Your customers aren’t just interacting with your business via a website or a brick-and-mortar store. They’re accessing your brand through a wide variety of channels and devices today.
Providing consistent and engaging customers experiences across all channels requires a thoughtful approach and a comprehensive strategy.
For too many businesses, omnichannel means checking off individual assets like websites and mobile apps — not delivering cohesive experiences to customers. Yet, it’s how digital assets fit together to create a connected and evolving relationship that makes omnichannel effective.
Read this article to understand how well-managed APIs and a developer-centric perspective enable business leaders to create user-friendly experiences and meet evolving customer expectations.
- Understand user behavior and inform product strategies
- Improve customer interactions and journeys
- Capitalize on omnichannel
- How to connect digital and physical interactions and how companies like Walgreens, Burberry, and Ticketmaster use API management to master the omnichannel experience.
Capitalize on the omnichannel promise with APIs and API management
Deliver on the omnichannel promise: the five principles
Be wherever your customers need you, whenever they need you, however they need you
Deliver frictionless experiences that empower your customers to move seamlessly between digital and physical interactions
Ensure your customers never have to stop being your customers—even when they’re using someone else’s product
Focus on agility: your business must evolve with customer preference
Act on insights to create smart, personalized experiences
A final thought: the power of platform for omnichannel
For too many businesses, current omnichannel strategies operate more like multichannel 2.0. Website? Check. Mobile app? Check. The focus is on delivering a checklist of individual assets and not on delivering cohesive experiences wherever and whenever customers need them. This approach is akin to planting a few trees when the real goal is to cultivate a forest. The totality is what’s important—not the digital assets themselves but how they intersect and fit together to create a connected and continually evolving relationship between a customer and a business.
Customers don’t care if you have a website or an app, or both — they care about getting what they need, when they need it, effortlessly. They expect to consume products and services in the ways they find convenient, whether that’s via the web, a mobile app, a connected home device, a virtual assistant, a voice interface, or any of the numerous other new devices and disruptors working through the market. They expect to start watching their favorite show on TV, hop in the back of their rideshare car, and pick up the show where they left off on their mobile device. Treating omnichannel like multichannel 2.0 won’t help a company to meet these expectations. It’s time to realize the true potential of omnichannel.
Capitalize on the omnichannel promise with APIs and API management
Realizing the full promise of omnichannel demands an outside-in approach that’s hyperfocused on customers and agile enough to rapidly adjust to changing market preferences, the adoption of new technologies, and other shifts. In conventional inside-out thinking, strategies are developed within the enterprise, largely limited to internal viewpoints, and focus primarily on exposing assets from the inside. The switch to outside-in sounds simple—it starts with asking what customers want and need, what value they will get from your products, and designing products with this information in mind. However, companies often struggle to adopt this new stance.
To deliver the constantly evolving and highly unified experiences customers expect, businesses need their digital assets to be flexible, able to be mixed and matched to build new products and services. This process—getting different systems to exchange data and form a cohesive experience for the end user—involves APIs. They are the foundation for achieving the outside-in approach.
In the past, APIs were used to hardwire technology. Systems were coupled, then locked down. Changes in one part of the stack could break functionality elsewhere. Many integrations required bespoke solutions. The environment simply wasn’t built to deliver connected experiences across multiple channels. Capitalize on the omnichannel promise with APIs and API management
Modern, well-managed APIs, in contrast, enable companies to mask backend complexity behind a predictable, user-friendly interface. These interfaces mean that changes to backend systems won’t break or affect apps built on the front end, which in turn enables developers to build those apps with the velocity and flexibility required to meet evolving customer expectations.
Thoroughly documented and cataloged in self-service developer portals, these modern APIs are no mere integration technology. Rather, they’re products—products that developers use to create products of their own for end users. These APIs are generally agnostic to devices and to end user interfaces, so businesses can securely expose their core systems via APIs, then let developers use and reuse those APIs to create apps and services that keep pace with new devices, interaction models, and waves of changing consumer preference.
The agility that API management facilitates is only useful if businesses know how they should be iterating, which is where analytics come in. With insight into which APIs receive the most calls, which devices generate the most traffic, which developers build the most apps, and related metrics, businesses can follow trends in user and market behavior, make changes quickly, and place bets in the most promising areas. Analytics are a crucial part of forming and executing outside-in strategies.
Deliver on the omnichannel promise: the five principles
Here are five principles that leading businesses have adopted to build and support new products, services, and experiences, as well as how Apigee’s API platform has helped drive their initiatives.
Principle #1: Be wherever your customers need you, whenever they need you, however they need you
Today’s on-the-go, always-connected consumers expect on-demand access to brands and services. These consumers have little patience when companies are slow to support the newest device, interaction model, or platform—as Forrester states, customers “want it now, and if you can’t provide it, they will quickly find it somewhere else.”
To meet these demands, a business’s best measure of success is not whether it invests in e-commerce, mobile apps, and other discrete channels—it’s whether it has the agility to adapt at a moment’s notice, crafting new digital experiences to match each shift in consumer preference.
An API management platform helps a business to make its core data and services available anywhere, quickly, consistently, securely, and at scale. This empowers developers and partners to creatively assemble these assets for new digital experiences.
Walgreens looked at shifts in customer behavior—such as what the rise of smartphone photography could mean for the brand’s photo-printing business—and recognized the need to invest in customer-centricity. The company acted on this by adopting Apigee’s API platform to extend Walgreens services beyond physical stores. Apigee powers the brand’s loyalty program and mobile app, as well as a developer portal that lets both internal software engineers and partners leverage Walgreens core services, such as prescription fulfillment and photo printing, to build new products.
This has opened a range of omnichannel opportunities. Walgreens fills more than one prescription per second via mobile devices. Partners need only hours to integrate the brand’s photo printing services into their apps. The Walgreens Balance Reward API, which lets developers build apps that award users reward points for healthy activities, has doled out over 2 billion points to more than 800,000 users across 250,000 connected devices. API management has also helped Walgreens adopt a microservices architecture, enabling it to make its services as light as possible, and thus easier for developers to use.
In an example of an omnichannel strategy in a non-retail environment, Pearson, the world’s largest publisher of educational material, uses Apigee’s API platform to let partners more quickly and easily access its digital assets for new products, and to transition from a revenue model built around static books to one that makes content available across a variety of devices and interaction models.
Principle #2: Deliver frictionless experiences that empower your customers to move seamlessly between digital and physical interactions
Customers expect the actions they take in the physical world to be reflected in the digital world, and vice versa.
Customers want to place orders via mobile devices for in-store pick-up, have both in-store and e-commerce purchases count toward loyalty programs, and receive personalized recommendations based on past behavior. Increasingly, customers don’t care if they’re interacting with a brand through a human or a device—they expect the right data and services to be available at the right moment.
APIs enable developers to quickly and creatively combine business assets for new apps and experiences. A developer might combine a brand’s in-store inventory databases and user history databases with a geolocation service, for example, to create an app that offers the user recommendations based on past purchases and whatever items happen to be on sale locally.
Well-documented APIs delivered through a self-service portal enable this kind of creative mixing and matching because they hide backend complexity from developers, giving them a predictable interface with which to combine digital assets for new omnichannel strategies.
British luxury fashion brand Burberry partnered with Apigee to improve customer interactions, better understand customer journeys, and increase customer loyalty. Using API management to unite various data sources, Burberry built an in-store app to help associates personalize the shopping experience, including analyzing where the customer lives, past purchase history, and color and fabric preferences. Having enabled Burberry to combine physical and digital interactions into a single cohesive experience, the app now accounts for over a quarter of in-store sales.
Principle #3: Ensure your customers never have to stop being your customers—even when they’re using someone else’s product
Digitally-empowered customers use services in the contexts they find convenient. Customers won’t jump to another app or log into a separate service if they can achieve the same result in one cohesive package. Businesses must meet customers where they already are.
An API management platform with a developer portal significantly streamlines and accelerates the process of onboarding new partners. By providing self-service access to APIs as well as tools for API discovery and testing, the portal enables businesses to standardize partner onboarding, rather than treating each new partner as a discrete project. This mitigates costly custom engineering efforts and reduces a new partner’s time-to-productivity from months to weeks, days, and even hours.
The increased speed and agility doesn’t come at the cost of control or security. Businesses can choose to configure some services for open access while limiting other APIs to specific strategic partners, for example. By making onboarding simpler while keeping organizations in control, API management makes it easier for one company to integrate its products with those of another, and for each company to expand the reach and appeal of its services beyond what either could have achieved alone.
Ticketmaster, for instance, uses Apigee’s API platform to make its services, such as event discovery and ticket purchasing, easier for partners to access and integrate into their apps. Ticketmaster’s 40-year-old IT systems had previously impeded this process, but by deploying a developer portal, the company removed backend complexity from the equation, using self-services API access, testing tools, documentation, and other resources to quickly get partner developers up and running. Ticketmaster’s API platform has helped it to forge partnerships with Facebook, Fox Sports, Tidal, Broadway.com, and Costco, among others. Ticketmaster also leverages Apigee for sophisticated analytical insights into customer behavior, and to power its mobile app, which accounts for 60 percent of the company’s traffic.
Principle #4: Focus on agility: your business must evolve with customer preference
As businesses shift from purely brick-and-mortar strategies to omnichannel, they should avoid thinking of the process as a finite journey. Why? Constant change is the only sure thing in the digital economy. Businesses need the agility to act on opportunities as they arise, improve products without impacting availability or performance, and prepare for voice and gesture interfaces, augmented reality, IoT, and any other “next big thing” that may gain relevance.
APIs facilitate this agility because they abstract complex IT systems into consistent interfaces that are easy for developers to use. To leverage these APIs for ongoing growth, rather than single projects, companies need an API management platform to secure, scale, analyze, and manage the entire API lifecycle. Beyond the reduced onboarding time and integration costs mentioned in the previous section, API management provides the performance and usage data needed for businesses to respond quickly to market trends, react to changing customer expectations, and pursue new business models and strategies.
Bugaboo, a Dutch producer of high-end strollers, partnered with Apigee to shift from a direct retailer model to one based on global e-commerce, for example. The company’s siloed backend systems made it difficult for developers to build new digital experiences to keep pace with the brand’s surging popularity. By implementing API management, including a developer portal, Bugaboo enabled developers to more easily turn the company’s core systems into novel experiences, such as an e-commerce feature that lets customers visually configure strollers along with Bugaboo accessories before they add items to their shopping carts or save them to their profiles.
One of Brazil’s largest retailers, Magazine Luiza partnered with Apigee to help transform from a retail company using technology to a technology company focused on omnichannel retail. The effort included leveraging Apigee’s platform to launch an online marketplace. In just three months, the marketplace tripled the number of SKUs Magazine Luiza offers to shoppers and enabled smaller companies, including many outside of Brazil, to connect to Magazine Luiza and to sell through its site. Despite the frigid local economy, Luiza’s strategy has helped it to grow sales, particularly in e-commerce. It was one of Brazil’s top stocks of 2016.
Hermes, the U.K.’s leading consumer parcel delivery network, uses Apigee’s API platform to offer its billing, package tracking, and voice integration APIs to partners. Hermes expects that these services will eventually be offered to outside developers via open APIs. Apigee’s developer portal enables the company to reduce partner onboarding time from up to two months to a matter of weeks.
Principle #5: Act on insights to create smart, personalized experiences
A winning omnichannel strategy doesn’t take the “if you build it, they will come” approach.
Successful digital businesses typically employ machine learning and analytics to spot and invest in trends before the competition, and to create smarter, more personalized experiences for end users. Projects should go through testing, struggling projects should be removed or retooled, and ideas that show promise should receive additional resources. Businesses can employ data and the insights gleaned from them to execute an outside-in approach in which a constant stream of information about user behavior and preferences can direct strategic next steps for the products and services they deliver.
APIs not only enable developers to more agilely build from a company’s core services but also provides analytics and insights to infuse this agility with purpose. Apigee’s API platform provides insight into performance via metrics such as response times, and insight into developer and user trends via metrics including call volume, device distribution, clickthroughs, and user authentications. Machine learning can be applied for even deeper tactical and strategic insight into user journeys and expectations.
Armed with these insights, businesses can devise best practices that increase the likelihood that developers will adopt an API, and that the apps built from the API will become popular among end users. For example, if a business put an OAuth policy in a product catalog API, its analytics would likely show weak adoption because the API would require the end user to log in before receiving even generic product information. Equipped with this information, the company could quickly iterate on the API, not only improving the API’s viability by removing the unnecessary authentication step, but also establishing a blueprint for future APIs.
Ticketmaster & Pearson
Companies including Ticketmaster and Pearson use Apigee’s API platform to understand user behavior and inform product strategies. API management “really gives us insight into how our APIs are being used, what are the more popular APIs, what apps we see kind of rising up,” according to Allen Rodgers, Pearson’s former director of digital strategy and director relations.
A final thought: the power of platform for omnichannel
APIs themselves enable developers to create connected customer experiences at the pace today’s consumers expect, and to merge physical and digital interactions by deploying those experiences and connectivity across channels. API management supports this process by enabling API providers to make their services as attractive and easy as possible for developers and partners to use. For the provider, this means APIs can’t be viewed as merely the plumbing between pieces of software. Rather, APIs should be made and delivered to be consumed by their users—developers. These APIs should be easily discoverable, usable, testable, and scalable via a developer portal.
An API platform helps businesses securely expose their data and services at scale and develop the agility to deliver connected customer experiences quickly. Further, the API provider should use analytics to understand how APIs are being used, learn what kinds of experiences end users expect, and inform new and updated strategies that further position the business—and its developers—for success.
Staying on the right path frequently means embracing new measures and definitions of success. Chief among these is the notion that an organization’s digital maturity is reflected in the sophistication and scale of its API use. “We measure the success of our APIs based on how [much they] make development easier for everyone involved,” said Ticketmaster VP of open platform and innovation Ismail Elshareef. “Does it expedite the delivery of value? Does it make teams work better together?”
This API-first, developer-centric perspective positions businesses to keep pace with modern omnichannel ecosystems. By managing APIs as products that enable developers to match each market shift with a new digital experience or app, any business can realize the true promise of omnichannel.