Innovator Spotlight: Sears - Leading the Retail Industry Transformation Through Technology
"Over the past few years, Sears has led the transformation of the retail industry through technology adoption. We recognized early that embracing APIs as an organization-wide glue for building applications enabled unprecedented scalability and flexibility."
Director, ecommerce product management
Sears Holdings Corp. is a leading integrated retailer with almost 2,500 full-line and specialty retail stores in the United States and Canada. Sears is the leading home appliance retailer as well as a leader in tools, lawn and garden, fitness equipment, and automotive repair and maintenance. Key proprietary brands include Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard, with a broad apparel offering, including such well-known labels as Lands' End, the Kardashian Kollection, Jaclyn Smith, and Joe Boxer, as well as Sofia by Sofia Vergara and The Country Living Home Collection.
Kandarp Bhatt, director of ecommerce product management at Sears, details how digital success for the retail giant requires the alignment digital and corporate strategies. He also discusses the importance of standing out above the ever-growing population of APIs in the market to create and communicate value and attract members of the developer community.
Describe your digital programs using APIs today
We run an active API program at Sears that serves both internal and external developers. Internally, we have hundreds of APIs that have enabled us to prepare for and operate a successful multichannel operation. These APIs drive our member-facing mobile apps and flagship websites, associate-facing POS mobile apps, and affiliate-facing tools, among other things.
In addition, we expose select APIs publicly at https://developer.sears.com/. These public APIs enable several hundreds of external developer partners to create innovative experiences around our product and store data.
How does this fit into your company’s broad strategic objectives?
Our mission is to serve, delight, and engage our members while they shop their way. To succeed in our mission, we must ensure that our members are able to shop for their needs irrespective of where they are located, what device they use, and when and how they need their order to be fulfilled. Our APIs allow us to achieve this mission by supporting all our online, mobile, and multichannel properties and initiatives. They also allow us to stay prepared for making use of newer and upcoming media like the small form-factor devices including Google Glass and Samsung Gear.
What was the motivation behind starting this initiative?
One of the ways Sears is working toward becoming the world’s greatest integrated retailer is by investing in technology leadership. Over the past few years, Sears has led the transformation of the retail industry through technology adoption. We recognized early that embracing APIs as an organization-wide glue for building applications enabled unprecedented scalability and flexibility. In addition, we are very interested in enabling external partners to build innovative shopping experiences around our data and capabilities. We have, therefore, continued to invest in a dedicated API engineering team for several years now.
What kind of APIs and apps do you provide today?
While we have a large selection of APIs available for use by the internal developers, our public API selection currently focuses on product and store Information. Specifically, our external development partners can use our public APIs to:
- gain access to the complete Sears and Kmart product catalog, including granular product details like images, ratings, and price
- determine the real-time availability of products at any of our 2,000 Sears and Kmart stores nationwide
- obtain store information like location, hours, and services available for our Sears and Kmart stores nationwide
- access daily and weekly online deals along with local ads for our stores nationwide
We are continuing to bolster our public APIs and are always happy to help our external development partners use our APIs effectively.
What group is your digital initiative with APIs targeted at? The third-party developer community? Sears partners? Internal Sears developers?
Our public APIs are primarily targeted at the third-party developer community. In addition, we also work on a one-to-one basis with our marketing partners, vendors, and affiliates for meeting their specific needs that can be served using our APIs.
What has worked for you, and what hasn’t?
As an organization, we are focused on improving continuously and embrace feedback from all our partners regularly. Within the context of our APIs, we have learned that once we make an API available and our partners (internal or external) begin consuming those in their applications, it is challenging to bring changes to the APIs as quickly as the business imperatives would demand. From a product perspective, therefore, we work on making sure that our partners are aware of our future plans so they can plan their product updates accordingly. This has worked well internally and so we are working on opening this channel of communication with our public API users too.
What does digital success look like to you? How do you measure it?
To us, digital success is all about driving adoption of our APIs among external development partners and generating traffic for our web and mobile properties. Among other things, we track the number of developers using our APIs, the number of apps built using our APIs, the number of visits to our properties originating from APIs, and the amount of revenue generated through the use of APIs.
What technical and business benefits have you seen as a result of your digital initiatives?
Our digital initiatives, specifically our APIs, have yielded several benefits. For example, we can now develop and maintain stores on a variety of platforms (online and mobile) and properties (Sears, Kmart, and ShopYourWay, for example). Moreover, we are now able to collaborate with external business partners (including affiliates and developers) to bring innovative shopping experiences to our members. In addition, we have received a lot of encouraging feedback from the external developer community on our public APIs. We are looking forward to some of these conversations resulting in great applications that delight our members in 2014.
How do you use Apigee?
We primarily use Apigee to manage access to our public APIs. Our developer portal, for example, is based on the Apigee offering and allows easy registration and access to our APIs and other tools based on APIs.
How do you expect this digital initiative to change and grow over time?
We will continue to focus on the needs of our members and partners and continue to evolve the program to enable better experiences. Specifically, we intend to drive deeper conversations with the external developer community. Some of the key areas of conversation would include exploring innovative shopping experiences enabled by mobile devices, and helping our members make better shopping decisions while they are in our stores and in our competitors’ stores. We also hope to better engage external partners, like bloggers, with easy-to-use tools and widgets based on our public APIs.
Based on your experience, what are one or two tips or best practices you would share with someone just getting started on their digital journey?
When getting started on a digital journey, two things that one could do well to consider are alignment of the digital strategy with the corporate strategy and working out a unique selling proposition. First, aligning your digital strategy with the corporate strategy is essential since it allows you to ensure that the larger organization stays interested and invested in the success of your digital initiative. Second, there are so many public APIs available in the market already and the list is growing by the day. It is important to consider what specific value your APIs bring to the table and then communicate that to the external developers you wish to engage.