Car Service APIs Are Everywhere, But What’s In It For Partner Apps?

LyftThrough a growing number of API partnerships, car service companies like Uber and Lyft are broadening their reach across the app ecosystem.

“With the proliferation of companies in the rideshare space, we’ve [seen] huge demand for people to want to move around,” said Vishay Nihalani, senior product manager at Lyft. “It’s like a basic human need at this point.”

Integrations allow partners to display car service functionalities natively in-app. For instance, OpenTable’s app has a button that lets users order an Uber to get to the dinner reservation they just made.

API integrations like these harken to the days of affiliate links on desktop, as they funnel customers between separate companies. But besides driving business, app developers are especially mindful of maintaining brand value and enhancing the overall experience.

Uber launched its affiliate program for third-party developers in 2014 with 11 partners, including OpenTable, TripAdvisor and United Airlines. Lyft followed in its footsteps in March by integrating with Facebook Messenger, and has since struck deals with marketers including Starbucks and Southwest Airlines.

Since then, both have opened their platforms to all developers, although neither company would comment on how many partners are currently hooked in.

Lyft’s APIs allow partners to display information like ride availability, cost, ETAs, animated maps and prime-time pricing in-app, Nihalani said. Developers can sign up with no access fee and are paid roughly $7.50 for every customer they send to Lyft.

However, Lyft is selective when it comes to choosing partners. For quality control purposes, the company shares a set of brand guidelines with developers that offer recommendations on how to use the Lyft logo, as well as content and design.

“We want to make access to transportation ubiquitous across all of the different apps,” Nihalani said. “[But] it’s not just that we want to see Lyft in every single app out there. User experience governs the API integrations we pursue. Can we create great experiences together with these two products?”

Uber declined to comment on its API, but its integrations indicate user experience is very important, said Jeremy Epstein, mobile strategist at mobile agency Fetch.

“Uber is trying to keep the value very high,” he said. “They want to curate all of the partners that work with them to make sure that the brand experience is as high as it can possibly be.”

Data Draw?

Beyond driving traffic and enhancing the user experience, APIs offer valuable data-sharing opportunities.

Deep-linking company Button, for example, which facilitates API partnerships within its marketplace, shares key transaction-level data between developers to add to their CRM, said CEO Mike Jaconi.

“They can use that as a publisher to sell ads in the future to consumers like you,” he said. “It’s affiliate marketing 101, but it doesn’t exist in the app world.”

Uber participates in Button’s marketplace, but its data-sharing offer is limited, Jaconi said: “In terms of the privacy and the components there, these guys are all pretty closed off in terms of sharing.”

At Lyft, individual partnership agreements dictate the extent of data sharing. Usually, it only forks over what it feels “enhances the user experience,” which depends on each partner’s specific needs and relationship, Nihalani said.

“The goal for our APIs are a little different than more advertising-focused APIs,” he explained. “It’s more of a communication API than a data-sharing API.”

Despite limited data-sharing benefits, developers are quick to hook up with rideshares because of the associative brand value they offer. And as long as rideshares hold the leverage in these scenarios, they’re likely to keep their data private.

“We’ve seen parallels outside connected cars,” Fetch’s Epstein said. “Everyone was begging Snapchat to open up and they defiantly said no. We’re starting to see it open a bit more, but it’s all very tactical to keep that brand value as high as possible, because that’s what’s important for the future. Uber does not want to see a partnership that they did in a negative light.”

If these companies were to open up, they could offer their partners valuable location data while tapping into their transaction-level data to craft highly targeted and relevant messages. For example, Lyft could use data from a restaurant group to target people with personalized messages around what food they might be eating at a specific location.

But the reputational risks aren’t yet worth embracing these possibilities, Epstein said.

“They are not ready to say, ‘We are willing to risk our brand value a little bit to open it up,’ when people are lining up to partner with them.”

That time might not come for another five years, when connected cars are more common and partnerships become commoditized, Epstein said.

Until then, KPIs will remain basic. Lyft, for example, looks at metrics like increases in booked rides.

“As we develop more sophisticated data connections between partners, we’ll have more visibility and, from that, access to better data sets that we can measure,” Epstein said.

But if ride share companies keep their partnerships premium, it could edge developers who don’t make the cut out of the app ecosystem.

“On the web, everything you wanted started at Google,” Jaconi said. “On mobile, when you want to find your flight or answer a question, it starts in the app. That’s where the discovery and search part is seeing a bit of reshaping. It’s harder for apps to be found.

“There’s definitely a two-party system – the haves and the have-nots.”

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