Facing perhaps the toughest economy for retailers in decades, Best Buy is turning to a new group that it thinks can help it boost sales: developers.

The consumer electronics retailer, which operates in the United States and Puerto Rico, may have gotten rid of its biggest competitor after Circuit City was forced to shut its doors but that doesn’t mean that Best Buy can relax.

Instead, it’s looking to ‘Remix‘. That’s the name of its new developer network, which gives developers access to Best Buy’s product catalog via an open API.

This allows developers to create their own ‘mashups‘ using Best Buy’s data, which includes product photos, ratings and customer reviews. Using Best Buy’s affiliate program, the applications developers create using the Remix API can be monetized.

The goal for Best Buy in the words of Best Buy VP of Internet Growth, Michele Azar: “innovate, serve customers in new spaces where Best Buy
currently doesn’t exist…empower employees and capture growth for the

Remix is similar in nature to the developer programs offered by pure play online ecommerce outfits like Amazon.com and eBay. Amazon.com gives similar access to developers through Amazon Web Services and eBay operates a Developers Program that makes it possible for developers to build robust applications around eBay’s marketplace.

As Finance and Commerce’s Arundhati Parmar notes in his article about Remix, some question whether a big box retailer like Best Buy can pull off a developer platform of its own. One marketing professor told him “I don’t see anything [big box retailers] can do in the short term that will
really be a game changer online any time soon.

But this really isn’t about changing the game in my opinion. It’s about trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Retailers need to experiment with new ways of reaching consumers and engaging with them. That includes everything from making use of online video to looking beyond their own websites for distribution.

One Remix partner, Adaptive Blue, will be incorporating Best Buy’s data into its Get Glue Firefox add-on, which enables users to create a more social browsing experience. What will this do for Best Buy? Who knows. But in this economic environment, giving developers the ability to distribute your data doesn’t seem like a bad marketing technique.

That seems especially true when estimating the costs. Parmar notes that Best Buy uses a company called Mashery for API management and that most of Mashery’s clients pay a monthly fee in the low six-figure range. Best Buy’s total costs are probably higher than this but that’s still a modest amount for a company that spends huge amounts on advertising. And because Best Buy makes use of the data available through the Remix API in internal applications, the API will help it reduce its own development costs.

From this perspective, Remix seems like a good investment for Best Buy. It will be interesting to see how it fares in the marketplace. It will also be interesting to see if more multichannel retailers start to experiment with APIs and developer programs of their own.