The OCF API Schema
Remind us of what an API is?An API is just a means for different systems or apps to share data and talk with each other using a common language or key. It is shorthand for Application Programming Interface but just think of it as a connection from one app to another. Each app will have its own API to broadcast and receive, so you really need two API’s to communicate, one to pitch and one to catch.
Data is automated from the buy button through to delivery so you can sell on multiple channels, and don’t have the overhead of trying to handle data manually or maintain several sets of inventory balances. They can create and connect an ecosystem from multiple platforms, shopping carts, warehouses, fulfilment centres, and carriers, so you can realise a cohesive sales and inventory solution for your business.
What can go wrong with an API?While using the acronym API makes it sound very simple, this is not like connecting two devices together with a scart cable. There are a lot of variables involved and you don’t control them all. Errors can arise from bad or unexpected input data, server settings, new plugins, platform upgrades, authentication, bandwidth, incorrect code, security changes, poor documentation, no matching records etc. and this is normally times two as it could be your app or the one you are communicating with.
Ultimately though, what can go wrong, if those errors occur unchecked, is that your customer has a terrible shopping experience, they don’t get their order, the item is out of stock, there is no communication, and they just shop elsewhere in future.
What challenges do APIs present for you as a 3PL?As a multi-client service provider, we connect to a high number of API’s. For each client for instance it can be their own store plus, say an Amazon and an eBay. There is also a very high volume of data packets going back and forth - plus we are connecting to all the carrier API’s so the challenge for 3PL’s in general is really around the volume of API’s to maintain in an environment where you are not holding all the cards. You need a very concise, intuitive, real time summary so you can monitor traffic, ensuring all orders are fulfilled and none are dropped.
Are there any stores or platforms you prefer to work with?We don’t really think that way. The important thing is for the platform to work for our client, we’ll fill in the rest. Practically though, with Shopify being a hosted solution, it is generally more stable. Others such as Magento, Woo and Squarespace are not, so there are a lot more variables to consider. These allow for a more creative design to a store, so developments diverge and there may be less documentation for us to follow.
What, if any, recommendations would you make?An API is only ever as good as its error handling. Error handling can make or break the experience for your customer. You need to know when something goes wrong as soon as it does. You don’t really want your customer to be the one telling you there is a problem on Twitter before you know about it.
Make sure yours, and your supply chain partners, error handling is fit for purpose; and don’t underestimate the effort involved in maintenance.