Challenges of modern brands
We’re not making a nod towards the multitude of individual shops on eBay, or Amazon. But to those individual sellers and companies who are building a specific image for themselves and their customers. We like to call these companies ‘brands’.
Brands are the companies that tend to shy away from mass production and mass offerings, often sacrificing mass profits for the love of their products and customers. Brands build relationships and mindsets with their goods and image, they’re a unique section of the market that offer inspiring views on commerce, moving quickly and decisively.
Today’s brands are in a unique position. Prior to mass communication like the internet, brands exhibited the same keen focus on product and image, but generally had less access to mass markets. Under modern conditions, the internet is helping them to carve out incredible opportunities in what would have been niche, localized markets, now on a global scale.
They are under extreme pressure to fulfill the path they’ve essentially created for themselves. By utilizing the internet to gain adoption, their customer base is often very tech, fashion and “moment” savvy, and, as a consequence, they need to continuously offer something relevant and modern for their customers to interact with, much more so than other companies in other parts of the same market.
On top of this, technical interaction compounds the problem by coming in many forms; applications like websites and standalone mobile software, to P.O.S services and back-of-house stock systems, communication tools, online chat, the list goes on… These all need to be dealt with, built, understood and maintained.
Brands stand out in connected commerce for four main reasons:
- They sell products that grab attention, and although not always unique in premise, they are more than often unique in the design, feel, or build.
- They also project a mindset, feeling or emotion that their customers align with. In this sense, brands often sell an image, or a lifestyle that can often transcend the product itself (often known as brand tribalism).
- They’re often small to medium-sized companies run by robust founders and teams that can move quickly and decisively.
- They have the ability to keep up with technological and industry changes to meet the needs of their customers who, today more than ever, are restricted by time and so want to be constantly connected to the brands they love wherever they are (the store of the future)
What do brands need from connected commerce?
Although different brands often have very different requirements, we can find some generalities with what they really need to get up and running with their online offerings.
Design is important for every company, but I’d argue it’s uniquely more important for the brands we’re talking about. Most companies can rely on a previous knowledge of a product either through general use and familiarity or through huge marketing budgets. Brands don’t often have those functions available to them.
They need to convey their message and that of their product across to their customers quickly and often in a short space of time This is why design is seen as the key for modern brands to relate to and engage with their customers. It’s also the aspect a brand will spend a huge amount of time perfecting. The look and feel of an application is the first thing a customer can often experience with a brand, and if it isn’t right and doesn’t connect with their identity they’re likely to lose that customer quickly.
Brands are often the ones who take big leaps with how they serve their content to customers. They’re also the types of companies that want to stray away from the norm and offer visual experiences that are difficult to translate into action when it comes to the physical build process of an application.
Many of the team here at Elastic Path have worked with some wonderful brands who have been in this exact situation. They want to offer great designs and user flow for their applications but are consistently limited when it comes to the build process.
In this manner, they’ve ended up finding that the technology behind a brand’s application limits the design of the application itself, and this is detrimental to the brand and the customer.
When we talk about flexibility we’re not just talking about translating the design elements to the templates fronting the application, flexibility is also the power to control how a user flows through an application, how quick it is to make changes, and how easy it is to tie in external or third party systems to the application being built.
The brands we’re talking about the need to react quickly and frequently to changes, not just in their own company, but also external changes. Changes that happen outside and impact how their businesses are run.
Brands often have regular seasons and with this comes large-scale changes in their products, i.e summer collections are changed to winter collections or new versions of products replace old versions etc.
They’re also in a favorable position where they can make changes to sales structures and B2C patterns much quicker than larger companies, and it’s in their interest to do this. If they have the ability to act on short-term external events quickly, they can monopolize them for the good of their customers.
The livelihood of these companies depend on progressing forward, and consistent change, and if the software their applications are built on is not flexible enough to get changes to customers quickly then it’s time to rethink.
There’s a good deal of eCommerce software out there that can be bashed and bent into shape, can be milled and turned to deliver almost everything a brand requires, but over time the internals of the software having been so twisted to deliver the required application end up becoming brittle and unstable.
Changes in design or user-flow post-build can have devastating effects on the life-span of the application, and we’ve often seen, can be almost impossible to deliver.
Brands need to choose software that is malleable, resistant and can be morphed and renewed consistently over the course of its lifetime without impacting the company’s time-scales, and pockets.
The API approach
In the simplest terms, APIs are sets of requirements that govern how one application can talk to another.
An API itself is nothing new, and even the RESTful API is old by today’s standards. APIs deal with discrete pockets of data. Information is sent off to an API, the API transforms the information in specific ways, and delivers that information back. They can also store, mutate and pass information onto other services, they can even be told to pass data back to you at specific times.
When we talk about APIs for brands, we’re specifically talking about eCommerce APIs, like what we offer here at Elastic Path. Approaching eCommerce via an API brings some incredible benefits to brands.
Firstly, you’re not bound by a heavy piece of backend software. Most RESTful APIs live in the cloud, and by dealing only with the raw data associated with a store, you can follow any pattern, flow design or whim you can imagine. Simply requesting and injecting the data you’d like at specific points. In this way, the technology behind the system no longer limits the design, rather the design is limited by your imagination.
Some of the problems we touch on earlier are the inflexible nature of other pieces of software. With a RESTful API, removing and adding parts to your system is simpler and quicker. For example, checkout and payment are two of the most important parts of an online store and with an API you’re checkout flow can happen anywhere within an application, so you can tailor how a user purchases your wares without being limited by standard out of the box systems.
Finally, and by no means least, by creating and storing your data in the cloud, and requesting it via an API, you’re not limited to a standalone server in one location on earth. your store data is accessible everywhere.
Now known as headless commerce, your store data can be shared across web applications, across mobile, front-of-house in physical locations and P.O.S, you can tie it up with stock management software, or third-party applications. If you can connect to the internet, you can access your store data and manipulate it in any way you see fit, and so can your customers.
This is such an important point, access to data wherever you are in a simple and intuitive way really breaks the way traditional commerce is distributed to customers and end-users. It’s game-changing, and although for this specific market it’s still a new concept, this is the way things are and will continue to progress.
Creating seamless experiences across a multitude of devices with APIs in a flexible manner without compromising on design and without breaking the bank is the future of eCommerce. And brands are in a unique position to take advantage of this trend right now.