Is the Twitter buy button a game-changer?

Can the social media platform establish itself as an effective e-commerce channel for brands, David Benady asks.

Last week’s move by Twitter to trial a "buy now" button embedded in Tweets in the US is just the latest example of a social media giant exploring e-commerce.

The site has thus far signed 19 partners including Rihanna, The Nature Conservancy and Burberry, which is offering nail varnish through buy button Tweets.

Users tap the button in a Tweet on an Android or iOS smartphone app and receive more information about the product. They then fill in forms with billing and shipping details. These can be kept on file for future purchases.

Users have already been able to shop through Twitter via hashtags from Amazon and American Express.

Elsewhere, Facebook is testing its own buy button though has axed the Facebook Gifts service that sold vouchers for brands such as Starbucks and iTunes.

It is worth noting that e-commerce is driven by online research. You are unlikely to buy immediately from a Tweet or Facebook post without first being familiar with the product. Social media buy buttons could be useful for certain categories such as small items, charity donations and fashion, but less so for cars or financial products.

There is an opportunity for the buy button to become a retargeting opportunity. A product could be advertised through Twitter, leading the user to research it.

Assuming the vendor can knit together the data, it could retarget users with a buy now button Tweet based on the sites they have visited. For instance, if you bought a pair of trainers from a brand’s e-commerce site, it would have your details and – with your permission – could send a buy now Tweet when launching a similar or related product.

Social media platforms have made themselves an essential part of daily life and communication but need to monetise their services to justify their huge financial valuations.

With questions over the effectiveness of social media advertising, e-commerce has the potential to become a vital source of revenue for the networks. Recommendations from friends or celebrities through social sites – via retweeted offers or shares on Facebook – could become a massive driver of sales.

Take our poll at the end...


YES Nick Burcher, head of social, MediaCom

"It marks another big step in the shift ‘from site to stream’. Brands need to pay ever-more attention to the feed and to plan across devices for how content, connections and commerce all work together."


MAYBE Yelena Gaufman, head of planning, Havas Worldwide UK

"It won’t work if people are bombarded with random offers. It will work if you’re offered the opportunity to get first dibs. As a personal news service, it could marry benefits of first-to-know with the first-to-buy."


NO Liz Faber, social strategy lead, European Union, SapientNitro

"The kind of items we are likely to buy from a Tweet will be low-value impulse purchases. They launched with Burberry – who are brilliant digital storytellers – during London Fashion Week. What could you buy? Nail polish."


MAYBE Matt Adams, chief media officer, iProspect

"They’ve only got a few partners to do a direct purchase and, even so, it feels situational. The theory and principle are strong, but you still have to put a lot of credit-card details and type that into a small keypad on your mobile. The jury is out."