Do Buy Buttons Have a Future?

By Julian Thumm | 22 Jan 2016

Buy buttons took off in 2015, with most major social media platforms launching a social commerce option. But are they a fad, or are buy buttons here to stay?

Buy buttons emerged as a big retail trend of 2015. A huge number of retailers extended their sales reach, making products available outside of the shopping cart by implementing buy buttons in mobile apps, social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, and email marketing campaigns.

Buy buttons allow shoppers to buy products from non-retailer sites, enabling shoppers can purchase products without being redirected to a retailer’s website. In theory, buy buttons provide convenience for shoppers, in that they don’t have to leave the site they’re on to make a purchase; they provide greater engagement and revenue for social media platforms, and make it easier for these platforms to demonstrate how ads drive direct sales; and they provide higher conversions for retailers due to the massive active user bases these platforms enjoy.

In reality, with most buy button programs either just out of, or still in, the testing phase, it’s entirely too early to determine whether they have yet proved their worth.

This as yet uncertain worth is not stopping marketers from jumping onto the buy button bandwagon. According to a study commissioned by Campaigner, only 22 percent of retailers implemented buy buttons in 2015. However, that number is set to jump, with nearly 60 percent of marketers looking to implement buy buttons in 2016.

In 2015, the popularity of buy buttons was driven by high-profile launches across a range of platforms. Facebook launched buy buttons for ads in 2014 and started testing a dedicated shopping feed in late 2015.

FB buy button

Facebook’s buy buttons for ads.

In mid-2015, Google began rolling out buy buttons in its search results. ‘Purchases on Google’ allows shoppers to buy items directly from mobile search ads. Google’s buy buttons take shoppers to a retailer-branded product page hosted by Google where purchases can be made without visiting a retailer’s page.

Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram all launched some form of buy button over 2015, with mixed degrees of success.

Pint buy

“Email and Facebook were the first platforms to embrace buy buttons because they are the most content-based,” E.J. McGowan, general manager at Campaigner, told VentureBeat. “Twitter is great for engaging with contacts, but it is difficult to showcase product offerings with a character limit.”

Instagram and Pinterest have proved extremely popular with retailers, especially from a brand awareness and customer engagement point of view. However, beyond some convenience and novelty factors, there is no clear indication yet whether consumers are willing to get on board with buy buttons. According to research from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 35 percent of millennials said they were likely to use a buy button on Facebook, with just 24 percent saying they’d use one on Twitter. This is a fairly low engagement from this tech-savvy demographic.

According to Time, Tech companies have been resistant to share hard data about the efficacy of buy buttons, largely due to the relative newness of the technology.

However, slow consumer adoption is also a part of it. According to Michael Yamartino, Pinterest’s head of commerce, some of the challenge to adoption right now is a lack of knowledge.

“Awareness is a big part of it. This is a new thing,” Yamartino said. “Most people haven’t bought from a platform that’s not a ­retailer.”

Despite the slow consumer uptake of buy buttons, retailers and tech companies alike are still optimistic that they will take off. Buy buttons simplify the purchase process over mobile devices and are expected to start closing the mobile conversion gap (i.e. people browsing on mobile but purchasing elsewhere).

Buy buttons could also help to generate impulse purchases, a traditional retail asset that brands have struggled to replicate online. Some have suggested that platforms like Pinterest and Instagram have the potential to work as the ‘digital shop window’ showcasing products for impulse purchase or to draw customers in-store. Buy buttons would help facilitate that process.

Despite the enthusiasm from both retailers and marketers, it remains unclear how willing consumers will be to start using buy buttons for anything more than impulse purchases or quick product discovery. The question remains whether buy buttons can become a go-to purchase channel or whether they will remain an incidental sales channel.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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