Shopify Launches Sales Channel SDK to Enhance Its Merchants' Reach

Through a newly-offered collection of HTTP and Webhook-based API endpoints billed as a Sales Channel SDK, Shopify.com is looking to greatly expand the number of options that Shopify merchants have for improving the visibility of their offerings while also putting a powerful business opportunity into the hands of entrepreneurial developers. The move also draws attention to the role that APIs and SDKs can play in driving mutually beneficial partnerships while improving outcomes for customers.

Like other turnkey e-commerce SaaS solutions, Shopify.com has developed a reputation as a great place to hang a shingle for those looking to open up an online store. When one follows the site's home page link to create "a gorgeous online store," not only does Shopify automate the process of publishing a great looking, commerce-ready online store into which a merchant can publish a list of items to sell, it also takes care of ensuring that merchants' stores are easily browsed with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. 

But one of Shopify's lesser known features -- perhaps best described as a social network of online shopping -- has to do with the way in which merchants can extend the reach of their offerings into third party-operated online channels. This is sort of like the way that goods from your local bakery start to show up in the neighborhood grocery and specialty food stores.  Those stores help the local bakery to reach a broader market of consumers who might never come to the bakery itself.

Until now, Shopify worked with a very exclusive set of third parties --- Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter to be specific --- to serve as additional channels through which Shopify merchants could extend their visibility and engage in commerce. For example, in the screenshot below, MVMT Watches has relied on Shopify's ability to create a fully commerce-enabled shopping environment right within Facebook. 

But with today's launch of its Sales Channel SDK, Shopify is looking to expand the number of channels through which its merchants  can improve their visibility. Shopify director of product Satish Kanwar told ProgrammableWeb that the initial channel expansion (beyond the current Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter channels) will include Wanelo, Houzz, and eBates. To enable the SDK's access to its furniture shopping network, Houzz also announced broader availability of its API to third parties.

Somewhat characterizing the degree to which its network can improve Shopify merchant visibility, Houzz president and cofounder Alon Cohen said "Today we opened our commerce API to third party partners to make it easier for merchants to sell and manage their inventory on Houzz. The new solution was used to build a sales channel on the Shopify platform, enabling Shopify merchants to start selling directly on Houzz and connect with our more than 35 million monthly unique users."

Developers interested in working with the Houzz API must fill out an application. Nothing about the new API (documentation, example code, interactive console, etc.) is publicly viewable.

As a result of the newly SDK-enabled channels, Shopify merchants will see an expanded list of opportunities for increasing the visibility of their inventory. The integration of this expanded list into Shopify's product publishing user interface can be seen in the screenshot below.

Each of Shopify's partners has different business terms that merchants should pay attention to before listing their inventory in those channels. For example, said Shopify's Kanwar, whereas Wanelo charges a 10 percent commission, there is no charge to list products with Pinterest.

While the list of partners with access to the SDK was only slightly expanded today, Shopify's Kanwar says that the company is looking for more partners with an eye towards "making it openly available to any developer this spring [2016]." In other words, an independent developer could build the next killer shopping app (like Wanelo) that attracts millions of visitors, turn that app into a Shopify channel with the new Sales Channel SDK, and decide what business model (commission, flat fee, etc.) to put in place with merchants who want their products listed within that killer app. It's practically the reverse of the affiliate model where the merchant decides what affiliates will get. Even so, Shopify merchants are not obliged to pick additional channels. But if they do, they should know what business terms they're agreeing to.

A quick review of Shopify's documentation of the SDK (again, it's really just a collection of HTTP and Webhook-based API endpoints) revealed that the company intends to upload a Ruby-based example of how every API that's a part of the "SDK" can be used.  According to the docs, "Shopify [will provide] a simple app built with Ruby on Rails to provide an example implementation of every API call available in the Sales Channel SDK."

David Berlind is the editor-in-chief of ProgrammableWeb.com. You can reach him at david.berlind@programmableweb.com. Connect to David on Twitter at @dberlind or on LinkedIn, put him in a Google+ circle, or friend him on Facebook.

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