There was big talk in 2015 about the introduction of a ‘Buy Now’ button on social platforms and the buzz makes sense. If you consider that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest have a combined active user number of over 1.3 billion, who are spending increasing amounts of time within these platforms, the potential for businesses and brands is obviously huge.

Social ad spend is increasing, in no small part because the metrics offered give the ability to segment and target audiences, while gaining consumer insights. A ‘Buy Now’ button sounds so appealing because it would provide the clearest of ROI, in addition to cutting out the need for consumers to leave the platform to make purchases, while also combating that dreaded details form (especially on mobile). Surely the ‘Buy Now’ feature will cause a shift in the e-commerce landscape?

Let’s consider what’s actually on offer. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram have been testing this feature for years now and it is slowly starting to roll-out.

Facebook’s ‘Buy Now’ is still fairly limited, it’s in BETA phase and only available to US-based Shopify users, but if it continues to go smoothly and shows promise, the question will be whether it will be successful in driving sales for a wider user group. You can imagine how retargeting consumers that are on the verge of purchase could be done, but catching people on impulse, with imagery of the product they want, at a time they are willing to part with their money seems unlikely. Then there is the whole issue around trust and confidence in providing details and that isn’t just an issue for Facebook, it will be a barrier for all of the platforms trying to edge towards e-commerce functionality.

Next Twitter, who has recently rolled out their ‘Buy Now’ option to merchants in the U.S using one of their partners (Bigcommerce, Demandware, Shopify, Stripe). The main query for brands is whether Twitter is really a platform that lends itself to purchases despite the ability to target followers. Success may lie in saving this option for flash sales or limited edition products which catch the attention when scrolling through a timeline.

Pinterest and Instagram feel more promising for brands. Instagram sits apart slightly as its strong stance on not allowing links out of the platform continues to soften. They are not promising the same in-app purchasing ability, instead a range of CTA buttons are being tested, including a ‘Shop Now’ option. While this is exciting news for the platform that can create real consumer interest through beautiful visual content, the issues for generating successful leads will be the short lifespan of images, as users naturally scroll quickly.

Pinterest may be the most interesting example, it is after all a platform used mostly to inspire purchasing; a Shopify study found that 93% of Pinterest users use the platform to plan purchases, logically they are taking action to stop potential consumers having to leave to spend money. The visual bookmarking tool have taken their time to get the ‘buy button’ right and have now made it available in the U.S, working with a few major brands directly, in addition to those using their 5 partner commerce platforms. The potential is clear for all to see but Pinterest will have to overcome the issue of scale, for people to really buy in (excuse that) they will need to see choice and that requires significant numbers offering products through the platform.

So is the ‘Buy Now’ option worth all the hype? Maybe not, there are still questions to be answered, the most pressing of all is do consumers really want this? For brands, focus for now might actually be better turned towards the clear and proven potential of purchase through messenger apps. Facebook are exploring in-app purchase / ordering through Messenger and VP of Messaging Products David Marcus, notes throughout the year more and more people will be having conversations with businesses through Messenger, they will order plane tickets, taxis, make reservations etc.

Now that is worth getting excited about.

Peter Purcell
Communications Executive