Don’t expect Facebook and Twitter’s commerce plays to amount to anything more than small change

This week both Twitter and Facebook made separate commerce plays, with Facebook testing a “buy” button and Twitter acquiring payment startup CardSpring, as both look to encourage users to make purchases without leaving their respective networks. But don’t expect either move to generate meaningful revenue for your brand – or for Twitter and Facebook – any time soon.

lara profile

For those that missed it, Facebook is testing a “buy” button, which allows users to make purchases through ads or brand page posts, with a select group of US small to medium-sized businesses in the US.

Meanwhile, Twitter has announced plans to acquire the San Francisco-based startup CardSpring, which helps retailers work with publishers to offer promotions. It enables customers to find offers on the internet and sync them with their credit or debit cards to redeem in-store.

Both companies already have form in the commerce arena. Back in 2011 Facebook partnered with brands including Starbucks, O2 and Yo! Sushi to launch its “Deals” service, allowing Facebook users to claim offers and promotions when they checked in to physical locations. It killed the service a few months after.

Brands including Dove, Ford, Asos and French Connection have also experimented with selling limited edition product direct through Facebook. But I can’t think of any brands that have kept their Facebook shops open permanently beyond a promotion.

Remember Facebook Gifts, the physical goods service it launched in 2012? Gone in 2013.

Twitter has also allowed Amex customers to redeem deals via tweet and Amazon users to add products they see in their timelines to their shopping baskets by tweeting a dedicated hashtag. But a rudimentary Tweetdeck search of the #AmazonBasket hashtag brings up mostly spam, not customers buying books.

It is right for Twitter and Facebook to experiment with how they fit into the commerce equation as they look to generate more advertising revenue from retailers. Any outward sign of experimentation also signals to investors that they are willing to innovate in this space and such moves could fill them with anticipation about potential growth areas.

But that potential remains a long way off. Both Twitter and Facebook have a role to play when it comes to making a purchase decision, but rarely will they be responsible for the last click. In 2012, Facebook’s then EMEA head of customer market insights Andy Pang urged marketers not too get “too hung up” on click-through rates when they are trying to measure the value of their marketing on the site because it offers far more value and influence across the whole length of the purchase journey. That still holds true today.

Users visit Facebook and Twitter for news, gossip, a catch-up with friends, a boast, a bit of a nose, inspiration, a distraction. Rarely do they log in for a shop. They’re not in that frame of mind.

Just 2 per cent of Facebook users have ever bought a product through the site, according to a study conducted last year by W3B, Buying through Facebook or Twitter will involve learning a new behaviour, which will take time, even if methods like the “buy” button may help shave down the number of steps it takes to purchase an item via your desktop or mobile.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing that users aren’t quite ready for f- or t-commerce yet. Facebook and Twitter still play a vital role at the earlier stages of the purchase funnel. Facebook offers one of the most scaleable brand advertising formats around via the newsfeed sponsored stories – arguably the billboard of the internet – and social ad campaigns are proven to build brand affinity and purchase consideration

Facebook and Twitter may well be making noises about social commerce, but Amazon needn’t be nervous just yet.