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Open Innovation at Tesco

Point: Open innovation makes developing niche products and services affordable, the world’s largest online grocery retailer, is opening its API to third-party developers. Developers get access to Tesco’s powerful grocery engine to design apps for specialized purposes. For example, a developer could design an app for customers who have an allergy to peanuts. The app would display only those Tesco grocery items that are free of any peanuts. Likewise, another app could focus on calorie counting: customers could order just the right amount of food to stay within the calorie, carb, and fat limits of their chosen diet.

The Open Innovation strategy is a win/win: Tesco doesn’t have time to develop and support all these apps internally, so it benefits from the skills of external developers. The developers might have special relationships with particular customer segments (e.g., a tie to allergist or being the author of a best-selling diet books).  External developers get compensated (currently 5 pounds) for each new customer who signs on to, and they receive a micropayment for each purchase made that used the app.

The biggest hurdle Tesco executives had to overcome before opening up to external developers was “allowing someone to be between us and the customer,” said Nick Lansley, head of “This is an issue. But what convinced us is that we don’t have the time or resources to write for all these different websites, but others do.”  Tesco requires that developers must support the app and they can’t use “Tesco” in the title, only “powered by the Tesco API.”  To further convince developers that the initiative is real, Tesco stated that they will maintain the API for at least two years.


1. Define a reusable interface that lets software developers bundle or use your systems to meet new needs
2. Create a mutually-beneficial compensation plan to both attract developers and to encourage developers to attract customers
3. Pledge to support the API

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