Social Media Gets Retailers’ Help to Make Users ‘Buy Now’

Online shoppers have been nudged and poked by companies like Google and Amazon for years to make purchases, with targeted ads based on recent online searches that offer the user the chance to buy the same or similar products.

The use of “buy now” services are expanding rapidly, and companies like Twitter are leading the way by incorporating the instant-purchase button in its users’ news feeds. Just last week the social media giant announced that it is working with a trio of companies—who help small, medium, and large businesses manage online sales—on a method of selling their customers’ products on Twitter.

One of those three, Austin, TX-based e-commerce website tool Bigcommerce, is bringing the thousands of small- to medium-sized retailers who use its platform to the deal with Twitter. The company’s clients will be able to feature their products—Bigcommerce works with everything from electronics retailers to handbag makers—on the Twitter “buy now” tool, according to Bigcommerce chief product officer Tim Schulz.

Bigcommerce doesn’t have data yet on how successful Twitter will be at converting targeted Twitter ads to sales, Schulz says. The company plans to use the holiday shopping season to get that data, though, he says.

“Buying on social networks is super, super new and just beginning to be rolled out,” he says. “With the upcoming holiday season, we’ll see what some good benchmarks are.”

As the “Buy Now” tool gets up and running in the remaining months of 2015 and in early 2016, the output will be pretty simple. If a Twitter user links to a product made by a client of Bigcommerce, Ontario, Canada-based Shopify, or Boston-based Demandware (the other two companies that Twitter also signed deals with), the product becomes “buyable”—meaning you can click the “buy” button to order the product from the feed, instead of clicking a link to an outside website.

The input is a bit more complicated, says Schulz, who came to Bigcommerce from Google, where he was a part of a team that worked on targeted advertising based on a mobile user’s location. Bigcommerce must work to ensure that its clients’ product information, images, and metadata all show up correctly in the Twitter feeds when users link to them, he says.

The company also must ensure that product inventory is up to date, which can be detrimental to sales if it’s not, Schulz says. Because Bigcommerce works with some smaller businesses (as little as $2 million in annual sales) that may not have inventory syncing systems in place, it has taken measures to make certain it can help those businesses with tracking.

It purchased Zing, a fellow Austin company that syncs online and offline inventory, in April. And it announced a deal Monday with Square, the credit card processing tool that hooks into smartphones and tablets and is typically used in physical stores, to make the ability to sync customers’ data more streamlined between companies. Square’s founder Jack Dorsey was just named CEO of Twitter, which he helped found in 2006.

Twitter handles the security of processing payments, Schulz says. Any purchases of Bigcommerce’s clients’ products (or Shopify or Demandware, for that matter) that are bought on Twitter will show up as a sale in the respective platform’s operating system.

“Twitter has been one of the first social networks to streamline this whole process and make it super easy for a retailer to post a shopable product post and then for the end-user to really easily buy that item with just a click,” Schulz says. “Twitter recognized what we offered is that small businesses want to get involved in this, too. We have a lot of unique products that you can’t find on Amazon.”

Twitter isn’t the only social media network targeting these types of sales. Bigcommerce and Shopify both have made deals with Pinterest. Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, and Google have tools of their own. Milwaukee,WI-based advertising and e-commerce technology startup Okanjo announced in July it has launched a similar product targeting online publishers, which makes display advertising similarly “shopable.”

Schulz said he believes Twitter made partnerships with all three companies because they each target a different part of the market: Shopify with smaller businesses, Bigcommerce with what he calls the “miderprise” merchants, and Demandware with larger companies.

Right now, Bigcommerce and Twitter aren’t charging merchants fees or revenue-sharing charges for the “Buy Now” services, Schulz says. (Bigcommerce does, of course, charge for its traditional services.) The companies will consider the economics of the service later on after merchants are able to see the value in it, especially in mobile advertising, he says.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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