Why Facebook’s ‘Buy’ button polarises opinion

21st Jul 2014

Facebook is currently trialling a ‘Buy’ button for social postings, which, if successful, will give ecommerce providers a direct link through from their adverts on the social network to product payments, without users needing to be taken off-site.    

Although it is being branded as a test, for all intents and purposes Facebook could easily roll it out to the wider public straight away. The question was never going to be whether they would do it, more why it has taken them so long, and what their entry as an ecommerce platform will mean for the retail sector and the much-maligned concept of social commerce.

We gathered some opinions from across the ether, and discovered just how split the experts are about the idea, its potential and its repercussions.      

A universal wallet, at last?

Phil Stelter, managing director, Unique Digital, believes Facebook ‘Buy’ could be revolutionary, with the social network offering the potential to tie up its personalised advertising space with a genuine call-to-action for users. With the social network already declaring it will not be handing credit card details over to anyone outside Facebook, it’s the clearest intent yet that Mark Zuckerberg feels the future lies in frictionless, digital payments, and that his network offers the best platform for users to make ecommerce transactions:

“Can Facebook go from a universal login to universal wallet? This button is an experiment to find out,” Stelter says. “Similar to One-Click and Amazon Prime, Facebook’s ‘buy button’ could be a first step towards something that could bring social commerce alive. 

“Will there be a Facebook credit card?  Could people make in-store purchases via a Facebook account? Can Facebook connect social behaviour (and paid ads) to in-store purchases?  Most retailers would relish developments along these lines, and Facebook would gladly put that data to work. 

“Sheryl Sandberg [Facebook COO] should be grinning with the reception and share of budgets this feature could be set to receive. Amazon aside, what ecommerce company wouldn't be curious to trial this?"

Another failed social experiment? 

Omer Artun, CEO for predictive marketers, AgilOne is less gratifying about Facebook’s potential as a commerce platform. He believes it is a sluggish attempt to eat into some of the marketplace other technology companies including Amazon, Apple and Google have taken over by being more proactive, and that its position as a social network means the platform might not have the desired effect:  

"This seems like a desperate move on Facebook's part,” Artun declares. “Social shopping simply hasn't worked, and I don't see this mode of Facebook shopping gaining broad adoption - it's unnecessary, and customers don't shop this way. The Amazon-Twitter partnership has not taken off, so why would this one? So what if I buy something via Facebook - is the item the right size or colour? I'd likely want to do more product research, and buying something with a single click on Facebook isn't going to make a difference. It will be interesting to see how it continues to unfold, but I would not expect it to drive any more sales than a simple click through ad.

"From observing the behaviour of over 525 million shoppers at about 150 retailers, we have seen that to increase purchases it is more important to present the shopper with the right item, in the right size and colour at the right time than it is to pre-populate payments data and speed up the purchase. For example, I should see an advert for my favourite cologne as I am about to run out – that sort of understanding is where the true value lies.”

Social commerce can work

Andy Farmer, experience strategy director, ORM believes that despite some failed attempts by social networks to increase ecommerce spending, Facebook has the clout and the ingredients for success to make its ‘Buy’ tool work:

“I think the point is that the ‘traditional’ social networks provide a great way to communicate with customers, but aren’t necessarily great platforms for selling as they weren’t envisaged and bought into that way by their communities,” he says.

“I can see the ‘Buy’ button as a great way of increasing loyalty and interaction with a brand’s fans. It will deliver specific value-add offers, products and services in an engaging and easy to manage way (much like how it’s being used with Chirpify). However, I don’t think it’s going to immediately turn Facebook into an ecommerce player – at least not immediately. As most people still visit to play and interact with friends, they are simply not in the mind-set for a full-blown shopping experience.”

Oliver Jager, VP global marketing & communication, e-Spirit agrees, but suggests the concept of social shopping is just an evolution of social media, and that the most potent formula for success has yet to be realised:

“Embedding a ‘Buy’ button in the immediate social environment of users significantly shortens the decision making process by creating a one-stop shop: it’s just a few clicks from seeing a desired product to interacting with peers and finally buying the product.

“Considering that social media already has had a huge impact on our lives, social media and online shopping will become inseparable from each other over the next few years. Over the last few years, shopping has become an increasingly social experience. With bricks-and-mortar stores offering their products online and online shops becoming more and more sophisticated in their web appearance, online shopping has simply grown to be a staple in our lives.”

A warning for marketers

So should marketers be licking their lips at the prospect of a more direct route to selling via Facebook? “There’s no doubt that the launch of a ‘Buy’ button will help consumers buy a product easily, without leaving the Facebook platform – removing this friction point,” adds Gideon Lask, founder and CEO of social sales campaigns provider, Buyapowa

“However, the presence of a button alone won’t nudge those who are on the fence to take the plunge and make a purchase. If you’re marketing a product in the Facebook News Feed, you’re competing with updates on family weddings and gossip from friends. So you need to be interesting; it’s about more than just putting your product on the shelf.

“Marketers looking to unlock the potential of the Facebook ‘Buy’ feature need to be smart and think beyond the traditional purchasing model. Tesco, for example, has started letting people choose the products they want to see an offer on by rallying their friends online to support their request, and has seen a 50% uplift in peer-to-peer referral rates as a result. Making the purchasing process more fun through dynamic pricing and gamification allows marketers to harness the power of friends’ and family’s recommendations, and ensure your brand isn’t drowned out in the noise of the News Feed.”

Limited scalability the biggest downfall?

Ultimately, Facebook’s newfound ecommerce potential may be limited by its very premise as a closed community provider. As Phillip Smith, UK country manager for ecommerce standards agency, Trusted Shops rightly points out, there’s no denying that the huge user database Facebook has is a massive draw for marketers, but with the new ‘Buy’ tool reliant on social shares and recommendations as a core influencer, it may be that campaigns linking through to ‘Buy’ might end up being restricted by peoples’ relatively small personal networks:

“This could be a positive move if the buy button is linked to a friend’s recommendation,” Smith states. “There is no doubt that friends and family on Facebook recommending what to buy has a huge influence on all of us. A recent poll found that 78% of us are influenced by a friend’s recommendation. This would indicate that to have a big impact on retail sales, the buy button would need to be present due to a recommendation from a friend or family member.

“That said, a huge part of successful selling online is being able to convert new customers into returning visitors. If a customer is buying a product directly from Facebook they are not experiencing your brand or the shopping journey you have created. If a customer does not connect with your brand you could be missing out not only on upselling opportunities during the customer journey, but also on repeat purchasers.

“With this in mind, how scalable is influencer marketing on Facebook?  We know that for potential customers, getting social proof will help convert sales. But how scalable is influencer marketing when it’s restricted to friends and family? On average an adult Facebook user will have around 200 friends, (or 200 potential influencers). Is that a big enough pull for running a paid campaign? It will be interesting to see what the initial uptake is once the button is fully-integrated.” 

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