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Social shopping takes leap forward with 'Buy' button on Facebook

Social shopping is gaining the wider availability that could drive the uptake marketers are hoping for thanks to Facebook?s revelation last week that it is testing a ?Buy? button as well as Twitter?s acquisition of CardSpring.

The Facebook Buy button will enable users on the Facebook News Feed and in brands? Facebook Pages to complete a purchase without having to leave the social network. Following closely on the heels of the announcement, Twitter said it has acquired CardSpring, which will help build in-tweet card-linked offers and commerce.

?This new ability within Facebook has the potential of how we have traditionally purchased,? said Brian Michael Murch, vice president of engagement at Relevvant, San Francisco.

?If a significant contributor to cart abandonment is driving users to other environments which is a lengthier buying process then this might really be the next leap forward in shopping,? he said.

?This extends well beyond large-scale retailers who will at one point have to jump on the bandwagon once adoption numbers increase.  This commerce ability will impact more areas of capitalism not even yet conceived.?

Brand challenges
With mobile a significant and still growing way that social networks are accessed by consumers, it is imperative that social commerce experiences be streamlined for easy use on small screens.

The Facebook test is being conducted with a few small and medium-sized businesses in the United States, with the social network assuring consumers on its blog that it has taken steps to insure the payment experience is safe and secure.

Card information will not be shared with other advertisers and users can select whether or not to save payment information for future purchases, per Facebook.

CardSpring enables card-linked offers, which on Twitter could take the form of users receiving a discount offer in tweet from a merchant and require the entry of a credit card number to redeem. When the purchase is completed later using that credit card, the discount is automatically applied.

For retailers and brands eager to leverage the significant amount of time and sharing that is being spent on social media to drive sales, there are some challenges presented by these growing options

For example, it will be important to maintain a consistent brand experience not only across channels but also among different social networks as well as loyalty programs triggered by a variety of payment options.

At the same time, retailers and brands are building their own social strategies ? sometimes off Twitter and Facebook ? with an eye toward enabling commerce opportunities (see story).

Privacy concerns
Retailers and brands could have the advantage here over the big social networks, which have to deal with consumers who already do not trust how their personal information is being safe-guarded and, therefore, may not be willing to complete a purchase on these sites and apps.

?Recent discoveries about unchecked, ungoverned, and unlimited user experiments also have cut into confidence recently,? Mr. Murch said. ?Enough so to have Facebook publicly apologizing for such behavior. 

?One must wonder how this will effect a Buy button as experiments could also take place on such activities,? he said. ?Do I buy more when I?m posting positive comments?  Can FB make me buy more expensive items if my friends recently made a similar purchase. 

?Questions here are endless and scary as the data collected by Facebook on users is far deeper than anything else on the Web.  Really, the holy grail of behavior data which has often been connected to purchase behaviors ?retail therapy.?? 

Data analytics
Another challenge faced by the social networks will be in being able to provide meaningful data to merchants from their commerce efforts.

Retailers are still struggling to connect social data to their own data, a necessary move if retailers are to funnel significant resources toward social commerce and one reason retailers such Sephora and Nike are introducing their own social platforms.

?The premise of additional purchasing channels with deep profile data is promising but debate continues as metrics have historically been inconsistent or even unavailable from social,? Mr. Murch said.  

?Almost non-existent in the early days, we have made significant leaps forward in analytics, however, most retailers are still in the early phases of connecting social data into their internal systems, like CRM,? he said. ?The integrity of analysis will be paramount to retailers who are most concerned with ensuring consistency of offers, branding, and customer service and how your brand experience is kept positive and whole throughout the lifecycle. 

?Often times if a brand can?t control these key areas they are more apt drive consumers to environments they can, like their Web sites or native apps. An early challenge with the new Buy button is how well data can pass from FB to retailers who are keen to ensure their supply chain, product offerings, branding, remain consistent, forecast-able, and sustainable.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York