Companies want to engage more customers, in more ways, and in more environments. But with all the new digital experiences available, consistency is proving difficult. Customers shouldn’t notice the technology but must remember the experience. That’s a tall order for ecommerce systems. We talked with Matt Bishop, Elastic Path’s principal architect, to understand more about how an API-based commerce system works and why hypermedia makes ecommerce easier.
“When we designed our ecommerce system based on an API, the chief problem we needed to solve was complexity,” says Matt Bishop. Getting the combinations right considering all the factors that have to click into place is like solving a Rubik’s cube with hundreds of squares and a different color for every customer. We recognized three major layers of complexity:
“Taking these three layers of complexity together, we realized we shouldn’t make it more complex. So, we took the opposite approach. We decided to make ecommerce radically simpler,” says Bishop. “We set two goals for the Elastic Path API. It had to be easy to use and simple to extend.”
Hypermedia: a simple and elegant e-commerce solution
Elastic Path tried several API styles – SOAP, RDF from the Semantic Web, templated REST – and rejected each before looking at level three REST, then known as HATEOAS (or Hypermedia as the Engine of Application State) and recently renamed Hypermedia.
“We finally settled on using a REST level three hypermedia API because it alone could provide the simplicity of use and extension that we needed to solve the complexity problem,” says Bishop.
Hypermedia uses two concepts: resources and relationships. “Resources are things or the nouns of the system: carts, items, profiles, purchases. They have relationships to each other that are named. For example, an item has a relationship to price.”
To access a hypermedia API, simply go to the “home page” or root, which gives a list of links to start your navigation. Each link leads to a new link, or controls like “Add to Cart.” You can add, change or delete links completely.
“Understanding resources and relationships as well as how to access the API provides everything you need to successfully use a hypermedia API,” says Bishop. It’s that simple.
“Our decision five years ago to build a simpler way to create complex ecommerce systems was a good one,” says Bishop. “At the time, we were way ahead of the market. But today, Hypermedia APIs are now starting to lead the way in many other forms of complex systems, not just ecommerce, for all the same reasons.”
A hypermedia ecommerce API isn’t like other APIs; some are less sophisticated and come with significant overhead. Brands using hypermedia APIs can innovate faster and deliver consistent customer experiences. How is your company handling ecommerce complexity? Learn more about hypermedia APIs in 10 Ways A Hypermedia Ecommerce API Leads to Developer Nirvana.
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