Why Twitter Shouldn’t Bother With E-Commerce

Picture this: You’re scrolling through your Twitter feed, reading news, favoriting tweets, when a “buy button” suddenly shows up, embedded in a tweet.

Do you click on it?

Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook want to make money, and coupling payments with social identity seems like an easy way to do it. After all, we’ll eventually be paying with our smartphones and mobile applications that store our credit card information, so in a way it makes sense to tie our online social identities to our money.

The Social Impulse Is Not A Shopping Impulse

The problem is, people don’t visit social platforms with the intention of buying something. We visit Twitter to read news and find out what’s trending in the world; we go on Facebook to share photos of our best friend’s birthday. For most people, items on our shopping lists aren’t as much of an impulse buy as, say, points in Kim Kardashian’s mobile app.

Twitter has been experimenting with a variety of e-commerce initiatives, including partnering with Amazon to roll out #AmazonCart, a hashtag that tweets an item into your Amazon shopping cart. It reportedly tested a buy button to let users purchase things directly from a tweet. The company also recently purchased CardSpring, a startup that helps developers add payment services to apps and products.

On Wednesday, The Next Web reported that some users were seeing a new “payment and shipping” option in the settings of their Twitter mobile app on Android devices. The sections weren’t live yet, and ReadWrite was unable to replicate them on iPhone or Android.

Twitter appears to be keeping commerce head Nathan Hubbard, hired last year, quite busy. But is all the effort the company is putting into creating a social network that facilitates payments worth it? If Twitter wants to be the Internet’s companion app for conversations and events happening in the real world, asking users to pull out their virtual wallets might put a wrench in the experience of consuming and creating news and conversations.

Payments Are Too Complicated

While social media companies are still experimenting with the possibility of a transactional platform, organizations that focus solely on payments have yet to figure out how to do it successfully. For instance, Square hasn’t built the payments empire people expected it to—you can no longer use Square Wallet, and its partnership with Starbucks went cold.

See Also: Twitter’s Plan To Appeal To The Masses

So now Twitter, who is already trying to simplify its services in order to appeal to a broader user base, wants to make itself even more complicated? Good luck with that.

Adding an option to buy things suddenly adds another layer of confusion to a social network with a steep learning curve already. Twitter has undertaken a massive effort to get more people to sign up for, and stay on, the social network, including redesigning profiles and hinting at a revamped direct messaging system.

People are still struggling to understand the network’s seemingly simple premise—connecting with people and things they care about. Introducing commerce won’t make that effort any smoother.

Keep Trying, Keep Failing

To succeed in payments, Twitter and Facebook have not only convince people that they are legitimate e-commerce platforms, but that people should trust them with their data. This might be a tough sell, especially considering many people don’t even give Twitter their real names.

Facebook, much more mature in the money game, still hasn’t been able to get payments right. The company recently shuttered Gifts, its virtual gift shop, and is slowly testing a buy button itself. But when Facebook introduced a donate button to let users support their favorite local organization, the feature was understandably met with skepticism. We’re supposed to trust our payment information to a company with a history of questionable privacy policies?

Twitter’s attempts have been duds so far. #AmazonCart, a litmus test of whether or not people actually want to buy things with a hashtag, looks a lot like a flop. When looking at tweets aggregated by the social analytics firm Topsy, a majority of #AmazonCart tweets are from people advertising products, not people actually buying one.

We’re still in the early stages of social networks’ experimentation on how best to approach e-commerce, and how they can convince us to buy things from them. But if early attempts are any indication, people just don’t want to think about shopping when they’re chatting with friends and reading news. Payments aren’t social. 

Lead image by UltraSlo1

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