June 14th, 2009 | 3 MIN READ

Retailers Embrace API-lliate Marketing

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

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

Back in 2007, Facebook opened its API (application programming interface) to allow any developer to build an application that could extend the functionality of Facebook (and maybe make you a bit of money). Facebook understood that it couldn't possibly create all the cool things possible with the resources it had, and that creative folks would be happy to do the job for free. Today there are over 50,000 Facebook applications. While most applications are at the bottom of the haystack, some have become wildly popular.

Online retailers Amazon, eBay and Best Buy have opened up their own APIs. Like Facebook, they can leverage a force of free developer talent to create innovative, fun and useful applications and bring their product catalogs to more places around the web -- not just their own .com sites or shopping engines. This could be the next ecommerce trend. Gartner predicts that by 2012, 25% or more of top retailers will allow software developer partners to access their APIs (application development interfaces) to connect to product catalogs and payment systems for affiliates.

eBay and Amazon have offered their APIs for a while, and I've spotted some interesting creations like the eBay Auction Misspeller. The idea is to help bargain hunter find poorly optimized listings (that get little or no bids) and find eBay deals. Others have built their own Amazon Wishlist applications for Facebook by mashing up Amazon and Facebook APIs:

More recently, Best Buy launched its Remix API asking "Can you build a better best buy?" It incentivizes its developer community with contests at RemixChallenge.com with prizes like flat panel TV screens and cash.

The challenges are product and customer experience focused, like the Flat Panel TV Challenge:

Here is your opportunity to help customers find the right TV for them. Create a complete customer solution around large, flat panel television systems. The purchase of a large TV is particularly difficult on-line, Best Buy wants to help their customers navigate all of the different choices they are presented with, in order to make the correct decision for their circumstances.

There are also idea generation contests: "How do we make Best Buy the best ink destination? What would attract more people to our experience? Ease of use? Better assistance tools or applications? You tell us." Developers can interact with Keith Burtis, the Best Buy Remix community manager through Twitter.

Check out some of the featured creations at the Remix Sample Gallery. One of my favorites is the GPS Discovery Tool, an interactive product finder a bit like what Telus Mobility does with its handsets.

Another developer is using the API to feed Twitter accounts for video game preorders, with a separate account for Wii, XBox, PS3 etc.

Even if developers don't win Best Buy's coveted prizes, they can still use the API to enhance their own affiliate sites and make money through referrals. The more Web sites out there displaying Best Buy products, the more sales Best Buy makes. This is a win-win situation.

It will be interesting to see what kind of applications the community comes up with to solve Best Buy's challenges, and to see which retailers follow suit.

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