The API in the Supermarket Checkout Line

Over there, by the gum and the tabloid magazines, there's an API. Literally, it's a piece of plastic, but behind it is a company and the APIs that company uses to make the whole operation work. Blackhawk, a subsidiary of Safeway, distributes gift cards for many big-name stores in 90,000 retail locations. And while the cards have always been supported by backend systems, mobile is moving this ten year-old company to an open API approach.

Blackhawk and its CTO Mike Gionfriddo view gift cards as content. APIs help distribute that content. "It's another channel to do business on," Gionfriddo said.

Mobile wallets have extended what it means to distribute cards. Now, in addition to being a piece of plastic, gift cards also can live in a virtual collection that can react to our mobile lives. For example, imagine walking into a store and being reminded that you have a gift card. And maybe you're given an offer to "top off" the card with additional funds, say $25 for $20. If it means getting you to buy more, this becomes a win-win.

The Blackhawk API, which is at this time only available to select partners, allows developers to redeem cards, add them to a wallet and check the balance. Naturally, security is a concern, so Blackhawk turned to Vordel for API management using a certificate-based model.

Blackhawk uses its own API for its mobile wallet app, as well as its gift card mall. But it wants to extend beyond just internal use and select partners. This fall, the company plans to open a developer sandbox, so anyone can find the API in the supermarket checkout line.

Photo by Walmart

Adam DuVander The former ProgrammableWeb Executive Editor, Adam is an API expert now helping regular people connect them at Zapier. Previously he worked at API companies SendGrid and Orchestrate, and wrote for Wired and Webmonkey. Adam is also the author of mapping API cookbook Map Scripting 101. Find him at

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