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Anatomy of a Retail API Program

Nov 01, 2013

API programs have become commonplace at nearly all big retailers who offer multi-channel experiences to their customers through mobile apps, in-store kiosks, the Web, and personalized in-store services. Analyzing the anatomy of a typical retail API program uncovers some interesting patterns. The data here was gathered by analyzing several retail API programs that use the Apigee platform.

The No. 1 motivation for a retail API program

Providing a differentiated value proposition in the physical retail channel is almost always the largest motivation for retailers. The most popular functionalities in retailer apps are those that complement the end user’s experience in the physical retail channel.

The top functionalities were  “enabling mobile consumption” and “driving foot traffic,” followed by “personalization,” “product information,” and “driving customer engagement.”



Trends in retail API programs

Retailers are using their API programs to personalize user experiences and enhance customer service. A majority, for example, use their API programs to employ recommendation features. We also found that:

  • 40% of retail API programs had personalized alerts and notifications 

  • 55% included recommendation features

  • 30% offered shopping cart management features

Retail API programs also tend to exhibit high agility, an expansive breadth of API services, and heavy policy use.

Primary retail services exposed as APIs

Certain services exposed as retail APIs rise head-and-shoulders above the rest in popularity.  The most common retail services exposed in retail API programs are:

  • Store locator services, which enable users to discover physical store locations using their current address

  • Product catalogs, which enable users to search, discover, and learn about products and services

  • Order services, which enable users to place and check the status of orders



“Identity”—the set of APIs that enable users to sign up, log in, or access account details—also ranked high, but we do not view it as a primary retail service that is core to this vertical.

Retail API programs: developers, apps, APIs, and policies

Our research also unearthed some interesting statistics about retail API programs: they tend to have large developer teams, a broad app portfolio with a diverse set of apps, and heavy usage of policies across a fairly significant array of APIs. Here are some average values for retail API programs, across a variety of categories (The most successful API programs posted much higher values in these areas):

  • Average number of developers: 154

  • Average number of apps: 87

  • Average number of policies: 378

  • Average number of APIs: 19

  • Average number of policies per API: 16.8

App and API development

Another characteristic of successful retail API programs is the rapid development and improvement of retail APIs. Agility is defined as the number of API revisions divided by the API age in months, and it’s a key indicator of success in retail API programs. We found the average agility among the customers in our sample set to be 13.6, with a maximum of 36 and minimum of 2.

Focus on end user experience

Top retail API programs offer a much faster experience to app users. These retailers spend considerable effort on optimizing their backends and proxies using caches and other features. We found fastest average backend response time to be 20 milliseconds, with 563 milliseconds being the slowest. The average backend responsiveness in our sample was 224 milliseconds; this average is 209 million seconds at the top retail API programs.


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