Kao: Simplifying the business of beauty with APIs

About Kao AEMEA

Kao AEMEA (Kao) is a global manufacturer and distributor of some of the world's most well-known beauty products brands including Biorè, Jergens, John Frieda, Oribe, and Molton Brown. Kao's mission is to strive for the satisfaction and enrichment of the lives of people globally and to contribute to the sustainability of society.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: United States

Kao AEMEA offers B2B and B2C ecommerce platforms, streamlines its supply chain, and improves customer experience with Apigee.

Google Cloud Results

  • Handles more than 100k calls per day with Apigee platform
  • Decreases integration time for ecommerce platforms with reusable APIs
  • Increases focus on customer satisfaction with more robust, improved experiences

Development time reduced 90% from 40 to 4 weeks

Kao manufactures and globally distributes a wide range of well-known consumer beauty brands. Products are commercialized through three principal retail sectors: mass market outlets including Walmart, CVS, and Target, beauty salons, and prestige channels that distribute the high-end Molton Brown brand. About 60 percent of Kao sales across the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Africa (AEMEA) are mass market, with 30 percent and 10 percent coming from salon and prestige channels, respectively.

Kao AEMEA sought a global API management platform that would enable digital transformation in its organization across the regions while simplifying interactions with Kao corporate, which is based in Japan. The company chose the Apigee API management platform from Google for its ease of use and advanced security features.

Simplifying buying and selling

The enormity of mass-market logistics has traditionally presented the biggest challenge to Kao's supply chain managers, who are constantly working to streamline business processes. A big part of the team's focus is on standardizing interactions with third-party logistics partners (3PLs) through APIs to increase agility and speed.

Ecommerce presented another area where Kao saw opportunity for profoundly transforming the business, particularly for the salon and prestige channels that interface with a huge array of supply chain partners serving beauty salons, wholesale beauty suppliers, hotels, boutiques, department stores, and other outlets selling Kao products directly to consumers, via both digital and brick-and-mortar outlets.

Toward omnichannel retail

To meet its aggressive digital transformation goals, Kao has been hard at work integrating new and existing commercial platforms for B2B and B2C customers. The new cloud-based OneView Commerce platform makes Kao's Molton Brown line available to retail customers. This product has been successfully integrated with the company's back-end systems, enabling a 360° digital B2C customer experience for the first time.

"Imagine creating a new interface every single time. On average an interface takes four weeks to build. Ten partners times four weeks, that's 40 weeks of work. With Apigee we do this in four weeks, give them their keys, and we're done. That's a 90 percent productivity gain."

Keith Soward, Associate Director, EIS, Development, Integration, Collaboration, Kao

Kao also took on the Magento eCommerce platform when they recently acquired the Oribe brand. Integrating with the Kao backend and deploying the platform across the AEMEA region meant relying heavily on APIs and the Apigee platform to provide seamless purchasing experiences for B2B and B2C customers.

New integrations due to business growth are taking less time to complete, thanks to reusable APIs managed in the Apigee platform. When Kao first brought on OneView Commerce, the integration took seven months to complete. With Magento, the team was able to get it done in five. The company's latest platform integration, which followed a recent acquisition and introduced additional functionality, only took three months.

In the past, the Kao team had to develop custom interfaces for all trading partners, which was extremely time consuming.

"Imagine creating a new interface every single time. On average an interface takes four weeks to build. Ten partners times four weeks, that's 40 weeks of work. With Apigee we do this in four weeks, give them their keys, and we're done. That's a 90 percent productivity gain," says Keith Soward, Associate Director, EIS, Development, Integration, Collaboration for Kao.

Having drastically reduced development time, Kao is well positioned to roll out future B2B and B2C channels that use the same APIs, thus enabling the holy grail of ecommerce – omnichannel retail.

Multiple brands, multiple technologies

With multiple brands and a variety of distribution channels, Kao publishes a range of branded B2B and B2C websites. Connecting all of these properties to the new ecommerce platforms and the Kao backend could only be possible with APIs and the microservices they support.

"Calls from all of our websites hit Apigee, which then hit our backend. Inventory availability, customer data, product details, orders coming in, and pricing going out – all of these are reusable, scalable APIs enabling data sharing in real time," Soward says.

"Now I don't have to deal with 15 different places and security mechanisms used by all these systems. I create one customer API and I'm done. Everybody speaks the same language, everybody is secured the same way, and we have a single point of access through our firewall. That's the power of Apigee and what I appreciate most."

Soji Kunitomo, Technical Application Leader, Kao

The Kao developer team believes in a decoupled microservices architecture for flexibility and scalability. To that end, they aim for an API-first approach whenever possible. This has resulted in successful API-based integrations of services such as SurePayd for providing payment collection services, as well as other SaaS products.

The Apigee one-stop-shop solution is a game changer for Soji Kunitomo, Kao's Technical Application Leader, who appreciates the simplicity of being able to expose master ERP data to multiple systems with APIs.

"We were running into issues with multiple SaaS, mobile apps, ecommerce platforms, and retail systems all needing the same thing at the end of the day: customer information or to place an order," explains Kunitomo. "Now I don't have to deal with 15 different places and security mechanisms used by all these systems. I create one customer API and I'm done. Everybody speaks the same language, everybody is secured the same way, and we have a single point of access through our firewall. That's the power of Apigee and what I appreciate most."

Streamlined supply chain

Kao's business model depends on a network of company-managed centralized distribution centers in each of the countries where it operates. Timely and accurate interactions between these distribution centers and third-party warehouses are fundamental to the company's bottom line, with Kao relying on EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and APIs to handle the large volume of communications.

"A lot of what we do today with partners is EDI, which is very asynchronous, so it's kind of fire and forget," says Soward. "Things take time to move from A to B to C and the process can be hard to track. With APIs we have a great opportunity to get more visibility into the process and to operate more synchronously. We can now easily tie into our ecommerce and ERP systems, which are what's controlling the supply chain."

KAO developers are fielding requests from their ecommerce colleagues who want to know where packages are from the minute they leave the warehouse to the moment they're delivered. With EDI that level of tracking granularity is out of the question, but APIs offer that possibility and more. Shipping information, inventory levels, and supply chain status can all be made visible at any point in the process, enabling colleagues and partners to improve communications and customer service.

"APIs help us to be more agile and to respond quickly to industry disruptions. Our legacy technology is showing its age and we can't just hold our own with what's worked in the past, we have to embrace the changes that are happening across the industry," says Frank Hill, Project Manager, Kao.

"We can now easily tie into our ecommerce and ERP systems, which are what's controlling the supply chain."

Keith Soward, Associate Director, EIS, Development, Integration, Collaboration, Kao

Improving customer experience

With many online retailers having raised the bar for customer experiences, Kao is constantly looking for ways to keep customers coming back to its brands. For Kao, this means implementing instant feedback for customers through APIs, whether their order came through an ecommerce or an EDI platform. It also means that Kao can be proactive in informing customers about short shipments or delays – before they become bigger issues.

One example is an inventory adjustment API that enables partners to make real-time adjustments in the Kao system to account for breakages during transport or stocking. Now the company can account for loss and adjust inventory levels quickly and easily, ultimately helping to improve the customer experience.

A beautiful future with APIs

Kao's IT team is deploying an Apigee API developer portal so that business users, product owners, and developers can see all of the company's APIs, learn about them, try them out, and request automated access. Currently, Kao is exposing around 20 APIs and 100 resources both internally and externally to 15 partners for B2B and B2C use, with expectations of scaling quickly to meet increasing demand.

Kao envisions a future where the same customer interacts with the company in multiple ways – in salons, through a website, at a hotel, in a brick-and-mortar store, or through an app – all running through APIs.

Beyond these more traditional touchpoints, Kao is also looking forward to how APIs can enable automation programs that can leverage some of the same API infrastructure. The team has already developed a prototype of a chatbot that can pull data out of a system more easily than someone logging into a traditional system could. This promising project has developers looking to expand the Apigee footprint to find ecosystem compatibility and drive connected experiences through a wide variety of platforms and channels.

For a global company like Kao, the common language of APIs has special significance. Developers from Europe, Japan, and the Americas can easily work together, regardless of language, to develop the technical solutions that keep Kao delivering the business of beauty around the globe.

About Kao AEMEA

Kao AEMEA (Kao) is a global manufacturer and distributor of some of the world's most well-known beauty products brands including Biorè, Jergens, John Frieda, Oribe, and Molton Brown. Kao's mission is to strive for the satisfaction and enrichment of the lives of people globally and to contribute to the sustainability of society.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: United States
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