The reported but still-unconfirmed news that Twitter is moving into e-commerce—first broken by Re/code—is baffling to most people.
There were unconfirmed reports of Twitter partnering with a New York-based startup called Fancy—where Jack Dorsey is an investor—and there was something about Twitter using Stripe for payments. These reports are also still unconfirmed, but they have been picked up by mainstream media.
Twitter has been in the spotlight after their first quarterly report as a public company (as we reported here), so one can take the company's lack of denial as a reasonable indication there might be some truth to these reports.
Something was going on here, but what? This seems like an incredible stretch for a firm that's currently known as the leader in real-time news; tracking celebrities, politics and stocks all make sense on Twitter, but buying shoes? Really?
Real-time IT has become the consumer real-time Web after going through two big niche markets business markets:
The Emergence Of Real-Time IT
When I first started working with event-driven programming and in-memory data in the 1980s, we used to poach developers from the military systems world since they were so familiar with real-time IT. Decades later, in 2008, an entrepreneur running a financial trading systems business confided in me that his biggest talent issue was Google poaching his real-time systems developers.
Though the real-time Web has existed for more than a decade, Twitter has been its main attraction since 2009, when a plane's emergency landing in the Hudson River was first reported on the social network. I witnessed this event in-person at the time.
Now that Twitter is public, the company is motivated to grow its user base and bottom line, but advertisers are used to results-based adverting, and Twitter cannot beat Google or Facebook in offering advertisers a wealth of data. What Twitter can do, however, is leverage its dominance of the real-time Web.
This is what should get Amazon and eBay worried. Even more so, it should worry Groupon. This is not about daily deals, it's about real-time deals.
Twitter will reportedly use Stripe for its payments platform, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise since Stripe is widely considered to be the best ways to integrate payments into most large mobile sites. Twitter will also use Fancy, which is billed as "the place where you discover, collect, and buy from a crowd-curated catalog of amazing goods, wonderful places and innovative stores.” Prior to being purchased, Fancy acquired Samplrs, which is focused on selling artisanal foods a la carte or via subscription service.
Twitter users already curate the news like crazy, so it makes sense to have them curate what they buy. But Twitter, like artisanal food or fashion, values itself on freshness. Those shoes you saw Carrie wear on Sex in The City are fresher (and more valuable) than identical shoes from the same designer listed in a warehouse clearance sale. The same goes for electronics, cars, movies, skis... most whatever you can think of. And therein lies the value of Twitter's service: It's freshness and relevance tailored specifically for you.
Here are the winners and losers from Twitter's alleged deal:
- Mom & Pop shops (quicker to adapt to high-margin, low-volume fresh products)
- Artisanal producers, makers, artists
- Twitter (obviously)
- Startups that fill in the bigger picture of real-time ecommerce
- Home-based traders spotting price anomalies ("Holy cow, why are those hot shoes so cheap?")
- Startups using Twitter API to go after niche ecommerce markets where freshness matters
- Amazon (still, don't count out Jeff Bezos)
- Big box retailers
- eBay and Paypal
- Products that don't innovate fast enough to stay on the cutting edge
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