Matthew Knight in Retail Week: Why did Twitter bow out of its buy button?

23/01/2017

Twitter has discontinued its Buy Now button – what went wrong and what does this mean for the future of social commerce?

Matthew Knight Matthew Knight head of strategic innovation London Ret Twitter
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‘Shoppable tweets’ are being phased out after Twitter’s commerce team was disbanded this month.

It has been a while coming, but ‘shoppable tweets’ are finally being phased out after Twitter’s commerce team was disbanded this month.

With the social platform now refocusing its efforts elsewhere, the question remains: does this mark the beginning of the end of shoppable social media?

Twitter is facing all sorts of challenges around finding a purpose and business model which ensures its future.

As an organisation, the social network is still unsure of what exactly it brings to the market, where revenue should come from and, at this point, any functionality that is not core to its product is simply a distraction.

Too soon to shun social shopping?

Within this context, it would be rash to suggest that this sounds the death knell for ‘buy now’ buttons outside of ecommerce environments.

While Twitter may be stepping away from commerce in social, other platforms continue to invest more into it.

Pinterest, for example, has been supporting ‘buyable pins’ for about 18 months now.

As a platform, Pinterest creates a highly visual environment that provides significant inspiration to its users and works as a useful research tool.

Adding the ability to immediately own something that you discover whilst in this headspace feels like a very native part of the Pinterest experience. In contrast, the leap from reading to buying was often much larger with Twitter.

Instagram too has recently launched ‘shoppable tags’, with a limited number of brands such as Kate Spade and Hollister coming on board as launch partners.

Another highly visual platform, Instagram often features products in brand channels, promoted posts and consumer posts – creating a very natural place to close the gap between inspiration, desire and purchase.

Instagram’s further attraction is its high-profile authors – the celebrities and influencers posting content on a regular basis.

If Taylor Swift posts a selfie featuring a tagged shoppable item to her (currently) 64 million followers, you can pretty much ensure a healthy return on a piece of non-paid media.

YouTube, meanwhile, has shoppable video and Facebook has a range of formats users can buy from.

Brands have also toyed with various types of shoppable content, and Burberry’s live-streamed catwalk during the 2016 London Fashion Week was a notable example of allowing customers to buy immediately rather than waiting until products hit the shelves.

Right idea, wrong platform

And therein lies the insight. The increasing on-demand expectation of consumers being able to buy something whenever and however they see it, means that companies are constantly looking for ways to make their brand as accessible as possible.

Where it fails, however, is if the moment or context is wrong.

A predominantly textual experience does not make for a good shopping experience for many brands, putting Twitter at a disadvantage.

A visual feast, with great photography and rich video – in other words, the closest thing to holding the product in your hand (VR not withstanding) – is a significant part of “new retail”.

And using frictionless payment technology, smart integration of stock availability and rapid fulfilment means inspiration and purchase can exist within the same two swipes.

Twitter’s downfall in the world of ecommerce marks the end of the first generation of shoppable media.

The blunt approach of making everything shoppable has passed. Now it’s time to learn from early experimentation and apply it intelligently.

Slapping a Buy Now button onto every piece of media and communications is not clever – no one wants to be sold to constantly.

But enabling purchase in the most meaningful and relevant moments, and making that experience as effortless as possible? Well, that’s new retail.

Matthew Knight Matthew Knight head of strategic innovation London Ret Twitter
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