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The opportunities and pitfalls of Twitter’s new ‘buy’ button

10th Sep 2014
Editor MyCustomer
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Twitter announced this week it was testing a ‘buy’ button for tweets, to try and improve the social network’s position as an ecommerce platform.

Much in the same guise as Facebook, which made a similar announcement in July, Twitter’s aim is to reduce the friction between a brand promotion on a user’s feed and the end-goal of them making a transaction; hence the reason it is teaming up with Stripe, an online payments service, to process payments within "just a few taps."

The question is: do consumers want this from their social networks? With social commerce still in its relative infancy and no true evidence that consumers want such a direct link to product purchases, MyCustomer decided to reach out to some experts to discuss the pros and cons of instant ecommerce on Twitter.

All about the brands

Far from making social commerce easier for its users, Mark Brill, senior lecturer in future media at Birmingham City University believes Twitter might be disregarding the consumer all together in the move to drive seamless commerce onto its platform.   

“From a brand perspective, the buy button will be very attractive. Many global brands are looking to reach large audiences, and Twitter will enable them to do that. The 'buy' button can reduce user friction and make purchases seamless. The greatest opportunity for Twitter though is that of immediacy - things like event tickets or timed sales seem ideal for the 'buy' button.

“On the downside, Twitter will need to get the user buy-in. Whereas a user might go to Amazon, eBay or even Pinterest to look at products or services, is that why they are on Twitter? Currently the channel is about conversations, comments and sharing, not products. The big question is whether users will accept the button.”

Simon Horton of Shopintegrator agrees, stating that time-sensitive purchases on items such as events and limited-number discounts would appeal most to users, but more common products may not garner as much interest, as the concept falls foul of the current ecommerce trend – consumers researching products they want to buy across channels and websites:

“I don't think it is a good fit for selling regular products and services where buyers usually want much more detail about what they are buying - a short tweet with a photo doesn’t offer this.

“It's easy enough to tweet a photo and a link directly to your product's web page which will provide much more detail about what you're selling to clinch the deal. Once a buyer is on your website it gives you the ability to cross-sell and up-sell, something you'll miss out on when selling a single item directly on Twitter.”    

Customer journey

An extension of Horton’s reasoning comes from Rakhee Jogia, director of display at Rakuten Marketing, who suggests that much of the ‘customer journey’ involved with buying online will be lost through trying to sell on Twitter, and that consumers could feel disconnected with brands who advertise products without a more sophisticated experience being offered, prior to purchase:

“Retailers shouldn’t forget the complex journey a customer goes on before they buy. Customers are just as likely to shop around for the best deal and research numerous products; the ‘buy’ button is unlikely to eradicate that.

“Retailers will need to ensure they don’t disconnect with Twitter users during the discovery phase of shopping. They should harness the social experience, using interactive content and dynamic ads, to ensure that Twitter engagement continually comes back to the brand. This interactive experience will be integral to converting the shopper on their Twitter journey.”

The social channel

Greg Zemor, founder of online marketplace management solution, Neteven disagrees with Jogia and Horton’s suggestions, however, and believes innovation in the buying process is what is currently holding social networks back from making more money from commerce:

“Ads on Twitter weren’t going to grow the company’s revenue enough, but with the ‘buy’ button, Twitter can take full advantage of brands’ and retailers’ activity on Twitter to help them convert users into buyers.

“Retailers will now have access to an additional sales channel, but will have to measure it properly to make sure it drive sales and is profitable compared to other sales channels such as web stores and online marketplaces.”

Illegal merchants and privacy concerns?

One issue that may arise as a result of more available commerce opportunities on Twitter is rogue trade, which Ian Paterson, head of ecommerce at Retail Merchant Services believes will be the social networks biggest sticking point in its bid to elevate itself to eBay or Amazon status:

“It may prove hard to police as it can offer a temporary platform from which people can set up and trade. We have to question whether this presents an all too easy route to illegal trading,” he says.

“However, for retailers it will increase impulse trade and for smaller businesses or concept enterprises it will enable them to reach their audiences and their wallets in one go.”

Mark Brill suggests that unless Twitter is able to police its commerce platform better than it has been able to police other aspects of its platform in recent times, ultimately, the drive for brand bucks could yet destroy the ethos of what the social network represents:

“Above all, [with the Twitter ‘buy’ button in operation] there is a major issue of trust. The 'buy' button will only be effective if users are prepared trust Twitter to store their details to make transactions fast and seamless. Twitter will have to work hard to gain that trust.”

“Security is always a key worry for consumers when it comes to ecommerce,” adds Rik Blacow, senior product and innovation analyst at Sage Pay.

“Yet, this ‘buy now’ button might worry some businesses as well since it opens them up to potential fraud and cyber threats. Although it’s advantageous for consumers to have another purchase channel, ecommerce on social media is yet another payment channel that businesses will need to manage, maintain and secure. Will consumers use the ‘buy now’ button enough to make the extra costs and potential security risks worthwhile?”

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