Tesco Embraces Open API Strategy For Mobile, 3D

Tesco, Europe's second-largest retailer, is counting on an army of outside programmers to create applications that will enable easy shopping on its Web site via mobile devices and other interfaces, following a similar move by Best Buy to release its APIs to the developer community.

An official with the $85 billion Tesco, the world's third-largest retailer behind Wal-Mart and France's Carrefour, detailed the move this week in some Web and blob entries. "Our customers tell us that to differentiate ourselves we must be proactive, we must inspire them and we must make grocery shopping easier and faster," wrote Nick Lansley, Tesco's head of research and development. "Perhaps this new immersive experience needs to be a great mobile phone application or perhaps a 3D virtual store or shopping through the TV set-top box or a third party recipe site where ingredients can be added straight to your basket."

But there will be some constraints. Lansley said the developers won't be allowed to "portray Tesco in a bad way politically, nor store private info without customers permission, nor sell insight on to competitors from customers using your applications, nor use Tesco branded images other than those that will be provided to you, nor attempt any form of denial of service."

Lansley said Tesco plans to give programmers, through the new API, full access to customer favorites and previous ordered products, information that's "great if you fancy trying out some 'prediction' ideas."

He said programmers asked for, and will receive, extended product information, such as nutrition and fat content of food products. As for giving the developers the ability to offer checkouts (so the users do not have to check-out through Tesco.com), Lansley said the company will "provide limited checkout facilities, although this may not be on 'day 1' of the new API."

He said that the challenge facing Tesco is allowing third parties between it and its customers when taking payment.

"Customers need to trust that your application won't take their card details and store them or act nefariously with this info," wrote Lansley. "We'll be looking at the 'using stored card' facility on our web site going forward, but we have to be careful and I hope you understand this. Thoughts on how to improve on this will be gratefully received. We operate within strict Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance and there is nothing we must do (that would) even slightly risk that compliance."

Lansley also told the programmers that they will be able to make some money for their efforts, promising to give them access to Tesco's "affiliates scheme" where customers using their apps can make them money.