Why Twitter's Buy-Now Button Won't Be a Gravy Train for Brands

Social Media Still Faces an Uphill Battle as an Ecommerce Platform

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If you're a marketer responsible for driving site traffic and sales through ecommerce, it's highly likely the majority of your time is spent on search and email, with these channels still delivering the huge majority of results for the best available price.

That said, it's nice to see other options occasionally becoming available. Last week, Twitter showed how it's stepping up in the commerce arena with a Buy Now button -- spotted on several tweets by Re/Code. Twitter is under pressure to demonstrate more monetization options, and this is an obvious step to test the channel's ability to drive affiliate or enhanced ad format revenues.

In the current testing incarnation, the Buy Now button simply routes users through to the merchant site's checkout page, but in the future it's possible to see deeper integration between the button and the destination site to enable one-click purchases. Leaked documents have also revealed Twitter may be considering its own payment system, meaning that Twitter would hold your credit card and address details, take the payment, and simply pass the order on to the merchant.

However, there is plenty of room for doubt as to the immediate effectiveness of Twitter (and most other social channels) as a channel to drive sales. McKinsey's notable survey of 2013 showed the ground social media has to make up to be taken seriously as a sales driver: Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring consumers than Facebook and Twitter combined, and the average order value prompted by email is by 17% higher than those prompted by social media.

The fact is that no matter how many product enhancements are developed to encourage social commerce, people come to social channels to keep up with their friends, view funny videos, engage in conversation and so on. Consumers are not heading to social media in order to buy things. In fact, they're not even there to consider buying things. Shopping and browsing products don't even register as reasons for using Facebook in a recent survey from Pew.

With this lack of consumer intent for shopping in social channels, it could be a long uphill battle for Facebook and Twitter to be credible in the ecommerce space when up against proven solutions in email and search.

That's not to say that social interaction has no place in the brand and shopping journey. Consumers are now more than ever breaking down the distinction between content and commerce. In a recent piece of research I conducted for a sportswear brand among younger teens, it's striking how many apps, Instagram feeds and blogs they subscribe to just to salivate over new sneakers, and to be the first to know when the next cool kicks are going to hit the street. And this drive to interact and co-create can be effectively harnessed by brands. For example, fashion brand Free People (not an Isobar client) created a user-generated fashion showcase called FPMe, which not only drove passion for brand loyalists, but also delivered a 42% increase in same-session sales conversion.

Whereas most areas of digital are prone to rapid change, the use of social to prompt immediate purchase is one area where marketers can exercise a great degree of skepticism without risking "missing the boat" on the launch of the next big thing. We can't expect consumer behavior to change overnight, but it's important that we carry on developing the fundamentals that all ecommerce players need to maximize their potential:

  • Granular attribution models that measure the impact of every brand touchpoint along the path to purchase become more important if new entry points such as Twitter are available. These will help us to track the actual value of a new channel, even if the initial click is a long way removed from the actual purchase.

  • Site experience will always be paramount. Right now, most brands fall down on personalization of content and a sense of the user's context. Measurable increases in conversion can be made by displaying content relevant to the social space of the search string from which the user arrived.

  • Email programs should be moving away from mere segment-based selling to something that addresses each user as an individual.

For now, social remains at its best a vehicle for creating channels for branded content and customer service. Despite the imminent launch of more social commerce options such as Buy Now tweets, the day when social can compete with established channels to drive sales is still some ways off.

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