard to when their purchases will be available for collection or delivery. Using APIs to link disconnected physical and digital channels so that customers can ‘buy anywhere’ and take receipt of purchases in a way that works best for them is just the start.
With 90% of consumers expecting a two to three day delivery at a minimum and 30% expecting same-day delivery, retailers are leveraging APIs to streamline order processing for in-store pickup or delivery. They are also using APIs to connect and retrieve delivery information from their logistics partners that can then be used to regularly update customers with regard to order progress.
Getting returns right represents a significant competitive advantage that boosts long term customer loyalty. With consumers expecting to encounter a process that is fast, frictionless and free, retailers can no longer afford to ignore the post-purchase experience. Whether that’s enabling customers to return online purchases via a store, print a returns label or utilising a home collection service.
Investing in APIs that streamline the returns process so retailers can satisfy customer expectations and get returned stock turned around fast for resale is just part of the story. APIs can also help retailers connect customer service staff with profile information about a customer and collect data insights on why items are being returned that can be used to reduce future returns. It could be that product descriptions/images on the website didn’t correctly portray the item, or the incorrect item was shipped, or items were damaged during delivery, or inaccurate sizing guidance. Retailers can analyse these insights to address issues and reduce return rates.
APIs are enabling retailers to innovate and extend their omnichannel prowess. Whether that’s making it easy for consumers to start and complete purchases in different channels or eliminating the friction points that frustrate customers. All the while, collecting valuable data that retailers can use to engage in a more meaningful way with customers, optimise their operations and make better inventory decisions.
Joel Reid is UK&I VP/General manager at Axway
Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com