What is an API and Why Ecommerce Sites Use Them


Explore How APIs Power Ecommerce Agility

Technically speaking, API is an acronym for application programming interface, and is considered a set of protocols for building application software. Practically speaking, APIs are the basis of much of what keeps people digitally connected. 

From apps on our phones to complicated flight control systems, APIs bring otherwise disparate systems together to create single platforms. They allow applications or IOT devices to access data and create gateways to interact with external systems.

They’re the connective tissues to bind the digital world together and can be inserted through simple HTML and without needing to know a programming language like python. 

For ecommerce businesses, APIs, and, specifically, web APIs, are an opportunity to use your platform to get better customer insights, provide additional purchase opportunities and more.

Companies have the opportunity to turn their entire business into a holistic platform that expands what existing architecture can do.

How APIs are Used Now

The connectivity that we take for granted now are powered by APIs. Many of the apps on your phone, including IOS, or you interact with on a daily basis are APIs with a user interface. 

Virtually every operating system or webpage you visit includes some sort of API. API use is now commonplace and all the end user needs is a web browser.


  • Transferring funds from bank-to-bank online.

  • Viewing bank accounts from different institutions on one platform.

  • Using a smartphone to pay at retail stores.


  • Searching for the best hotel price on a single website.

  • Using your phone for your boarding pass.

  • Getting real-time status reports on delayed flights.

Searching on Facebook.

  • Able to search by name, including incomplete names.

  • Searches are prioritized by physical location.

  • Images with a specific person tagged are included in search.

Finding a New Restaurant.

  • Reviews from multiple sites are consolidated on one site.

  • Make reservations through a third-party application.

  • Find a restaurant closest to you, listed by the kind of food you’re looking for.

Staying up to date with social media.

  • Viewing tweets associated with a specific topic.

  • Easily sharing a news article on Facebook.

  • Embedding a YouTube video directly into a page.

Ecommerce Sites are Using APIs to Grow Customer Bases

API development is opening up new avenues — and in some cases new revenue streams — for sites that properly leverage them. They’re helping customers find what they’re looking for and offer them related products that they weren’t necessarily looking for. 

Brands are growing with connected social media accounts. Single products are being sold across multiple marketplaces, significantly expanding a company’s reach without minimal investment. The most successful ecommerce sites are using service APIs to their greatest potential and enjoying the benefits.

So, why should your site use APIs?

Move at the speed of business.

Modern customers are accustomed to getting information immediately. They don’t want to call a brick-and-mortar location or a customer service number to see if you have the shirt they want in their size. They’re more likely to choose your platform if they can easily access inventory and buy directly from their phone. 

Automating this process provides a superior customer experience and also relieves staff of an additional burden.

Quickly scale to meet changing needs.

The ecommerce market moves quickly — really quickly. Businesses need to be able to adjust to changing demands on the fly all too often. Many don’t have the programmers to properly meet a surge in interest. 

If an ecommerce company has an item that goes viral on social media, they don’t have the time to create, test and deploy a code update. The sales opportunity will have long passed if that happens.

An API, however, allows sites to scale up, on demand. Internal APIs connected to cloud computing providers keep sites up and running when traffic surges would normally knock them offline. APIs can mean more sales.

Keep data safe.

Most feature strong API security that keeps data safe, whether in transit or at rest. Strong APIs take on the security burden and keep data - especially customer and payment data — safe from bad actors. 

Technically, ecommerce sites aren’t even connected to third-party servers. Your site delivers data to the API and the API connects to the server, minimizing the risks associated with backend server vulnerabilities.

Examples of APIs Ecommerce Sites Regularly Used

From displaying critical product information to managing shipping to customer communication, ecommerce platforms are using public APIs at almost every customer touchpoint. 

These are common types of APIs widely used in the burgeoning API economy to automate functions or improve experience. API design has come a long way and is improving regularly.

Product information to display features.

These give developers full management over product catalogs and what information is displayed. This API management may include descriptions, images, pricing or SKUs. Users are able to interact directly with databases and get the most up-to-date information, immediately.

Search APIs to easily navigate the site.

Building a site function from scratch is hard. It can be really hard. Using an open API is often the preferred option, especially as sites get larger and more complex. Leveraging a search API that is effective at crawling all product information and delivering results that accurately reflect search intent increases sales. There are several open APIs available using open source architecture.

Payment APIs that make checkout easy.

Removing friction in the payments process is critical in ensuring that items aren’t left in shopping carts. The final step in the customer journey should be easy and using a well-rounded payments API that accepts multiple forms of electronic payments does that.

Shipping APIs that provide accurate delivery dates.

Quality shipping APIs work by providing accurate shipping costs and provide credibility with the customer. They have clear communication that their order was received, processed, shipped and have an estimated date of delivery or even where a shipment is located using a Google Maps API. This produces confidence in your business and encourages repeat customers.

Convert currency to encourage international customers.

Making it easy to understand how much an item is in local currencies encourages customers that don’t use your local currency. There are far more countries that don’t use USD as their official currency than those that do and providing accurate pricing information for a customer’s market makes them more likely to make a purchase.

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The Final Word

BigCommerce business partners can leverage private APIs in most parts of their web applications. From back-of-house inventory management to order fulfillment, our customers can get the most out of their sites by using the robust systems that may be integrated into the BigCommerce platform. 

These come with specific API specifications designed for BigCommerce.

The catalog API streamlines catalog creation.

Creating and managing catalogs has never been easier than using BigCommerce’s catalog API. It’s simple to integrate into existing sites and simplifies inventory management by:

  • Automatically syncing large and complex catalogs.

  • Connecting brick-and-mortar and online stores.

  • Taking advantage of analytics and reporting to get better customer insights.

The login API connects BigCommerce accounts with preferred logins.

Our login API simplifies identity management and makes it easy to connect user accounts on BigCommerce sites with other preferred identity management systems. The API improves the customer experience by:

  • Enabling customer logins using sources like Active Directory, Google Apps, Microsoft, Amazon or Facebook.

  • Inserting BigCommerce sites into non-commerce content management systems, like WordPress.

  • Allowing single sign-on access to stores through identity provider integrations.

The cart API brings new insights into buying decisions.

The cart API gives owners actionable data and a unique understanding of customer buying habits. Get a better handle on the why of customer decisions and make smarter, data-driven decisions to improve sales. 

The cart API does this by:

  • Providing full access to cart data, including items added and removed.

  • Adding bespoke tools as needed, including analytics, pricing and checkout functionality.

  • Customizing carts to provide personalized shopping experiences.

FAQs for APIs

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