5 Ways a Hypermedia API Simplifies Ecommerce

Companies want to engage more customers, in more ways, and in more environments. But with all the new digital experiences available, consistency is proving difficult. Customers shouldn’t notice the technology but must remember the experience. That’s a tall order for ecommerce systems. We talked with Matt Bishop, Elastic Path’s principal architect, to understand more about how an API-based commerce system works and why hypermedia makes ecommerce easier.

“When we designed our ecommerce system based on an API, the chief problem we needed to solve was complexity,” says Matt Bishop. Getting the combinations right considering all the factors that have to click into place is like solving a Rubik’s cube with hundreds of squares and a different color for every customer. We recognized three major layers of complexity:

  • Complex state and data. Hundreds of elements including products, pricing, currency, tax regimes, preferences for currency and shipping, and more all interact with each other and impact other pieces of many different systems.
  • Complex integrations. Commerce sits between customer touchpoints (CMS, web browsers, mobile apps and internet of things) and systems (tax, inventory, ERP, billing engines and rule engines). Any given digital customer experience can comprise 15 plus different pieces of technologies all working together.
  • Complex customizations. Booking shore excursions while on a cruise is very different from buying cosmetics. Different purchases require different kinds of state at varying times in the customer journey – all published through different touchpoints. Allowing developers to “understand” complex customizations was important for us to solve.

“Taking these three layers of complexity together, we realized we shouldn’t make it more complex. So, we took the opposite approach. We decided to make ecommerce radically simpler,” says Bishop. “We set two goals for the Elastic Path API. It had to be easy to use and simple to extend.”

Hypermedia: a simple and elegant e-commerce solution

Elastic Path tried several API styles – SOAP, RDF from the Semantic Web, templated REST – and rejected each before looking at level three REST, then known as HATEOAS (or Hypermedia as the Engine of Application State) and recently renamed Hypermedia.

“We finally settled on using a REST level three hypermedia API because it alone could provide the simplicity of use and extension that we needed to solve the complexity problem,” says Bishop.

Hypermedia uses two concepts: resources and relationships. “Resources are things or the nouns of the system: carts, items, profiles, purchases. They have relationships to each other that are named. For example, an item has a relationship to price.”

To access a hypermedia API, simply go to the “home page” or root, which gives a list of links to start your navigation. Each link leads to a new link, or controls like “Add to Cart.” You can add, change or delete links completely.

“Understanding resources and relationships as well as how to access the API provides everything you need to successfully use a hypermedia API,” says Bishop. It’s that simple.

Advantages of a Hypermedia API

  • Discoverability. Hypermedia allows you to follow links to discover related content and links – just like browsing a website. “Developers really like this experience,” says Bishop. “They don’t have to read documentation, study a book, or ask a lot of questions.” They can jump in, figure it out, and quickly use the API.
  • Contextuality. Hypermedia allows you to personalize content for every customer. “You can shape the API based on their profile, and get them to do what you want, based on their role. You can add links, and remove links. This contextuality gives us a lot of power over the presentation layer. Clients consume the API without understanding the context because they don’t need to. Simple.
  • Reactivity. As the name implies, reactive clients can recognize and react to resources (cart, price, item, etc.) but do not have intrinsic business logic. “Decisions are made by the server and provided as links in the API,” explains Bishop. “Instead of coding up a client, the API presents the link or chooses not to. This model allows us to reach all touch points simply and quickly.”
  • Extendability. Just add resources and link to an existing resource to personalize the user experience. You can push a product on sale, select content based on a user profile, and filter recommendations. Similarly, to remove capabilities (like hiding the price) just remove the link. “The system never reacts to render it, and the price disappears without having to modify the item itself.”
  • Stability. “Stability is important when the number of customer touchpoints increases. When you have dozens of touch points and many versions of an application, some may live in hardware that cannot be updated. Some of it may live in mobile devices that the client doesn’t want you to update or the vendor can’t provide updates for. Connected cars, connected homes, mPOS, clienteling apps, augmented and virtual reality all represent new touchpoints. You need a way for the API to be resilient, given the number of different clients and their varying abilities to access it over time. Hypermedia provides the right level of stability along with simplicity.

“Our decision five years ago to build a simpler way to create complex ecommerce systems was a good one,” says Bishop. “At the time, we were way ahead of the market. But today, Hypermedia APIs are now starting to lead the way in many other forms of complex systems, not just ecommerce, for all the same reasons.”

A hypermedia ecommerce API isn’t like other APIs; some are less sophisticated and come with significant overhead. Brands using hypermedia APIs can innovate faster and deliver consistent customer experiences. How is your company handling ecommerce complexity? Learn more about hypermedia APIs in 10 Ways A Hypermedia Ecommerce API Leads to Developer Nirvana.

Source: http://www.getelastic.com/5-ways-a-hypermedia-api-simplifies-ecommerce/

4 Key Questions to Ask Before Selecting an Enterprise Commerce Platform

The digital commerce platform market has undergone significant changes over the last several years. Acquisitions, technology advancements, and customer expectations have altered the commerce platform landscape and left brands wondering if their investment will realize an ROI, or more fundamentally if their platform provider will still be around in 5 years.

Protect the investment you are about to make by asking some simple, yet powerful, questions. The vendors actively pursuing your business need to ante up and demonstrate their capabilities today but also give you some degree of comfort for tomorrow.

From our experience, and assuming you have done some due diligence on the capabilities of each platform being scrutinized to ensure your requirements can be met, there are four key questions:

  1. What is the product roadmap? Your business is not going to stand still in perpetuity, neither can your platform. Ask prospective vendors for an overview of their roadmap but look beyond simple features and find out if there is alignment on capabilities that you know are important to your business. As technology shifts occur, each platform needs to embrace those shifts to provide you with growth opportunities in the future. A good source of information on technology trends is the Gartner Hype Cycle for Digital Commerce, which provides “a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities.” Thing Commerce, Augmented and Virtual Reality Commerce, API-based Digital Commerce and many more will shape the future of digital commerce for all industries. Are the vendors you are evaluating providing you with these tools, and others, to support your future initiatives?
  2. Is the platform scalable? Deployment models significantly impact scalability but even then there are real limitations. The architecture of an application plays a significant role in determining scalability, and the types of business uses you have planned for the platform must be validated. Do you have peaks for certain types of requests? For example, is there a significant rise in the number of searches done for a specific period? Do you experience a rise in the number of transactions that need to be processed in a limited period of time?
    Consider these peaks and valleys and then ask your potential vendors for real data to ensure they can comfortably meet the peaks today but also in subsequent years. Better yet, ask them to prove they can meet your projections for the next few years and have them run a Proof of Concept to validate the platform scalability. And don’t forget to factor in deployment models! Perhaps a cloud deployment will work for your business, or maybe there are technical or regulatory reasons for using an on-premise solution. Be sure to find out if the platform supports both of these models and evaluate them separately. Moving to the cloud dramatically reduces computing costs. For example, we ran the numbers for our Elastic Path Commerce Cloud for AWS and know that running in the cloud will eliminate 90% of computing infrastructure costs. That includes servers, software and maintenance.
  3. Will the pricing model enable you to grow your business without restrictions? Every platform purchase eventually hinges on the price, but think beyond the standard pricing agreement and consider the impact on your future business. Some vendors employ pricing structures that limit growth. Perhaps you want to sell in multiple countries with local commerce sites, expand to a new line of business, deploy to multiple business units or any one of many possible business expansion opportunities. Does the pricing model of the platform place significant, or any, upfront cost on pursuing these business possibilities?
    Your vendor needs to provide flexible models (you need options) that are tied to the business value they are providing, or more specifically helping you to grow your digital business. But more importantly they need to ensure that you can explore potential lines of business with minimal licensing cost, and instead support the success as you grow.
  4. Is the vendor a partner? Often overlooked is the long-term business relationship required to make your investment a success. You need your platform vendor invested in your long-term success, a relationship that needs to be mutually beneficial.A true partner will solicit feedback on the future of your platform; understand your business and how they can help you realize your goals; quickly address critical business issues that are preventing you from transacting, and not get caught up in contract language tied to SLAs; advise you on how to get the most out of the platform; communicate effectively and often.You don’t need emails and phone calls every day but you need a partner who is aligned with your business vision, helps you when there are problems and treats you like you matter.

Are there more questions? Definitely. But you don’t have to do it alone. Contact us for a complimentary Discovery Session to help with your selection process for a commerce platform that truly meets your business vision and needs.

Source: http://www.getelastic.com/4-key-questions-to-ask-before-selecting-an-enterprise-commerce-platform/

The Google Search Volume of Major Brands vs. Challenger Brands [Infographic]

How much more are major, established brands searched for on Google compared with smaller, challenger brands? An analysis by SLANT examined Google search trend data for 20 categories in the United States. Read the full article at MarketingProfs
Source: https://www.marketingprofs.com/charts/2017/32538/the-google-search-volume-of-major-brands-vs-challenger-brands-infographic

Ecommerce Technology: Augmenting Reality Augments the Bottomline

Augmented reality is an ecommerce technology changing the way people buy online. Different from virtual reality in which the real world is replaced by the view inside virtual reality headsets, augmented reality blends online, mobile and real-world experiences.

According to the Walker Sands Future of Retail 2017 Report, consumers still enjoy the ability to touch and try a product. It’s the main reason why shoppers still prefer physical stores over Amazon and eBay.

Augmented reality helps recreate that from the convenience of their home factor. It answers the practical questions of, “How will this look on me?” or even “Will this sofa match my wallpaper?” It neutralizes the fear that a product that looks good onscreen won’t work in real life.

Elastic Path has worked on countless projects building new online experiences for companies to help them transform to the digital economy. One of our clients, Virgin Media, launched an app with augmented reality features as early as 2012.

E-commerce technology helps people choose products virtually
We’ve seen how technologies are bringing to life strategies that help people choose products without experiencing them in person. Now you can place new furniture in your living room, paint the same room with different colors, try on shoes, eyeglasses and clothes, apply makeup and nail polish, design the interior of your new car, attend a conference and more – all virtually.

Augmented reality pioneers
Retail giants like IKEA, Sephora and Disney, have already incorporated e-commerce technologies that let customers “try before they buy.” NARS cosmetics uses Facebook’s 360 technology to interact with 3D makeup tutorials. Ebay has partnered with Myer to create the world’s first virtual department store. Ali Baba has also announced plans for their own digital store, equipped with a robot consultant who can interact with customers and recommend products, like Amazon’s Alexa.
ecommerce technology augmented realitypokemon go

Heavy investment means augmented reality pioneered by the big companies, will rapidly become more affordable and a more pervasive e-commerce technology. Digi-Capital estimates that by 2020, the market will reach $120 billion, with e-commerce taking 30% share. That’s just three years away, but not impossible given the great amount of research that’s going into new e-commerce technologies. In the first months of 2016, augmented reality investment reached a record $1.1 billion. That’s more than enough for companies to push forward important new shopping technologies like computer vision and augmented reality.

Augmented reality closes the last gap
Augmented reality solves the one limitation of e-commerce: the lack of sensory immersion. Currently, most websites and apps can recommend products based on browsing history and past purchases, but these are still just static product images on a screen. When customers can interact with products in a more meaningful, more personalized way, sales improve dramatically.

For example, Sephora had been creating makeup tutorials for years, based on a tested retail formula that consumers are more willing to purhase a product if they know how to use it. When the company partnered with the augmented reality platform Modiface, they created an irresistible offer. Combining powerful facial recognition software, and frame-by-frame scans that determine shades and products in a photo, visitors can see how a tutorial works on their face and can place featured products directly into a shopping cart from the tutorial.

Experience-based commerce at its best
This is experience-based commerce at its best. The customer doesn’t just contemplate how a product looks on them. They “know” and with objections aside, they can then instantly purchase, without having to access another interface. One of the attractions of e-commerce is that it ushered in incredible shopping convenience. No more getting in a car, driving to the mall, finding a parking spot, etc. However, sitting on a couch ordering new items can require a leap of faith many are not prepared to take. An e-commerce technology like augmented reality can help convert those folks to the faithful.

Bringing together commerce capabilities with customer experiences and new augmented reality requires a flexible, extensible e-commerce platform. Learn more about Elastic Path Commerce.

Source: http://www.getelastic.com/ecommerce-technology-augmenting-reality-augments-the-bottomline/

eCommerce Solutions: 3 Weighty Reasons Why Top Brands are Abandoning the Monoliths in Droves

As companies across all industries pivot to digital, the landscape of full stack / monolithic ecommerce solutions has expanded. However, there’s a now growing trend among top brands to move away from monolithic commerce technologies that combine content presentation capabilities with catalogues, carts and commerce.

Gartner predicts that by 2018, more than half of all commerce sites will integrate technologies from more than 15 vendors to deliver a digital customer experience. [1]

We see the following reasons why leading companies are abandoning full stack solutions.

1. Transformation: Going digital is no longer just about going online

Top brands realize that digital transformation is not just about making their catalog “available online.” They are re-examining their fundamental value propositions, re-architecting customer experiences, and using technologies to express consistent offerings and services across all touchpoints.

For example, vehicle manufacturers are reimagining the way cars are researched and bought. Retailers are utilizing augmented reality to allow customers try on clothes virtually. Manufacturers are inviting customers to co-create their own pieces through mass customization. Telecoms are enabling the design of custom bundles.

These customer experiences combine best of breed content, marketing, industrial automation, commerce, and consumer technologies to reach a digital-centric customer. Naturally, industries will have different requirements. Typically, monolithic platforms are not always able to easily connect with customers beyond traditional browser based front end.  Consequently, top brands are abandoning them in favor of ecommerce technologies that can adapt to any touchpoint (wearables, watches, cars).

2. Flexibility: Full stack solutions limit customer experiences

The most imperative business reason is also the oldest: companies need to differentiate or die. If a company simply wants to just present their catalog online, then a full stack / monolith solution could be the right way to go. However, when major brands seek to create new customer experiences, elevate new business models and disrupt their industry, traditional “add to cart” and “product review” functionality fails to deliver. Reacting to new customer demands, creating new services and customer experiences requires innovative thinking and technologies that bring that new thinking to life.

For example, a major cruise line knew that the only way to fight commoditization was to disrupt through customer experience.  They sought to eliminate the friction points of a cruise all while driving increased revenue with innovative on-board commerce touchpoints.  Now, passengers receive a bracelet with an embedded device which enables on demand food and beverage purchase, excursion booking, interactive gaming, personalized entertainment, sophisticated wayfinding and more. Passengers can move seamlessly from ship to shore, open their stateroom door without a key and purchase any item, service or excursion without a wallet.

Traditional monolith solutions struggle to enable this new customer experience.

3. Agility: Respond to new customer touchpoints

Monolithic platforms – even those with broad partner ecosystems – lack the ability to rapidly monetize completely new touchpoints, or to support new geographies with all the pricing and regulatory implications they entail.

Consider the problem of creating a way for people to purchase merchandise from their Apple watch. How does a monolithic ecommerce solution interact with this new touchpoint? How will a retailer’s development team respond to a new operating system that they have never worked with before?

As we enter the era of the Internet of Things, top brands may have to work with hundreds of new customer touchpoints that require integration and custom development. This is laborious, time consuming, and increases time to market.

Adopt a “best of breed approach”

For innovative brands, the days of full stack / monolith ecommerce are over. The way to achieve business transformation, continuously differentiate and remain agile is to adopt a best of breed approach to customer experience technologies. To power complete digital commerce functionality, companies must look for a sophisticated system that allows them to leverage any touchpoint, any legacy system, any content management system and any third-party application.

Consumers have come to expect the ability to transact with brands anywhere and at any time. Are your legacy systems struggling to deliver the experiences your customers have come to expect? Contact us to find out how our agile, API-first commerce platform can give you the ability to get ahead of customer demands, while continuing to take advantage of investments you’ve made in your legacy platforms.

[1] Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce, 2017

Source: http://www.getelastic.com/ecommerce-solutions-3-weighty-reasons-why-top-brands-are-abandoning-the-monoliths-in-droves/