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For engineers, an online marketplace means ecosystem – the front-end and back-office systems that run a business. Modern ecosystems are composed of third-party software components built by experts in their fields. For example, search and AI specialists build search and discovery components, financial companies provide payment functionality, and business experts create the transactions and ordering processes.
Ecosystem engineers don’t have to code the business logic of a composable architecture. Instead, they integrate the third-party API components into their existing infrastructure, and focus only on managing the exchange of data and business logic between the components.
In our previous article on matchmaking and white-labeling, we showed that the components and the composable ecosystem itself can be shared, where one business shares its infrastructure and software components directly with other businesses, or shows them how to run the same components on their own infrastructures. This article focuses in on the “matchmaking”, or the parts involving one marketplace introducing expertly-written API components to other marketplaces.
To illustrate matchmaking, we described in the first article how two entrepreneurs built a successful marketplace ecosystem. Their story begins here. They started out by sharing their interface and infrastructure, which is essentially what Amazon, Etsy, and all other marketplaces do. Then came the spin-offs, matchmaking, and white-labeling.
One of their vendors, a coin collecting business, wanted a different interface but didn’t want to build or purchase its own infrastructure. The marketplace architecture (API-composed, headless) enabled the engineers to decouple the user interface from the back end components. In this way, the coin collector was able to access the API services of the ecosystem from their own website.
Another vendor wanted to stream music. They created a hybrid infrastructure: some components ran on the marketplace’s infrastructure; other components (for media streaming) ran on the vendor’s infrastructure.
Other vendors saw the need to copy the infrastructure and build their own website using their own infrastructure. At that point, the original marketplace engineers saw an opportunity to white-label their marketplace ecosystem, which enabled the external vendors to build their own marketplace by doing the following:
The business that shares its ecosystem (A) provides a data-exchange API that allows another company (B) to send its data to A’s index. Company A’s data-exchange API receives, validates, and, if there is no error, updates the data on its infrastructure. This presents an expansion opportunity for Company A, as they introduce these partnership and integration channels. We’ll see how this all works with Algolia’s Search and Discovery API.
Going one step further, A can share its ecosystem via white-labeling, allowing B to copy its ecosystem software to its own servers. In this scenario, B manages its own ecosystem and becomes a direct client of the companies that provide the third-party API components.
Let’s get into the details.
There are several key driving forces at work here:
Of course there’s more. For example, on the back end, there’s inventory management, CRMs, pricing tools, and other such applications that run the business from A to Z. And on the front end, there are user comments, recommendations, images – just to name a few.
The marketplace ecosystem offers the following services to create a customer journey:
We won’t cover the second part. You can explore the large number of APIs and platforms that manage the ordering process (carts, wish lists, customer accounts, CMSs), payment (general payments, one-click, deferred), and delivery (links – fast, pickup/collect, stream, read).
In this article, we’re interested in the first part of the customer journey, the search and discovery, where consumers search or browse for what they want to buy, stream, read, or download. As you’ll see, search and discovery is more than a search bar, it’s about the display and navigation of content as the end-user interacts with a digital marketplace.
Algolia provides the software components for the Search and Discovery journey. As already stated, search and discovery involves more than a search bar, it’s about menu navigation, searching, browsing, faceting & filtering, and the relevance and visual layout of the search results, category pages, and product views. Essentially, Search and Discovery covers every part of the front-end user journey before a customer selects the item(s) they want to buy (or watch, read, download). It also continues after the purchase, with the Continue to Shop button.
Underlying all ecosystem sharing is a flexible API-first, feature-rich product. It starts with Company A creating a search-led ecosystem, using a Search and Discovery API like Algolia. Company A shares its ecosystem with Companies 1 .. N, either as partners or spin-offs.
To understand how sharing works, it’s important to understand what an index is. Algolia’s Search and Discovery technology relies mainly on a specially designed index and fast indexing process. Once a company extracts and formats its data, an indexing API is used to add, remove, or update the data to Algolia’s servers. The data is thus located on Algolia’s hosted servers, which are located in all regions of the world, to minimize latency in the transactions. The company can choose any region that best suits their user base. The API can access any server in any region.
Here are 3 ways you can share a Search and Discovery API:
The challenge for indexing is how to manage the data that vendors send to the marketplace index. This is done via a data-exchange layer which takes in the data and validates it. For this, the marketplace exposes a data-exchange API to its vendors. This API accepts the vendor’s data, validates it, and then sends it to Algolia, if there’s no problems with the data.
Thus, there are two APIs:
We won’t call the marketplace API an ETL. An ETL normally Extracts, Transforms, and Loads data. But as defined here, there is no need for any Extraction or Transformation, because the marketplace will ask for the data already structured and formatted in the same JSON that will be sent to Algolia’s API.
The job, therefore, for the marketplace API is to receive-validate-load the data. The validation process should ensure that:
Additionally, some marketplaces will offer attributes that can be used for merchandising and content management, like banners or item promotions.
Sharing an index only works when the marketplace sets a standard. Algolia accepts a schema-less JSON file, which is flexible enough to allow any structure or content. The marketplace uses this flexibility to create a precise structure for its unique needs. However, the outside vendors are more restricted, in that they must conform their data to the structure the marketplace has designed. Here are some of the guidelines:
The marketplace API should have the following features:
One thing to note at the outset regarding the front end: the same index can power multiple user interfaces. This is key to ecosystem sharing: different vendors create their own UIs while using the same indexing API methods. This is possible because the API method used for searching can point to the same index and server.
Any discussion about technology is invariably about the people responsible for creating it. While the APIs provide the financial, business, and user-interface expert functionality, the story is about the people who design and develop the software, and who eventually expose their expertise in the form of APIs. These experts are both technical and non-technical. Their grit and sharing is what runs our digital economy.
Algolia Search and Discovery integrates closely with headless ecosystems. To find out how it can transform your digital strategies, sign up for free and see it for yourself. Or get a customized demo from our search experts today.