Prescription for a Great Commerce API Strategy

Forget banner ads and coupon codes, the new wave of affiliate marketing is going API (application programming interface).

The shift to mobile is putting the squeeze on banner ads. Standard ad units don’t always resize for mobile devices, forcing publishers and affiliate partners to resize them or ditch them altogether. Coupon codes cost you margin and don’t foster loyalty.

APIs, on the other hand, enable your products and features to be integrated into useful applications, with seamless transaction capabilities (in-app), and to generate repeat business. Walgreen’s prescription refill API is a perfect example of this.

Walgreen’s is already using its API to power its own mobile app, with barcode scanning and refill capabilities.

It’s external facing Pharmacy Prescription Refill API is a developer-gets-paid model, with 2 launch partners, PocketPharmacist and Healthspek. Both are personal health management apps for the iPad (the former for iPhone also).

Healthspek connects users with their medical records in the cloud, including medical charts, prescription information, immunization history, existing conditions, doctor contact information, insurance information, and scheduled appointments. The app enables the whole family to be managed from one account, and information shared through the app with doctors, hospitals and clinics.

Walgreen’s affiliation with the Healthspek app is win-win – it enables Healthspek to generate recurring revenue and offer one more value prop to users (who pay $4.99 per download) – simple prescription refills. Walgreen’s boosts brand value and can poach repeat customers from competitors like CVS, Rite Aid and Walmart.

PocketPharmacist was developed by a pharmacist and serves as a trusted source of non-pharma supported information on drug interactions, side effects, dosage, pill identifier tools and user profiles that can be forwarded to family or medical professionals — all features unavailable in Walgreen’s own app, and the brand association with this highly rated app is quite valuable to the pharmacy chain.

Walgreen’s prescription for a healthy API strategy

  • Walgreen’s clearly understands where the puck is moving. Busy people are more likely to be near a smartphone than a desktop machine at any given time, and prescription refills are tasks that don’t require the desktop experience.
  • It’s thinking about the adjacent possible — what’s the next useful thing it can do with its products and services, what fills a consumer life need, and which features of a mobile device can be leveraged to create a useful customer experience (e.g. GPS, barcode scanning, push alerts, etc).
  • Rather than launch the API and wait for developers to bite, Walgreen’s already thought through which existing apps would be a natural fit, reached out to them, and can now piggyback their existing user base and marketing activities hit the ground running.
  • Though with its own time and money, Walgreen’s could have built much of these third party apps’ features into its own, it would be limited to marketing to its own customers. Walgreen’s can still recommend its partner apps to customers, but also benefits from trustworthy, non-commercial apps’ own marketing and awareness.
  • Marketing to developers is a huge part of a successful API strategy. Launching with reference “customers” provides context around what the API does and gets far more PR than a simple “hey, we got an API!” release.

The Pharmacy Prescription Refill API is not its first kick at the API can. QuickPrints API is already integrated into a number of Android and iOS apps.

Though Walgreen’s enjoys a first-mover advantage, its competition could romance developers with similar tools, and even join forces with Walgreen’s partners. But Walgreen’s demonstrates the innovative culture that I predict will remain ahead of the pack. This won’t be their last API.

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