July 22nd, 2014 | 4 MIN READ

API-liate Ecommerce

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Much of the cool, new ways ecommerce sites mesh with social and mobile is thanks to APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces which allow applications to communicate with each other, share data and perform various functions.

For example, pulling Pinterest data to create new merchandising sections on your website or mobile app.

(If you need a primer on how APIs impact ecommerce <-- read this or check out this infographic.)

A HUGE area of opportunity for ecommerce APIs is in affiliate marketing. How are APIs are currently and potentially used for merchants and affiliates? (Special thanks to ShareASale, Linkconnector and Avantlink for participating in briefings for this post).

How Affiliate Networks Use APIs

Affiliate networks connect merchants with affiliate partners, providing tracking and reporting tools, payment processing and various APIs for development, access to content and reporting-on-steroids.


The success of affiliate marketing depends on accurate data and analytics. Most if not all affiliate networks offer APIs to improve reporting and create custom dashboards. Some can be integrated with merchants' CRM systems and other services to connect data and metrics needed to automate tasks and make educated decisions like "is it profitable to reward bloggers with $10 every time they refer a new customer?"

APIs can aid in reporting of sales data for merchants using a "lead to sale" commission structure, common in subscription services, and becoming more popular among traditional retailers as well. In this model, a commission is paid for the initial lead (account sign up, free trial, download, etc.), and the retailer can track when a subscription sale is made, send data back to the affiliate network so the appropriate commission rules can be applied.


Some also offer advanced query capabilities to find products. For example, an affiliate blogger may use an API to query across network's inventory of products that match a specific query, like "baby skinny jeans," rather than search manually or by merchants one's already affiliated with.

Creative and content

Merchants may use affiliate networks' APIs to push the most up-do-date creative dynamically to affiliate sites. For example, seasonal campaign changes, new product version releases, or after a product sells out. Affiliates benefit from real-time updates with no manual effort.


Avantlink's Product Ad Widget allows affiliates to embed products from multiple merchants inside a web page or app. The widget's look and feel is customizable and can be populated manually or dynamically based on rules or context of the content of the page (e.g. keyword relevance).

The widget's also dynamic in that you can change the look and feel or contents of the widget without having to update your code.


APIs for new business models and partner apps

Another way ecommerce sites can use APIs in affiliate relationships is to offer their own APIs for developer partners. Recall from our post on API business models the situations where "developer" (read partner or affiliate) gets paid:

Potential models include revenue share, commissions on a cost-per-acquisition and subscription sign-up (one-time or recurring revenue).

For example, health apps PocketPharmacist and Healthspek offer prescription refills using Walgreens' API.

Best Buy is another example, notably its partnerships with the Listia marketplace, Citi for loyalty rewards and RedLaser's price comparison apps.

Citi’s Thank You Rewards members can browse the full Best Buy catalog through the loyalty app, or scan a barcode in-store and pay with rewards points.

Similarly, Listia members can buy new products directly from the marketplace, fulfilled by Best Buy.


The RedLaser app allows users to scan UPC and QR codes at most major retail stores and receive instant price comparison to direct you to the lowest available price, as well as any applicable coupons or special offers. You can even cut down on web browsing time by making your purchase within the application, and My Best Buy customers can even scan their cards for instant access to loyalty benefits.

Other ways retailers could use APIs for affiliate commerce

  • Offer your product recommendations or review content to affiliates to embed in their own sites and applications (like widgets)
  • Allow affiliates to pull up-to-date pricing and inventory levels
  • Create widgets to show where-to-buy for brands that don't sell direct-to-consumer, and rely on channel partners
  • Support transactions without leaving the affiliate / partner's site
  • Enable selling guides and tools (like Etsy's Search by Color featured) to be embedded in other sites and apps
  • Improve cross-channel attribution measurement, providing the ability to tie local/mobile push offers to in-store sales (tracked by redemption of affiliate coupons in-store)

For more information on APIs, check out our archive of posts on the topic, including:

Ecommerce APIs: The What The Why and the How to Make Money

20 API Business Models Deconstructed

How Ecommerce APIs Drive Digital Experience

23 Fun Facts About APIs [Infographic]

The Rise of Shopping APIs [Infographic]

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