Shopping and socializing: that’s what we spend a good proportion of our time on the Internet doing, live Tweeting America’s Next Top Model while simultaneously scrapping it out on eBay for that total bargain, must-have roll of vintage William Morris wall paper… (Well, that’s what my Saturday nights look like anyway). So it felt like it made sense when the two biggest draws of the Internet began to merge, with the advent of Twitter’s ‘Buy’ button.
Starting in 2014, social channels, such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, began developing variations of the ‘Buy’ button to encourage people to make in-the-moment purchases on social media – all hoping to tap the gold mine that is – or will be – Social Commerce. There was precedent. Social proof and user generated content is massive in China (there are rumored to be 200m bank accounts linked up with WeChat – a much advanced service than WhatsApp).
Although some commentators were skeptical about Twitter’s ability specifically to push into this lifestyle territory, many thought that the company stood a good chance of succeeding with a commerce function. There was obvious potential; it made sense for merchants to connect product purchases to events, trends, stories and news, while allowing consumers to engage on their interests without being explicitly targeted – ‘Shop the breaking news FLASH SALE’ was an oft-cited example of how this could work.
Except it didn’t! Some people feel Twitter didn’t push the Buy feature strongly enough, and missed a trick by making it purely a B2C option, rather than allowing C2C transactions. Others think it was purely platform problem i.e. shopping is just not a motivating factor when opening Twitter.
Buzzfeed’s Ben Davis believes that Twitter’s problem was its low user base – only 23% of online adults: “WeChat has succeeded in commerce, but its platform is much more diverse and it has many more users (c. 70% of Chinese internet users). WePay is linked to more than 200m bank accounts and WeChat’s service accounts make browsing and buying on the network more like the mobile web (often beginning with user intent).”
A good point. But then only 31% of online adults use Pinterest – and you don’t see Pinterest retreating from the Buy button. So, the question raised by Twitter’s withdrawal from this space is not about the future of social commerce itself, but rather which are the right platforms to drive this channel forward.
In this new environment, developing social commerce functionality is all about being up for experimenting, both with the channel and the format. You can imagine what a successful use case might look like – what about those ‘beauty haul’ videos that are so huge on YouTube? These videos are literally a shopping list. You as the viewer are totally in the shopping mindset. You want to be enabled. How handy would it be then if, instead of scrolling to the video description and finding the product links, you were able to just click on a button in the video and find all the items had been added to your Boots Pharamacy shopping cart, for instance? You could edit your selection as necessary, schedule a delivery, and even collect your Boots points – all without ever leaving YouTube?
It would certainly free me up to fire out a few more Tweets on the merits of the America’s Next Top Model line up!