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What is an API? Cody Landefeld Breaks it Down for Store Owners

In Episode 69 we are venturing into the tech side of online stores. As a shop owner, or even someone who is monetizing their WordPress site, you may have heard people throw around the term API. For many, it’s just another acronym they don’t understand. Others hear it lot, kind of get it, but still are not really clear on what the heck all these developers are talking about—especially when they are talking to you about your project.

The API is good to understand if you are running an online store. And to put it more in layman’s terms, we brought in Cody Landefeld, co-founder of the agency Mode Effect, to help us break it down. Cody has been explaining this to his non-tech clients for quite some time, and is bringing his expertise to today’s show.

We chatted about:

  • What the heck is the API and why should store owners care
  • How it plays such an important role in WooCommerce
  • Why it’s important for a developer or agency to clarify what an API is and its role with their clients
  • Some of the great applications and integrations in the WooCommerce space
  • How ongoing maintenance is a big factor with the API

Thanks to Our Podcast Sponsor: Bluehost


Bob Dunn: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the WP eCommerce Show. Bob Dunn here, also known as BobWP on the web. On our show today, we are going to dive into some serious geekiness: take something that is so important to the WordPress world and make it understandable to the average user or store owner.

That something is API. It’s actually an acronym for Application Program Interface. If you have worked with a developer, especially with an online store, you might have heard this term, and maybe your eyes just glazed over. To really understand the importance of the API, I have asked my good friend Cody Landefeld from Mode Effect here to help us all get a grip on the API. He can explain it in layman’s term, which is perfect. Hey, Cody. Welcome to the show.

Cody Landefeld: Hey, Bob. Thanks for having me in.

Bob: Well, Cody. Here’s the deal. I know that your agency has worked with numerous clients. From talking with you, I also understand that you’ve been put in numerous situations where you needed to explain what an API is and the importance of it to your clients. Before I get into this, I’d like to tell us a bit about yourself and your company, Mode Effect.

Meet Cody Landefeld, Co-founder of Mode Effect

Cody: I always enjoy talking about myself and love the sound of my voice. Perfect opportunity. Yeah. My name is Cody Landefeld. With my wife, Raquel, we founded a company called Mode Effect about seven years ago. Primarily we work with companies to establish some type of a web presence or application type of setup using WordPress. In most cases, we’re using WooCommerce to create all types of different purchasing types and get a rare privilege to have a great roster of clients. Really enjoy helping people accomplish their goals online.

Bob: Very cool. The API. This is something that even I sometimes think I understand it, and then when it really gets into conversations, it’s like I start zoning out. Thinking, “Whoa. They’ve lost me here.” In a nutshell and in terms that the casual WordPress user or store owner can understand, what the heck is an API? Why should I, someone who uses WordPress, really care about it?

What is API and why should I care?

Cody: Well, the beauty of WordPress is in most cases there’s so many plug-ins that are attached to third-party services that embed in apps. So essentially, the APIs are so easy to integrate with nice plug-ins such as, say, Gravity Forms, connecting to Constant Contact, or MailChimp or Drip. That’s probably a good use case of how most users use an API on their website: using a mailing list form inside of a Gravity Form plug-in. That’d be the most basic way to describe it.

Bob: Now, so it’s kind of the handshake between things to make things happen.

Cody: Yeah. Like I said, in most cases, in a lot of cases, WordPress affords us a lot of great plug-ins and tools that are pre-built. In a lot of cases, especially in the WooCommerce side of things, so many brands and companies have established relationships or established mission-critical services that they use to manage inventory, shipping, or just anything that’s so core to their business. In a lot of those cases they might offer an API, but there’s nothing on the WordPress side to do that handshake. Does that make sense?

Bob: Yeah, it does. That kind of leads into the next question because you have that expertise in WooCommerce. But, with WooCommerce, can you just throw a few examples out off the top of your head? Again, you touched on it as far as why it’s important, but it is more important with your online store, obviously, because that’s your business. Some examples, and if you want to add anything else to the importance of that API and why it’s critical for WooCommerce.

Is there an example of where a well-built API can be critical for an eCommerce site?

Cody: I would say something that we’ve done many times before and is probably a more common use case with WooCommerce is inventory. Companies most often land on using WooCommerce because they get told about it or they hear it’s user-friendly. What tends to happen is when you’re digging through their technology stack you’ll find that their inventory … We’ve seen that most common inventory systems are usually something that’s set up in a way that is very archaic, not user-friendly.

Sometimes they have an API, but in most instances we have to go log into their inventory management system, find out some type of an API or some type of a data bridge to build that it will easily integrate into WooCommerce.

Bob: Just to clarify, let’s say that I’m a company that does inventory or something like that. What a developer’s looking for is these companies that they can connect to that have an API available. Again, I’m using my non-technical brain here. They can snag it rather than having to go in and dive deeper into it and try to almost create it themselves. Is that kind of what you’re saying?

Cody: Well, fortunately it’s not a one size fits all. Not every company and client we work with always has a fantastic piece of software they’re using. Sometimes it’s really not that great. Using the example of the inventory, they have a company that uses an inventory management system. They have an API. All we have to do is come in and learn that API, build an integration on the WooCommerce side of things.

In those cases we really don’t have a challenge being able to do that. The challenge arrives when either the API is poorly built or they simply just don’t have any type of outs in action, and the software’s just really old. I would say, Bob, most cases that’s not really the case. It’s usually we find that there is some type of API integration or API available, but it just might not be built that well.

Bob: Okay, that makes sense. Now, when you’re handing something off to a client, or maybe it’s more in that beginning process. Because I know that you are not the developer in your agency. You’re the sales and marketing. You communicate with all the clients all the time, so you get this dropped into your hands a lot.

In the beginning of the process, do you think it’s important, especially when it comes to an online store, for the client to understand what an API is or does that come down the road when you say, “Okay, there’s going to be this charge,  because we have to do this with the API.” And they say, “Oh, well, what the heck is that?” Where does it play in with the client?

Is it important for a client to understand API at the beginning of the process?

Cody: That’s a good question. In the continued example, the use case for just a straight-ahead selling products online WooCommerce customer, I would always want to let our customers know upfront that we need to build in some type of an API integration in the inclusion of the project. Just because it’s so crucial to their business. It’s an important component.

Like I said, we always need to prepare for the worst, even if the best happens, because, again, we’ve seen so many instances where either the system doesn’t allow us to build an integration or it’s just something we have to learn and we have to build out. Even if the API is great to work with, there still might be a lot of effort to get that integration built in because, like I said before, there’s not always … Even though WordPress has great plug-ins and good systems for the most common use cases, it’s not always readily available to have a client’s core business function or their offsite integration to be built in with a plug-in that’s off the shelf. Does that make sense?

Bob: It does. This is making it even more clear. Like I said, even though I kind of understand the basics of it, this does help. I think that a lot of clients will appreciate this because sometimes these acronyms might be thrown into a project proposal. They’re like, “Wait. What’s this API?” I don’t know if some developers might even break it down into certain expenses or charges. In any case, I think this is good.

Now, with your experience in WooCommerce, and I know you’re not in there developing, but just having worked with these developers, having worked with customers, what do you consider some of the great applications or integrations? Maybe give a couple, three of them that are just like every time a store owner says, “Hey I want to do this,” and you think, “Oh, thank God they’re asking this because this is going to be so smooth and easy where it involves API and other variables.” Is there any of your top few that you really love in the WooCommerce space?

In your opinion, what are some of the great applications and integrations in the WooCommerce space?

Cody: Fortunately and unfortunately, there’s so many great tools out there. I would say in most cases in continuing the example of somebody who’s got a straightforward eCommerce store, All of your baseline extensions, baseline systems that you’ll use with regards to checkout, with regards to email marketing, there’s so many things that are just so easy to integrate and we have no challenges getting our clients to get on board with those.

Then there’s a secondary set, right? When you’ve got companies that utilize selling physical products and managing inventory and shipping things, that inventory piece tends to be that secondary set where there’s that aspect of figuring out what their business is already using and implementing. On the opposite side of that, there’s the actual revenue management piece. With the revenue management piece, I would say that WooCommerce on the dashboard, it can get a little bit tricky because there’s a lot jammed into the dashboard. I would throw a shout out to Bryce’s new product, Metorik.

Bob: Right.

Cody: We haven’t yet used that, but they have, man, I’m looking for instances where we can use it. Clients, if you’re out there, let’s do a project together and utilize Bryce’s software to put that onto the site so we can use it. Yeah, I mean, that’s a good instance for using, let’s say, just with regards to revenue and other use cases, we just did a post. I’m going to plug my blog here. We just did a post last week about inventory management tools.

Bob: Oh, sure. Do.

Cody: When you do a simple Google search, on the first page you’re going to find, say, TradeGecko or Stitch or Orderhive. There’s just a lot of other systems out there that you can utilize. Again, there’s just some of those systems that we can recommend to clients, but the only tricky part is oftentimes you’re finding, if it’s a store that’s been around, which in our case we want to work with, a lot of times they’ve already established a relationship and have kind of set up sort of a system that they’re kind of chained to.

In the cases when we recommend some of the top inventory management systems. Beyond that, just with revenue and inventory and then kind of that secondary level of systems, those are the ones we typically recommend.

Bob: Yeah. I’ll make sure to link that in the transcripts as far as to that blog post. Now, I’m going to throw in one question before I do the last one. I kind of got thinking about this. I’ve written a post before and it’s a great tool, Zapier, which helps you connect WooCommerce to a lot of different third party apps, like you said, MailChimp. All these different ones. I know they’re just not for WooCommerce only.

Now this whole conversation has made me think, is Zapier kind of a big part in that whole API thing or is that just another tool to connect?

What role does a tool like Zapier play the the whole API thing?

Cody: Zapier is a great tool for a lot of automated tasks. It is kind of a non-technical way to set up an API integration between two services because a lot of times if I’m using a certain CRM or some type of a service that doesn’t quite have an integration ready for, say, WooCommerce or whatnot, a lot of times Zapier is a nice go-between instead of developing that.

The only thing I would add onto that is, when we’re working with a client and we’re tasked with building some type of an API from the ground up, it’s so important to stress to the customer and just kind of prep them to let them know about the needed use of maintenance ongoing. Especially if their store’s doing a significant amount of business. We’re really doing them a disservice to say, “Okay, we’re going to build this store. We’re going to get you going, going to get your business off the ground, or just migrate you from one system to WooCommerce,” but then after the fact just trusting a nontechnical business to take that technical overhaul or that load and just be able to maintain it themselves. Its’ a tall order.

What about ongoing maintenance?

In most cases we’re always talking about what it’s going to take to maintain it, whether we’re going to do it or we’re going to put somebody on their side at the helm. In most cases, we want to help them, want to maintain that relationship, and we want to be there alongside them. We’ve actually rolled out a maintenance plan that we’re making available to people that haven’t even done business with us because I feel like in WooCommerce, and I’m on the soapbox now.

Bob: Oh, no problem.

Cody: Yeah. I think it’s just this is just such a bigger thing. There’s so many great services for WordPress maintenance and helping clients, but really I think there’s just a big dropoff with people who are using WordPress and slapping on WooCommerce or migrating their platform from Shopify or Magento to WooCommerce. There’s just a lot of thing to keep a track of. It’s not easy.

We’ve put together a great offering and a great process for this, and been able to help a lot of clients. That’s something that we’re rolling out new on our website. If you hit any of our posts, you’ll be able to see an easy way to find out about that and sign up for it.

Bob: Cool. No, I’ll be sharing when you release that as well. I totally agree. It’s something that I’ve talked to when I’ve done training and coaching workshops, all that stuff in the past, with WooCommerce store owners. They come to me all the time. They’d say, “Oh, Bob. Can you help with this? What’s this? I need somebody to maintain this part of the site.” All these different things around WooCommerce. Sometimes I had to kind of dig deep to find somebody that had that specialty because, when you run a brick and mortar shop do you really sit there and go, “Okay, I’m going to make sure everything’s running perfectly in my store here?”

It’s kind of strange to even say as far as keeping it clean. I mean, you go to a WooCommerce site. You keep things clean and updated. It’s like the store owner, president of Ikea, is in mopping the floors at night and straightening up stuff and making sure everything’s working as it should be.

Cody: Yeah. I think what tends to happen different from a brick-and-mortar is WordPress is open source. WooCommerce is open source. It’s free software, but the caveat to that is we build, so many specific-use solutions for each of our clients. When you just hit the update WordPress, update WooCommerce, there’s no guarantee everything’s going to work. You really need to run things through the paces to make sure, okay, do I need to update my custom integrations before upgrading to the most recent version of WooCommerce?

You want to do that anyway because you want to get the system updates and more efficiency on the platform. Then the other side of it is security. I mean, the more out of date your software is, the more vulnerable you are to malware and other security issues.

Bob: Exactly. Why would you leave your doors unlocked to your store at night when you’re done? Same thing. You’ve got to make sure that’s being taken care of.

Cody: Oh, yeah.

Bob: Excellent. Well, there you have it. I think that our listeners can feel a bit more in control of their site and their future products with a deeper understanding of what the API is. Because even though you don’t need to know all the technical details, at least understanding how important it is to your site, and then added things like Cody has said as far as the maintenance, just keeping things running smoothly. Next time you sit down with a developer, they’ll bring up the API and you’ll go, “Oh, yeah.” You’ll actually have a question to ask them about that because you understand it and you’ll freak them out. I hope my listeners have fun with that. Cody, before we sign off, can you tell us where people can find you around the web?

Where can we find Cody on the web?

Cody: Yeah. If you want to follow our company, we’re @ModeEffect, all one word, M-O-D-E-E-F-F-E-C-T, on Twitter. Same thing with a forward slash on Facebook, and You can personally follow me on Twitter @CodyL, C-O-D-Y-L.

Bob: Very cool. Thanks again so much for all this great information and breaking down the API for us and the time to join us today, Cody.

Cody: Anytime. Thank you so much, Bob.

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