Social buy buttons are invading the internet – but are they working?

Social media is already a premiere destination for many of our daily needs - whether it be to socialise, read, or job search. So it makes sense that it will soon be a premiere retail destination as well.

And that’s exactly what all of the big platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are hoping to do with the recent introduction of ‘Buy buttons.’ Heralded as ‘the next big thing’ in ecommerce, buy buttons enable users to purchase items en masse, without having to ever leave the comfort of the app they’re using.

But are the buy buttons (also known as click-to-buy), really as great an idea as they seem?


Why do we need a social buy button, and why now?

Unsurprisingly, retailers want to go where their customers go. They willingly followed us from shop-floor to computer, and now the next evolution is (rapidly) happening - we’re all using our smartphones all of the time.

However, it’s no longer enough to have a mobile-optimised site, or even to have an app (we probably won’t use it, anyway). Retailers need to be present in our social apps, as that’s what we’re using on a day-to-day basis.

In fact, according to Forrester, we spend 80% of our time on our phone within our top five apps, which for most of us, includes multiple social media sites.

So in theory at least, a buy button has the potential to help us shop more easily, and to help merchants and social media sites increase in-app purchasing.


Who’s jumping on board?

Given the huge potential in social commerce, it’s of little surprise that all the big players are jumping on board.

Facebook began the avalanche of buy button introductions, kicking off its button in mid- 2014. Initially only appearing in ads, Facebook soon moved to make the most of the functionality, with dedicated pages where users can browse and make purchases.

The other big players soon followed suit. Twitter introduced their ‘buy button’ in late 2014, with Pinterest soon following in mid-2015, and Instagram jumping on board with their version, ‘buyable pins’ in early 2016.

There has been no suggestion that LinkedIn will join in, however it isn’t impossible to imagine a buy-now functionality for career and learning resources - but only time will tell.


How exactly does the ‘Buy button’ benefit social media sites?

It’s of little surprise that we’ve seen an avalanche of buy buttons in a relatively short period of time, given the benefits they can (at least, in theory) provide to social media sites.

First and foremost, by helping us to shop from within their apps, the social media sites can help improve conversion rates for their merchants. If they do so, they’ll be able to sell more advertising, given that ROI will be relatively easy to establish.

Secondly, they’ll be able to collect more data on our purchases, which in turn will help them serve us up even more relevant ads.


And how about merchants?

The buy button also has the potential to benefit merchants. In fact, it could address a particularly pertinent problem for online retailers, and that is: mobile conversions.

When it comes to mobile conversion rates, the statistics are pretty dire. Although 60% of users shop on their mobiles, a mere 15% convert.

In theory, buy buttons could help alleviate this problem. By sending a consumer straight to checkout after they’ve viewed an ad or image of a product they like, they’re less likely to fall out of the long sales funnel typically associated with mobile shopping.


And the user?

Given the popularity and success of Amazon’s one-click payment service, it’s clear that speed - and convenience - is something users expect. The buy button has the potential to enable this for the main social media sites.

Technically, a user could go from viewing an advertisement or image of a product to buying it within seconds.

For sites such as Pinterest and Instagram, the buy button provides particular benefits, in that users can easily locate items that they would otherwise not be able to find.


But how are the buttons performing?

As everyone seems to have something to gain from the introduction of buy buttons, it’s of little surprise that they’ve been heralded as ‘the next big thing’ in ecommerce.

However, early results suggest they may be failing to live up to their reputation. Data from Custora, a digital marketing platform for retailers, shows that sales from social media sources has actually declined 1.9% since buy buttons were introduced.

The lacklustre success of the buttons has also been evidenced by how slowly the social media sites have been to roll them out.

Despite being introduced in mid-2016, Facebook’s button, for example, is still stuck in beta test mode, restricted to retailers who work with ecommerce software provider
Shopify. There is also (unconfirmed) reports from Recode that the button program might be dead.

While the future of the Facebook buy button could be dire, its future has been all but decided at Twitter - and that is, there won’t be one. Twitter announced late last year that they have done away with their buy button for good.

As for Pinterest, despite the fact that 10,000 merchants have joined their ‘buyable pins’ program, many have reported disappointing sales, with big brands such as Macy’s reporting less than 10 purchases a day.


So what are the issues?

If social commerce is ‘the next big thing,’ then why aren’t buy buttons working? There are two main issues, and they are that the buttons aren’t aligned with current purchasing psychology, and also the technology required to support the buttons has some major flaws.

Buy buttons don’t follow purchasing behaviour

Firstly, experts contend that even though we can ‘buy something now,’ it doesn’t mean we want to. Essentially, they say that buy buttons require a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour - that is, we’re not yet ‘used’ to buying on social media platforms, so it might take a while for us to come around.

Also, even if we were used to buying on social platforms, the way we make a purchase contradicts the way the buy buttons function. Purchasing behaviour typically follows a buying funnel, from ‘interest and awareness’ to ‘consideration and comparison’ and then finally to purchase. Taking someone straight to the end of the funnel circumvents a number of critical steps in the process – steps that are required to make a purchase in the first place.

Therefore, even though the buy button may save time in that consumers can go straight to checkout, it’s unlikely that they will convert anyway – meaning that buy buttons may not help merchants with mobile conversions.


Buy buttons also require merchants to perform development work

Secondly, buy buttons also suffer from some serious technological misgivings.

For the buy buttons to work, the merchant needs to integrate them into their site. This means that the merchant will need to undertake development work that many can’t afford, or don’t have the skills to do.

Not having retailers do the work leads to a vastly inconsistent experience for users, so much so that the disadvantages of the buy buttons may well outweigh the benefits.

It is for this reason that Forrester asserts very few buy buttons will be able to launch at scale – the technology surrounding them simply leaves too much to be desired.


Could there be a better alternative?

Given the potential of social commerce, it’s clear that we all want (and need) a solution, yet buy buttons have, by and large, failed to deliver on their promise of delivering one.

However, there may be another, more viable alternative.

By using an intelligent, highly-accurate autofill, social apps can help us purchase through their platforms, while at the same time addressing many of the issues identified with buy buttons.

For example, if social apps were to integrate an intelligent autofill service, consumers wouldn’t have to go straight to checkout – they’d be able to move through the typical buying funnel of awareness – consideration -comparison – purchase more seamlessly.

Autofill also has the potential to solve the buy button’s merchant integration problem. As it doesn’t require integration, merchants won’t be required to do any development work, meaning the experience for the consumer and merchant alike will be seamless.

Finally, autofill has the power to address one of the most pertinent problems with mobile shopping, and that is: typing on a mobile. Research overwhelming demonstrates the fact that typing on a smartphone significantly affects consumer behaviour: 27% of all shopping cart abandonments occur due to time restraints (we all know how long it takes to type our details into our smartphone!), and 27% of mobile checkout abandonments occur as users simply aren’t comfortable typing on their mobile.

Although buy buttons can autofill some basic details from a user’s social media profile, the autofill they currently use doesn’t, at this stage, go far enough to significantly address the huge problem that is typing on a mobile.

Intelligent and highly accurate autofill does, though. It can autofill all the details a user requires for any type of checkout, including different billing and shipping addresses. Suddenly, by using better quality, intelligent autofill, consumers don’t have to type on a mobile, meaning that they can check out their item up to 536% faster.

And from all indication, it seems like the social media giants are starting to realise the power of autofill. It was recently announced that Snapchat had been trialling a basic autofill service to complete lead generation forms, enabling the consumer to fill them with what essentially amounts to one click.


So what does the future hold?

It seems like buy buttons have predominantly failed to deliver on their promise of making in-app purchasing easier, for consumers and merchants alike.

However, this certainly doesn’t mean that the future of social ecommerce is dead in the water.

Where buy buttons have failed, it seems that autofill may very well succeed.

Fillr has built the world’s most intelligent and accurate autofill that will seamlessly integrate into your app. Contact us today to find out how our technology can help your customers to transact faster and more effectively, boosting your conversions and revenue.