social media strategy
Marketing Social Media

Why Buy Buttons Won’t Help Your Social Media Strategy (At Least for Now)

4 Minute Read

Social media buy buttons were once heralded as the next big drivers of social commerce. Internet users, however, could seemingly care less.

Data reveals that buy buttons are infrequently used by internet users, and their utility in social media strategy appears limited. A SUMO Heavy study, reported by eMarketer, found that 45 percent of respondents would not use buy buttons. Approximately another 26 percent had never heard of them at all.

Buy buttons are still relatively new: Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook all either launched or expanded their buy button programs in 2015. Given the amount of time people spend on social media sites—users spend 50 minutes every day on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger alone—buy buttons would seem like an ideal way to meet consumers where they’re at. The fact that users aren’t buying in reveals a lot about how they view social media, brands, and the purchase process.

Buy Button Evolution

In theory, buy buttons are the perfect marriage between social media and retail. Reviews, recommendations, and conversations in the social sphere can all influence shopping behavior. Social media influencers play an important role in driving brand awareness and purchases, too: research from Experticity found that 82 percent of customers are highly likely to follow recommendations from a social media influencer.

The problem here is that even though users are able to discover new products on social platforms with ease, it’s a bit more complicated to buy them. To complete a purchase, users have to leave the platform on which they discovered a product and head to its retailer’s website.

Buy buttons were meant to shorten and simplify this process. For example, when a user discovers a pair of shoes she loves on Instagram, she might click a buy button to order the shoes without ever leaving the platform. Users get an easy, seamless buying experience, while social networks get an added source of revenue.

This appeal led major social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, to develop and implement their own versions of buy buttons—with some caveats. Only a limited number of products are available to buy directly on social media, which means the vast majority of items one might discover on Pinterest, for example, could not be purchased via the platform.

Limited Appeal

Despite that initial enthusiasm, social media buy buttons have failed to take off. The SUMO Heavy study found that just 7.3 percent of respondents had shopped via social media and planned to do so again; another 2.6 percent had used buy buttons before, but said they wouldn’t use them again. About 18 percent of internet users said they hadn’t used the buttons, but were open to doing so.

shopping via buy buttons data

Research from GlobalWebIndex, cited by eMarketer, logged similar results. Its study found that only 17 percent of Tumblr users were interested in the platform’s buy buttons. Even fewer users on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter said they were interested in the option.

Adoption of the buy button on Twitter was apparently so low that the platform has effectively abandoned the option, according to a Buzzfeed report. “People are not buying on social media right now. They are still buying, for the most part, on mobile web,” according to an inside source.

Instead, Twitter is investing its energy into features that drive brand engagement. The platform’s new “Instant Unlock Cards” allow users to access exclusive branded content when they fulfill an action, like tweeting a specific hashtag.

Part of the problem with buy buttons may be a lack of awareness about the option. It may take time for people to grow accustomed to shopping with a retailer directly via a social network. Indeed, people are still getting used to using mobile devices for their shopping needs: A BI Intelligence report, cited by Digiday, notes that mobile commerce is expected to account for 20.6 percent of overall eCommerce this year. That’s in spite of the fact that mobile now represents 65 percent of all digital time, according to a comScore report covered by Marketing Land.

mobile share of e-commerce graph

Still, even if people warm to the idea of buying on mobile, they might not be in the shopping mind-set when they hop on social media. Users don’t head to social media to shop; they’re there to connect with friends and family. Amazon may be the place people go for their everyday purchases; Google the place where they research items on their list. Buy buttons are like a digital version window shopping—you walk by a store and something catches your eye, and you may chose to make a purchase on a whim. They’re impulse purchases, which may limit their ability to snag market share from the main drivers of online purchasing.

Looking Ahead

Buy buttons may one day play an important role in social commerce. But for now, they won’t likely move the needle for most brands as part of their social media strategy. A better focus for brands is improving their mobile websites and checkout experiences so that when people are inspired to make a purchase, they can do so with the least hassle possible.

People are still eager to discover content on social media and share with others. They’re just more likely to eventually make that purchase on the retailer’s site versus Facebook.

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Krystal Overmyer is a freelance journalist specializing in digital marketing trends. Her experience spans over a decade in journalism, public relations, and digital communications.

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