May 8, 2009, 12:00 AM

More retailers are planning to share product data with partners

A number of online retailers are considering opening up their application programming interfaces, or APIs, to development partners that can help expand their reach on the web within the next few years, experts say.

A number of online retailers are considering opening up their application programming interfaces, or APIs, to development partners that can help expand their reach on the web within the next few years, experts say.

“Over the next three years, we’ll see 25 to 30% of the top-tier retailers with API practices,” says Gene Alvarez, vice president and retail analyst at research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. He adds that he’s advising several consumer-oriented and business-to-business clients on API strategy options. “They’ll choose developers who will use their APIs to connect to their shopping carts and product catalogs to help them move products,” he says.

Moreover, an API strategy isn’t only for the largest online retailers, says Oren Michels, CEO of Mashery Inc., a company that serves as a gateway and clearinghouse between developers and the APIs of companies like Best Buy, DVD e-retailer Netflix Inc. and Etsy, a retail e-marketplace for sellers of handmade goods. “We have a lot more retailers in our pipeline,” Michels says.

Although some developers may produce nothing of value, retailers bear no risk as long as they’re careful in how they let developers access their API, experts say. “There’s no downside, but there could be an upside,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, principal analyst for retail e-business at Forrester Research Inc. “And retailers don’t want to miss out on what could be the next big thing, so it absolutely makes sense to explore.”

At Best Buy Co. Inc., for example, its Best Buy Remix API program recently launched a beta test version of shopping site ConsumersPrice.com, where shoppers can request alerts of future pricing on particular products sold by Best Buy. Developed by Ribbit, a unit of British Telecom that specializes in building Internet phone access to web sites, ConsumersPrice.com is designed to interact with shoppers in several ways.

A core feature of ConsumersPrice.com allows shoppers to set a price they’re willing to pay for a particular product that Best Buy sells. If and when the desired product hits that price target, the shopper gets an immediate alert through text message or e-mail.

In addition to Ribbit’s own technology that supports voice-recorded reviews and messages sent via e-mail or SMS text format, ConsumersPrice connects with APIs for Google Inc.’s Google Maps application, social networking site Twitter and the photo-sharing site Flickr, says Best Buy senior e-business architect Kevin Matheny.

As a result, shoppers on ConsumersPrice.com can record and listen to audio files of voice reviews of products; share comments with friends through text messages, e-mail and Twitter.com; and view photos taken by particular camera models posted on Flickr.com. They can also call up the Google Maps application to view the locations of Best Buy stores that have a desired product in stock.

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