Social media platforms have recently, en masse, integrated shopping features on their platforms.

Whilst ads on Instagram were only introduced a short while ago (we wrote about this here) the platform has recently announced that call-to-action shopping buttons are to be rolled out on the platform. Pinterest, the photo-sharing site which has successfully popularised digital social scrapbooking, also announced the expansion of its Buyable Pins this month along with new partnerships with big ecommerce players.

Likewise, Twitter announced partnerships with three major ecommerce platforms (Shopify, Bigcommerce and Demandware) in September, to make it easier for retailers ‘of any size’ to sell products, digital goods or services directly within a tweet via a ‘Buy Now’ button. Even YouTube has announced a new ad unit called ‘Shopping ads’, allowing consumers to purchase directly from videos and encouraging advertisers to promote their products on the platform.

Why have ‘buy-now’ buttons emerged?

This developments are widely seen as part of a response to the rise of mobile. However, mobile ecommerce stats for the UK can be misleading - although it’s been reported that visits to ecommerce sites via smartphone and tablet devices accounted for 45% of all ecommerce traffic in the UK, that traffic doesn’t always mean that actual conversions are being made via mobile.

In fact shoppers are more likely to seek and research products on mobile but then move to desktop devices to complete the transaction, as desktop buying tends to provide a more enjoyable experience and a more recognisable sales funnel - which may in turn feel safer for the user.

It’s more likely that the developments in social buying are an attempt to negate the users instinct to ‘bookmark for later’, which runs the risk of them forgetting about the item. Twitter has stated that its efforts are an attempt to help business ‘drive more conversions and remove much of the friction in the mobile purchasing process’, creating a process that is as easy to enjoy as desktop buying.

What is the precedent for social shopping?

In China, where the number of internet users continues to skyrocket, the total number of mobile internet users reached 557 million in February this year, and purchases via mobile accounted for more than half of all revenue for Alibaba, the Chinese ecommerce giant, during 2015.

Ecommerce and social merging is fully fledged in China - a massive 49.7% of all online sales come from mobile, with a huge portion of that from social; there are a rumoured 200m bank accounts linked up with WeChat, a messaging and photo-sharing service which also allows for buying, selling, and other retail facilities (such as ‘recommending’ products) and boasts 600m active users.

Although the new Facebook, Twitter and Instagram developments are going to be rolled out only in America for now, the success of social ecommerce in Asia does hint that worldwide spread could be imminent.

Will social media buying buttons be a success?

Questions have been raised as to whether Twitter will be able to target users successfully. Although users that are already following a certain brand are useful audiences for promoted ‘Buy Now’ posts, pinpointing the specific product that they will be interested in is difficult. Furthermore, buying processes are most likely not what has motivated users to enter social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook (where the onus is on news, be it personal or general), and so are more likely to be seen as a nuisance, or met with some of the negative reaction that Ads and Promoted Tweets have seen.

However, hope remains for ecommerce/social relations - buying buttons on Instagram and Pinterest are widely expected to be more successful than on the likes of Twitter and Facebook. This is because these platforms are primarily visual and so provide an ideal showcase for items; in posts that (as long as retailers adhere to the high aesthetic standards of the platforms) will not veer too much from native content. The addition of a ‘Buy’ button here will slot easily in alongside ‘Like’ and ‘Comment’ buttons on content that is already being viewed by the user, rather than the interruption of whole ‘Buy Now’ posts on Twitter and Facebook. The former has the added value of authenticity - allowing users the chance to own the items they’re already looking at and so probably already coveting, rather than thrusting unknown ones at them.

In our next piece on ecommerce going social, we take a look at what retailers can do to prepare.