I'm a big movie fan so when I set out to write about the power of API partnerships for retailers I recalled a scene in Ghostbusters where the boys cross the streams of their "unlicensed nuclear accelerators" and unlocked new potential. Application Programming Interfaces are like those streams. When one or more are used together they unlock new ways to serve customers.
New APIs are coming on to the scene daily. Remember that APIs are code that help systems connect and communicate with each other over the internet. Some of the early retailers to adopt open APIs are Amazon, eBay, Sears, and Tesco. These retailers are exposing their product catalogs via an API and allowing partners to develop solutions (apps, websites, etc) with those APIs. This allows the retailer to reach more customers through these partnerships and affiliations.
Let's explore the opposite situation. What APIs are out there that a retailer can consume for the benefit of their customer? Mobile applications and mobile marketing are certainly on the top of many retailer's strategic lists. Mobile apps are great but store locators and product catalogs are becoming a big yawn. What else is there? How about an API for location-aware promotions? Combined with a mobile app or SMS marketing campaign these APIs streams can cross and become huge weapons in the competitive battlefield. Imagine luring a customer to a store with a special promotion right as they're about to walk in to a competitor's location.
Location-aware APIs combined with a smartphone's GPS API, combined with a retailers store locator API.... mix it together and bang out a new way to reach more customers. There are several location-aware APIs out there like Google, FourSquare, Locomatix and SimpleGeo. And don't forget about social APIs. Adding social functionality, like that available in APIs like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter, creates the "perfect storm" of mobile, geo and social to let your customers not only get what they want, when they want it, where they want it, but engage and share with their social network around your platform- expanding your reach even further.
There are some other interesting prospects emerging. Recently there was a startup that unveiled a mobile payment solution that doesn't require hardware changes or software changes at the point of sale. It's called MobilePayUSA. Imagine combining that functionality along with a retailer's product catalog and a recommendation API like ProductWiki. Now you've got a customer in the store that can browse the store and online catalogs on their mobile device, get reviews of products and pay for them - again those are some powerful steams being crossed. The most important streams might already exist in an enterprise. We'll explore what happens when those streams are crossed in the next post.