It's often said that elite athletes don't benefit as much from innate skill or physical ability as they do from an uncanny ability to put themselves in the right place at the right time. Knowing where the ball or puck is going — and where it's not — can mean the difference between winning and losing on any given Sunday.
However, as one of the largest proponents of social commerce just found out, being where the buying customers are isn't as easy or fluid as first expected.
A source has told Internet Retailer that Twitter is putting its Buy button initiative on the back burner for the time being. The news should come as something of a gut punch to partnering groups that have latched onto Twitter's Buy buttons — namely, BigCommerce, Demandware and Shopify. But there is a silver lining: Twitter isn't shuttering the entire Buy button platform, just moving all its resources to other projects and letting it fend for itself.
“We made a change several months ago to increase our investment in commerce by moving fully into dynamic product ads after seeing the great early results," a Twitter spokesman said after the story broke.
Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, concurred that advertising is the more stable and potentially profitable bet for a social network like Twitter at the moment, but the decision to pit marketing revenue against sales traffic could have major implications down the road. For one, pulling the plug on Buy buttons so early — make no mistake, leaving the buttons without the resources to respond to the as-yet-unsettled landscape of contextual commerce is pulling the plug — handicaps its overall potential, whatever that may have been.
More importantly, though, are the reasons for why Twitter is giving Buy buttons, once thought to be a revenue-generating dynamo, the Silicon Valley equivalent of a cold shoulder. Effectively, Buy buttons were one half of the contextual commerce coin. Twitter is a medium that presents users information as it's happening or, with the tweaking of hashtags and mentions, as they'd like to have it happen. Retailers around the world struggle with nailing down that half of the formula, and Twitter seemed to have a built-in, organizational leg-up on most of its competitors in that respect.
However, Twitter's embarrassment of riches on the temporal front seemed to blind it to its deficiencies on the analytical one. Greg Stevens, executive vice president of media and sales for MyWebGrocer, told ZDNet that while consumers flocked to Twitter en masse for consumption of news, opinion and the occasional cross-posted Vine, they weren't exactly sharing information on what they did and didn't want to spend their money on. And in the multi-front war for social commerce success, losing out on that information is the equivalent of flying blind.
"Twitter lacks signals that can be used to target their ads effectively," Stevens said. "There isn't enough purchase intent being expressed by consumers on Twitter, and without sufficient insights into consumer intent, it becomes difficult to effectively win sales."
Twitter may have found itself in a chicken-and-the-egg scenario. Without active sales, it can't make Buy buttons work; with Buy buttons, it can't generate enough sales data to guide them. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they were always doomed to fail on the platform. Perhaps Twitter shot up too high, too fast with its Buy button initiative. If it can drive sales through other means, maybe the inconspicuous little buttons can make a comeback of their own.