API-driven e-commerce: the future or a hype?

API-driven e-commerce: The Future or a Hype?

September 21, 2018

Flexibility, customisability, personalization and especially agile. These words and many words just like them are being thrown around on the daily. Even e-commerce platforms are adapting to the new laws of the digital jungle. API-driven e-commerce, also known as microservices e-commerce, is the industries answer to this movement. However, this does not mean that it is the end-all-be-all solution. There are some businesses that could still benefit from the monolithic way of doing things.

Monoliths versus API

A monolithic platform is one large platform that has a module for everything. Billing, Log-ins, the way the customer’s cart is handled… It’s an all-inclusive package. This means there’s a certain sense of security that comes with these kinds of platforms. Everything is configured from a central location and it’s finished. Now that it’s in place, it’ll work until the end of time. Or at least until the end of the server it is hosted on.

That doesn’t mean that there are no downsides to a monolithic solution. If you’re unhappy with one part of your system, it can be quite the exercise to change it. It might even be downright impossible until the company behind the software rolls out the update themselves, if they even chose to do so.  

That’s where the microservices or API-driven approach comes in. This way of working allows you to “build” your own e-commerce solution. You can almost compare it to building something with LEGO. It starts with a small platform that will take care of the bare minimum. After that you can install other small modules that each take care of their own tasks.

Are you unhappy with a certain part? Simply install another module that takes care of the same function. If you are unhappy with the payment methods provided by your current payment application, you can remove it and install another application that handles payments that is better suited to your needs. In exchange for the flexibility an API-driven e-commerce platform gives you, it will be slightly harder to develop and maintain.

API, the bridges that connect everything

An API presents the data in a formatted way so that other applications can interpret it and use it for their own processes. Let’s use an example that everyone knows to make this a bit clearer: the Google Maps API. Every website that has a Google Maps integration, isn’t going to rewrite every line of code that went into creating Google Maps. The developers insert the Google Maps API code, which then calls the Google servers and fetches the data for the requested map as soon as the page opens in your browser.

All the stand-alone pieces of software that make up your API-driven e-commerce solution require API support in order to play nice with the other applications. Think of API as the mortar that holds all of the bricks together. Sometimes, this means that you’ll have to develop your own custom API. Don’t worry too much though, since there are APIs for the craziest things out there.  

API-driven doesn’t equal hard to manage

An API-driven e-commerce solution might be something that’s more technical, but that doesn’t mean that it’s something that’s extremely complicated. While we do recommend that IT is heavily involved in the project, not every single employee of your IT department needs to be an API whiz kid to know how to maintain an API-driven e-commerce platform. Many of the API-driven commerce engines are focusing on ease-of-use.

Sitecore, for example, has integrated Postman in order to make life much easier on developers. Postman is one giant library that stores all of your APIs and the calls they can make. Sitecore’s e-commerce platform comes with a selection of native commerce APIs, such as search, cart handling and pricing, which you can import without any issues. But let’s say you don’t like the default Sitecore search. Through the import function you can easily import another search API into Postman, start testing certain calls and integrate it with the other APIs.

If you notice that you have to develop a completely new API to integrate the application that you want to use, Postman still has you covered. You can set up a mock server inside Postman and start developing right away. Since you can access each individual call an API can make, it is a great environment to run tests and debug your brand-new API as well. Even monitoring and automation are included in a package. Thanks to the combination of their e-commerce platform and Postman, Sitecore ensures that their customers will reap the full benefits from an API-based e-commerce platform.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself the following questions. Do we have sufficient internal IT skills? Do we want to customize our shopping experience as much as possible? Does our digital marketing team want to experiment with different modules? If the answer is yes to all of these questions, chances are that your business would benefit the most from an API-driven e-commerce solution.


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