Last Week in WooCommerce: The Power of an API

The power of an API is what helps eCommerce platforms win

Product Hunt is a website that helps people discover new technologies and apps. Last week I discovered a new solution called Rutter. It defines itself as one API for every eCommerce platform.

This past week, a friend introduced a (new to me) solution called API2Cart. It feels like it might be similar in objective to Rutter, but architecturally different.

And then, this morning my friends at CheckoutWC – the super clean checkout cart solution for WooCommerce – published a post about the WooCommerce API.

All of this supports my take that the success of any eCommerce platform comes from the power of an API. But we should back up for a second…

Wait, what is an API?

In the software world, I think there are two approaches to building a successful platform.

The first is the full-featured solution. You do everything you can to have every feature possible and you keep pushing to build out everything that every customer has ever asked.

The second is a focused-featured solution. You do a few things really well. And then you develop a way for others to leverage your features while adding some of their own.

That way of letting others leverage your features while building their own is where the power of an API comes in. An API is an Application Programming Interface.

Think of it this way – let's say you own a house that has a pool in the backyard. You want some of your friends to be able to come over (even when you're not home) and make use of the pool. What do you do?

Simple – you make it so they can get into the back gate without going into your home. And you get a mobile unit that lets them control the temperature of that hot tub (because you know you need a hot tub) from the mobile device. And you plug in an outdoor fridge. And you fill it with drinks.

What you've done is create a bunch of connection and access points for your backyard – so that people can create their own kind of (calm) party while you're not there, and make use of all the goodies you've assembled. It's the API to your backyard.

Why is an API so important?

I'm positive we know why getting access to an amazing backyard is important. But why is an API so important? Simple: because we can't predict what everyone will want to do.

In eCommerce, it's especially true. You can't predict every feature request. So you build an API and let others use it to do other, more incredible things.

For example – business intelligence like Glew.io
Glew is the world's leading platform for business intelligence for eCommerce platforms. If you've looked at WooCommerce or Shopify reports, you'll know that there are still questions that they don't answer. The good news is that Glew does. How? By connecting to a store and pulling data from it. And then doing it's own analysis off of your store. They're using an API.

For example – cart abandonment like Jilt.
If you want to follow up with customers who are using WooCommerce or Shopify after they've placed something in the cart, you're going to need the power of an API. Because there's no other way to get access to that data. And that's what Jilt does.

But where else can you see the power of an API for eCommerce?

The power of an API isn't that a developer can code things in a way they want. The power of an API is that a business person can make any request they want, and a developer can make it a reality because an API exists.

For example, what if a customer starts brainstorming….

  • What if we want to reach out to all the customers who bought product X?
  • What if we want to reach out to all customers who bought product A and B but not C?
  • What if we wanted to refill inventory at different points for different products?
  • What if we want to create an order every time we sign up a new customer?
  • What if we wanted to purchase used inventory, but only at a rate defined by our stock?

WooCommerce won't build these features as part of its core solution – at least not most of these requests. But the WooCommerce API that CheckoutWC wrote about today allows anyone to pull different data and do something with it.

Something that no one else had ever considered. That's the power of an API.

An API is Code for the No Code World

Remember when I made some predictions of the second half of 2020? I mentioned the no-code movement and how it was gaining traction.

You can already see this happening for WooCommerce with their API and plugins like this one that integrate with Zapier. The result is that you can connect WooCommerce to anything that Zapier does, and trigger it off new customers, new orders, and more.

Without writing any code!

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.