What are Ecommerce APIs and How can You Use Them?

Learn all about ecommerce APIs, including what they are, what they do, and how they can bring your business to the next level.

In the world of ecommerce, technology is how you get ahead. Shoppers are becoming savvier with time, and as such, they demand more from the businesses they buy from. 

Your system has to be flawless if you want to dominate your industry. Checkout should be a breeze; you should have rock-solid security; you should be able to customize your platform to meet customer demand, and your ecommerce platform should be able to grow with your company as you scale. 

One way to do this is to create a headless ecommerce store, which is the future of the ecommerce industry. Headless commerce allows you to decouple the front and back ends of your store, moving away from template-based ecommerce and into the realm of personalization and enhanced functionality for both your team and users.

That’s where ecommerce APIs come in. These solutions will help you connect the decoupled elements of your ecommerce business — from your website to shipping, customer management, inventory, and more. 

But what are ecommerce APIs? How do they work? Why do you need them? And what are some of the most popular options out there? 

In this article, we’re going to explore all of that and more.

What Are Ecommerce APIs? 

API stands for application programming interface. An API’s main function is to facilitate communication between multiple applications. 

When using an API, you allow the services from one app to be accessed by another. 

But, why would you want to do this? 

With an API, different systems speak with one another, creating an interconnected network that shares data seamlessly. This process ushers in unheard-of connectivity and data sharing between the separate systems that help your company operate at a high level. 

It also helps you create a more integrated organization, which helps both from an operational standpoint and improves your customer experience. 

Simply put, APIs Improve agility, innovation, efficiency, and growth, which has a positive impact on profitability. Ecommerce APIs bring this efficiency to bear for ecommerce systems. 

You know that there are many different components of your ecommerce system, regardless of whether you’re using a well-known platform like Shopify or working on your own custom platform.

For instance, the average ecommerce business considers tax calculations, shipping, inventory management, and much more. When these systems are kept separate, you’re essentially siloing them off from one another. This means you’re going to have to work harder to gather information from all corners of your ecommerce business to function on a daily basis. 

An API does this work for you, creating a more streamlined and effective headless ecommerce system. Using APIs, you can separate the customer facing front-end of your store from the back-end processing systems. That backend can then communicate with additional services, using APIs for order management, sales tax, shipping, subscription management, and more. 

All of this can be managed and altered without impacting your front-end. This gives you unprecedented flexibility when designing and optimzing the customer experience. Instead of being forced to follow one set path, created by a template, you can decide which services you use and bring them together in a way that best serves your needs and the needs of your company. 

You can also use this API-driven headless system to improve your website’s speed and create integrations with tools that manage your business logic. 

When using APIs to create a headless commerce system, you can achieve greater data orchestration. That’s a system in which data is unified into one location for easy access and visibility. This was once more difficult to achieve because it wasn’t easy to get different platforms together. APIs have helped tremendously in this regard, paving the way toward increased personalization and customer retention through experience management.

How Do Ecommerce APIs Work? 

APIs allow for better data orchestration, facilitating the smooth coordination of various platforms.

The ecommerce APIs that you use act as digital messengers that communicate between the various systems that make up your headless ecommerce organization. The problem we have is that these disparate systems communicate in different ways. That’s why we use APIs to translate messages from one system into data that another system within your organization can understand. 

This lets your site work with other systems behind the scenes in a way that customers never see. While your ecommerce operation might be connected to numerous different systems, the customer only has to interact with one central platform. The API handles all of the requests and responses associated with an ecommerce platform simultaneously.

Your ecommerce platform can be connected to a variety of different services. These include but are not limited to:

  • Content management system (CMS)

  • Order management system (OMS)

  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP)

  • Customer relationship management (CRM)

  • Product Information management (PIM)

  • Point-of-sale (POS)

  • Warehouse management system (WMS)

All of these systems need to be integrated correctly to maintain a positive customer experience. It creates an easy and accurate data flow pertaining to customers, inventory, pricing, and overall growth.

Ecommerce APIs typically work off of a representational state transfer (REST) architecture, which uses HTTP request methods to create and send information requests to the server. REST APIs are effective for ecommerce businesses because they use a simple URL. That means developers can dive deeper into a website’s data thanks to the search and query tools included with these APIs. 

Why Should You Use Ecommerce APIs? 

The most important reason why you should utilize APIs for your ecommerce business boils down to their ability to create a fully customizable headless store. Store developers can use APIs for certain functions (like shipping, product catalog, or subscriptions), which allows them to easily integrate with best in class ecommerce tools instead of coding those functionalities from scratch.

APIs empower your headless commerce system to improve the customer experience by: 

  • Providing accurate to the minute online product data and communicating with product information management tools

  • Facilitating communication with chatbots

  • Connecting applications that allow personalized experiences for customers

  • Connecting your platform to third-party marketplaces

In 2022, headless commerce is not just a “good to have,” it’s a “must-have.” Think of the various components of your ecommerce store as a team that has to come together to provide a seamless customer experience. The only problem is that every member of that team speaks a completely different language. Ecommerce APIs connect them to one another and translates data between them so seamlessly that the customer has no idea that all of this is going on. 

They don’t know that when they make a purchase there’s a service managing their order, another calculating sales tax, another facilitating shipping, and so on. That’s because APIs create a quick and efficient shopping experience, using the best tools possible.

Without APIs, you’d be shackled to a connected front and back end, unable to personalize everything while trapped within a template store. That was the past of ecommerce, while API-driven headless commerce is the future. 

APIs are also far more effective for data monitoring and analytics — vital aspects of modern businesses. We’re privy to so much data about our customers, but making that data actionable has (historically) been extremely difficult. We can use that data to determine what we’re doing wrong and right only if we have true visibility of all of it in one place.

An effective ecommerce API system can streamline your business processes, ultimately helping you complete tasks faster. There’s no swinging back and forth between services, logging in and out of different platforms in an attempt to complete a certain task. Everything is connected for easy access. 

This speed also ultimately helps with the customer experience. Checkout will be more streamlined and faster. You won’t have to redirect customers to third-party payment sites, and the entire process will be a lot more convenient and easier to trust. 

Customer support will also have an easier time providing answers with a fully connected system. Using APIs, you can connect support channels with your customer information management system, sales team, and more. The team can then work better together when trying to understand the problems facing your customers and how to best resolve them.

APIs also allow you to integrate chatbot systems that can take on some of the more menial and simplistic customer support inquiries that come in every day. This frees up human reps to handle more complex issues. That means lower hold times, more efficient responses, happier customers, and repeat business.

APIs can make enhancements to your current platform a lot easier. You’re able to connect a new tool, software or system without making massive changes to your existing stack. If you’re switching shipping partners, for instance, it’s just a matter of setting up the new tool and connecting it to your current systems. 

Finally, APIs provide you with enhanced security and encryption services to protect the customer data that you gather. Cyber security attacks went up 31% from 2020 to 2021, increasing the average attacks a company faces from 206 to 270. That’s a horrifying statistic that should illustrate the need for enhanced security. 

When Should You Use Ecommerce APIs?

 The interconnected services that an API makes possible can be especially beneficial when a company faces specific needs. 

For starters, when you have to comply with privacy laws, such as the European Union’s GDPR, something like Shopify’s Customer Privacy API can protect your customers from privacy breaches while also protecting your company from costly fines. 

When you have specific products you’re trying to push in your store, you could turn to something like the Shopify product recommendation API to help you move the products that need to go. This ensures that you’re guiding your audience down the most profitable path.

It’s also a good idea to utilize an ecommerce API as your company is growing and scaling upward. As you grow, your customer demand will also grow. That means you’ll need enhanced features or upgrades to cater to your customer needs. APIs allow you to connect these upgraded services without disrupting your operations with a huge website overhaul.  

Benefits of Using Ecommerce APIs 

Ecommerce APIs carry a wealth of incredible benefits that will help you create a more cohesive and profitable online business. 

This section will go through these benefits, highlighting how these remarkable systems can help you enhance your ecommerce operations. 

1. An Extensible Solution

APIs can stretch the functions of various applications, allowing for faster work and internal data sharing. You can essentially extend the platforms you already use.

Why would you need to do this?

When you experience market changes or shifts in buyer behavior, you’ll need to adapt accordingly. For example, 2020 shifted buyer behavior extensively due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Even now, the market changes created by it endure, and customers are becoming more demanding.

A quick example of these changing expectations is the fact that 64% of consumers now expect or demand more mobile options and contactless pick-up or delivery.

An API can help you implement these changes so that you don’t get left in the dust. 

2. Improved Security

Instances of cybercrime are on the rise, and one of their biggest targets is ecommerce businesses like yours. Cybercriminals are constantly looking for new ways to victimize online businesses, and according to the 2021 World Economic Forum report, many of the security measures businesses have relied on for years are being overcome or made obsolete.

Consider also that a single data breach can cost companies upwards of $4.24 million, with many going out of business within the following six months.

APIs provide another level of security, protecting ecommerce data with encryption that cybercriminals won’t be able to break through. All data requested from your systems will be protected, shielding you and your customers from the blowback associated with cybercrime. 

3. Scalability

APIs are scalable resources that grow with your company. This is important during times of growth because you don’t want that impeded by resources that you’ve outgrown. You also don’t want to sit around waiting for your ecommerce platform to be upgraded to suit your new needs.

Thanks to APIs, your existing ecommerce store can become headless, and will still be usable without completely switching everything up. This highly flexible solution allows you to connect new systems without altering your original programs. 

Scalability can be achieved with a few lines of code, allowing your system to handle more transactions without breaking down. 

4. Reusability

Suppose you switch your ecommerce platform or decide that it’s time to open up another store or business. In that case, you can reuse the same ecommerce APIs across platforms and various applications. 

This cuts down on development time and effort, allowing you to launch new headless commerce initiatives in a fraction of the time. The logistics of starting a new venture might seem daunting, but it’s made far easier when you can reuse the quality systems you already have in place. 

5. A Customizable Synchronized Platform

API integration allows you to choose which elements from various applications you’d like to include in a custom store that meets your needs. You’re not walled into services or features that you don’t want or need. Instead, your operations workflow can be synched in a way that makes sense to you.

This allows you to manage your data, inventory, shipping channels, and more to serve your specific audience. 

6. Improvements to the Customer Experience

You want an improved customer experience, and APIs can help achieve that in a headless commerce environment. Modern ecommerce shoppers expect a lot, with 66% of them believing that companies should already understand their needs and expectations. 

Additionally, customers are willing to pay up to 10% more across nearly every industry for excellent customer service. 

With an API, you can connect your various systems, creating a seamless and easy customer experience. When they use your system, they never even know that they’re interacting with multiple platforms strung together by an API. All they experience is a fast and simple interface that allows them to get what they want when they want it. 

They will also experience enhanced customer support. Your agents can take advantage of your interconnected systems to provide faster and more accurate service. This decreases wait times and allows customers to walk away from support interactions satisfied. 

7. Implementation of Headless Commerce

You can use APIs to connect the front end of your systems with the back end to facilitate the adoption of headless commerce. 

Headless commerce occurs when your front-end presentation layer is decoupled, providing more flexibility over your customer experience. Brands will be able to engage freely with customers and better understand their expectations.

When your front and back-end systems are chained together, you’re pigeonholed into making changes to both simultaneously, often unnecessarily. But by uncoupling them and using an API, you can have more creative control over operations. 

Common Types of Ecommerce API Models 

There are three common API models that ecommerce companies find useful: 1. Experience, 2. Process and 3. System.

We'll explore each of them in the following section. 

1. Experience APIs

Experience APIs are used for data reconfiguration. These useful API tools can present the data you need in various formats customized to the needs of individual users.  

You can use experience APIs to form a common data source created with every channel in mind. That means you can create a connected system with no separate integrations needed. 

2. Process APIs

Process APIs are used behind the scenes to integrate IT ecosystems. When using a process API, you can avoid data silos through independent data source points that exist within a single system or across various systems. 

You can use these APIs to expand the IT infrastructure of your organization and improve the overall experience for both customers and your team.

 3. System APIs

You can use a system API to hide core system complexities. This includes systems like: 

  • ERP 

  • CRM 

  • FTP servers  

  • Legacy systems

System APIs allow users to access systems for data while also recording all integration within the business.

10 Essential APIs to Build and Support Your Ecommerce Store

There are many different APIs that you can use as part of your ecommerce operation. We’re going to highlight several of these beneficial tools below. 

1. Cart API

When using a cart API, you can manage, create, and view your customers' shopping carts. It automates some of the more time-consuming tasks associated with building out shopping carts. 

This includes calculating shipping costs and applicable sales taxes. It can also help you take credit card payments with ease. 

 2. Checkout API

Checkout APIs allow you to bring customization to the checkout process — enabling you to change up the interface to appeal to a specific audience or customer segment. 

For instance, optimizing your checkout page for maximum conversions by automatically changing the customer's local currency.

3. Login API

Login APIs are useful when trying to keep track of customer identities. 

These APIs give customers the option to use systems they’re already familiar with to log in to your ecommerce platform. A great example of this would be when a store asks you to log in and gives you the option of using your Facebook or Google account. 

Customers like this because they can use a service they already trust instead of inputting their personal information into yet another platform. 

4. Catalog API

The catalog API makes it a simple matter to manage your product catalog, including creating and editing them. All of this can be done in a matter of minutes. 

You’ll also be able to integrate your catalog with other key systems, including your inventory management platform, order fulfillment system, and your reporting and analytics system. By connecting all of these vital services, you’ll be able to maximize your efficiency as a company and make decisions faster. 

5. Sales Tax API

If your business operates in more than one state or country (as most ecommerce businesses do), you’re going to need to manage sales taxes. The last thing you want is an issue with the IRS because you haven’t been collecting the proper amount from each sale. 

That’s why you need a sales tax API. You’ll be able to calculate sales taxes at checkout based on the location you’re doing business in. This ensures that you’re accurately charging customers, all with very little effort on your part. 

6. Orders API

An orders API will sync all of the order imports and exports from your channel and display them in an easy-to-analyze way. You’ll then be able to sort through your order data, applying filters to view whatever you need. 

You can view orders by the date they were packaged, the date they were shipped, and more. 

This API will also help you with returns, cancellations, and bulk import orders. You can even make inventory adjustments as needed. 

7. Inventory API

The inventory API is a tool that will help you filter and sort all your inventory data. You’ll also be able to review details pertaining to the SKU of a product. 

It’s a breeze to update any product inventory details with minimal effort using this API. 

8. Ecommerce Subscription API

Subscription services are gaining a lot of popularity in the ecommerce world. This recurring billing model has grown five to eight times faster than traditional businesses. An ecommerce subscription service provides shoppers with a convenient, personalized, and more affordable way to buy what they need regularly.

An ecommerce subscription API will allow you to connect a subscription management and recurring billing software to the rest of your systems in your headless ecommerce store. 

Chargebee's scalable and robust subscription ecommerce APIs give you the ability to start and scale a subscription box business alongside any traditional commerce experiences you already have. You can save months of development time by customizing 100+ subscription attributes across plans, payments, customers, orders, coupons, and discounts without having to write a single line of code.

9. Shipping API

A shipping API helps with shipping automation, connecting with logistics providers, and allowing business owners and customers alike to track the entire process. This covers everything from the initial sale to the completed delivery and everything in between. 

You can also use a shipping API to automate the creation of invoices and labels for packages. Thanks to this service, customers will be able to choose between multiple carriers, making a note of their rates, locations, and delivery times. Order tracking information can be integrated into a mobile app or website. You can even send tracking data through emails or text messages. 

10. Social Proof API

With a social proof API, you’ll be able to display your social media likes from platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram within your ecommerce store. 

This live stream of your social media feed will appear on product pages to instill a sense of trust in your customers. There are APIs offered from all three of these major social media platforms. They can be customized and added to your site with ease.

Ecommerce APIs can help make the daunting task of succeeding in a crowded ecommerce environment just a little bit easier. By choosing the right APIs and understanding how they can positively impact your business, you’ll be able to successfully connect your disparate platforms and create a fully integrated online shipping experience. 

For more information on how you can include a subscription-based ecommerce model with your ecommerce business and integrate it using APIs, check out Chargebee today.  

Most popular ecommerce platforms have specific APIs that allow you to connect their offerings with your website. Many of these allow for the adoption of headless commerce. 

By integrating a service like Chargebee with an ecommerce platform like BigCommerce, you’ll be able to offer subscriptions while enjoying a full suite of quality services. 

Here are some of the biggest and best ecommerce platform APIs and how they measure up to one another. 

1. BigCommerce

BigCommerce is a paid service offering plans from $29.95 per month up to nearly $300 per month. There are also options for enterprise organizations.  

When using BigCommerce’s APIs, developers can access their product catalog, create new products, and troubleshoot errors.

BigCommerce can also cover 100 times more API calls per second than Shopify Standard.

Some of the options offered by BigCommerce include: 

  • Storefront API

  • GraphQl Storefront API

  • Scripts API

  • Widgets API

  • Payments API

Over 150,000 merchants are currently using BigCommerce APIs for their ecommerce businesses. 

2. Shopify

Shopify is another paid service with costs ranging from $29 per month up to $299 per month. 

Shopify offers several APIs that can improve your ecommerce business. They include: 

  • Admin API

  • Storefront API

  • Partner API

  • Liquid API

  • Ajax APIs (Including cart, products, product recommendations, and predictive search)

  • Customer privacy API

Shopify also carries depreciated APIs, which are unsupported and could stop working at any time. If you’re using a depreciated API, Shopify recommends switching to a supported alternative ASAP. 

Note that Shopify offers different API rate limits depending on what plan you're on:

3. WooCommerce

WooCommerce is a paid service that works in tandem with the WordPress CMS. There are various costs associated with WooCommerce, including hosting, domain name, themes, extensions, plugins, security, and developer fees. Costs range from $110 to more than $1,500. 

Developers can create, update, and read translated content on WooCommerce. 

WooCommerce uses a REST API, which allows users to access their stores from outside WordPress.

There are 2.4 million websites using WooCommerce. 

4. Amazon API

Of course, the world’s biggest ecommerce platform would have its own quality API. The Amazon API is free to use for anything under 1 million API calls. 

Sellers can use Amazon to exchange data on listings, payments, orders, and reports. The Amazon API Gateway allows you to create, maintain, publish, and secure both RESTful APIs and WEBSOCKET APIs. 

Amazon has 310 million monthly users with 90 million Amazon Prime users. 

Frequently asked questions on Ecommerce APIs 

Why Do We Need an API in Ecommerce?

APIs allow ecommerce merchants to seamlessly integrate various systems in a way that creates a headless ecommerce store to improve the customer experience.

How Does API Help Ecommerce Merchants?

APIs connect web-based applications, allowing online merchants to improve their features, add content, and communicate easily with customers. 

How Does API Work in Ecommerce?

An ecommerce API enables communication between different web-based applications. For example, your ecommerce store could communicate seamlessly with your order management platform, your shipping system, and your content management system. 

Ecommerce merchants use APIs to have their various systems speak with one another. 

What Are the Benefits of Using APIs in Ecommerce?

When using an API, you can enjoy a wealth of benefits, including:

  • Headless ecommerce

  • Enhanced security

  • Scalability

  • Omnichannel integration

  • Reusability

  • Customization

  • Improved customer experience

  • Improved efficiency

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