Amid Months Of Hype, Outlook On Buy Buttons Remains Mixed

Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram all have taken a further dip into online commerce over the past year, with each company announcing that buy buttons will be included as part of the offerings. With buy buttons, retailers are positioned to further break down the barriers between their e-Commerce sites and social profiles.

Specifically, buy buttons are designed to capitalize on consumers’ innate desire to make impulse purchases, turning shoppers into buyers with just one click. Although key social networks have promoted the buttons for months, only Pinterest has launched its version — known as Buyable Pins — on a large scale.

The lack of full-scale delivery has since curbed the service’s lingering hype, creating speculation over the efficacy of buy buttons as a sales channel. More cause for concern comes from the lack of information from retailers that are testing the buttons. Like many marketing strategies in their early stage, buy buttons are still largely an unknown commodity, and their measurable effectiveness is yet to be determined.


As consumers increasingly use their mobile phones throughout the shopping journey, the buy button seems like a natural fit. With mobile commerce now representing 34% of all global e-Commerce transactions (and 30% of U.S. e-Commerce transactions), according to data from Criteo, buy buttons represent a potential opportunity for retailers to simplify shopping for ever-evolving, digitally savvy consumers. While not a guarantee for success, the buttons allow retailers to reach consumers at touch points beyond the store and the e-Commerce site.

“Both manufacturers and retailers alike have been looking for ways to get the store closer to the point-of-attention,” said Steve White, VP of Commerce Strategy at Razorfish. “I think that shoppable media is one of the earliest concepts that was able to do that. Instead of deploying traditional media designed to drive brand awareness, and hoping that the consumer will have some recall while they are in the retail location, we were able to serve them shoppable media. If it was interesting to the consumer and they wanted to act on it now, they would then have the opportunity to do that. We would see buy buttons as a natural extension of this into the social realm.”

The advantage of buy buttons may depend on the retailer’s general approach to social commerce, as well as the social networks their target customers use most frequently. Buy buttons are typically broken down into two separate categories, according to Razorfish. The buttons can either function as:

  • Redirect Buttons, in which the customer is sent to the brand’s e-Commerce site, or
  • Native Buttons, where the sale is conducted on third-party social media platforms. This gives the social network control over the purchase experience.

While each of the buy buttons offer some form of click-to-buy functionality, they are designed to cater to the user’s specific needs while browsing numerous social networks. For example, the Facebook buy button differs slightly from Pinterest Buyable Pins in that the former is delivered to consumers via an ad. Buyable Pins, however, allow consumers to complete transactions through a pinned image.

Which Buy Buttons Will Rise To The Top?

Among the social platforms introducing or planning to roll out buy buttons, the jury is still out on which ones will be successful.

Google, which announced a buy button in May and later unveiled it as Purchases on Google, allows consumers to purchase items directly from advertisements listed on the search page. The search engine hosts its own e-Commerce platform, enabling shoppers to stay on a Google product page while picking sizes and shipping options before completing a purchase.

“Google’s buy button has the most promise, but success is relative even if it does get the execution right,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, in a blog published on Forbes. “Mobile commerce is still tiny, and Google’s share of it may ultimately be sizable overall. But for any given merchant it will be relatively small. The real game-changer will be when Google puts the buy button on the desktop, which is and will be the predominant way to buy digitally in the foreseeable future.”

Facebook has worked with Shopify in testing a buy button since July 2014. It has partnered with brands by enabling them to manage e-Commerce transactions directly from the Facebook platform.

Twitter officially launched its buy button in September 2014, but only recently expanded the feature to Shopify’s 100,000 partner merchants. Brands could potentially leverage the service for time-sensitive offers or promotions related to an event happening in the near future.

Pinterest and Instagram, with their respective Buyable Pins and Shop Now buttons, will rely heavily on visual appeal and discovery to generate purchase intent and sell products. Thus far, the Buyable Pins offer 2.5 million products available for purchase through Pinterest. Pinterest has partnered with Demandware to implement the Buyable Pins, with select brands such as Cole Haan, Kate Spade, Macy’s and Nordstrom offering the pins through their mobile shopping experiences.

Implementing Buy Buttons Successfully

It is easy to see where the buy button hype comes from, especially with social commerce gaining a greater influence throughout the retail industry. Retailers ranked in the Internet Retailer 2015 Social Media 500 grew their social commerce sales in 2014 by 26% to $3.3 billion, up from $2.6 billion in 2013. Additionally, social networks drove e-Commerce referrals at a 200% greater rate in Q1 2015, as compared to Q1 2014.

For buy buttons to become a major hit among e-Commerce players, they will have to be deployed with the proper visual context. While a consumer may have initial interest in a product, supplementary content related to the product can further draw them in to make a transaction. This kind of content can include accurate product details, images and even brief videos.

“Marketing and supply chain data will need to be synchronized in order for retailers to successfully integrate buy buttons into their business model,” said Mike Lapchick, CEO of product content hosting platform Shotfarm. “Product images and details are going to become even more important with buy buttons, so retailers need to leverage a data management system that will allow them to easily exchange data and synchronize it across all channels.”

Beyond leveraging product data, retailers must ensure that the company voice does not get lost in translation as it extends across social networks. Building an authentic brand experience is vital to those looking to open up their brand across new channels, especially as consumers engage with the brand outside the store or e-Commerce site.

“Retailers have to find a way to keep that consistency and presence from channel to channel, as opposed to trying to be something that they’re not in trying to adopt the buy buttons,” said Razorfish’s White in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It seems that shoppers are pretty savvy to that, and social commerce is blossoming because shoppers don’t want to adopt a new behavior. They want to interact with things in the channels where they’re already spending a lot of their time.”

Establishing this kind of voice, particularly through social media, would likely resonate with Millennials who browse and interact with brands on these platforms. Up to 55% of Millennials currently like a brand on Facebook, while 29% follow a brand on Twitter. When it comes to potentially using buy buttons, 35% of Millennial consumers said they are likely to use one on Facebook, while 24% said they were likely to use one on Twitter, according to research from The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Challenges To Buy Button Adoption

Since the social platforms are controlling the buy button experience instead of the retailers, these merchants are taking the risk of essentially handing over a portion of their brand to another party. If a purchasing experience goes poorly for the consumer on another platform, whether due to a broken link or a slower-than-advertised checkout, it would still reflect poorly on the brand selling the product.

Additionally, the new technology creates risk for companies looking to be early adopters in the space. If retailers invest in buy buttons and they don’t generate sufficient revenue, then they have to financially bounce back from that investment. On the other hand, if retailers decide to wait to adopt, they may miss out on differentiating from competitors.

Inventory management also can be a potential challenge. Buy buttons generally are designed to expose the consumer to one item for a fast purchase, which is inconvenient for retailers looking to reduce shipping costs and boost profit margins. Therefore, retailers must selectively pick and choose the items that are an appropriate fit for the service without being too limited in the offering.

Many retailers may struggle to integrate their inventory management, payment and product information systems into social platforms because they aren’t used to selling outside of their stores and e-Commerce sites, according to Lapchick of Shotfarm. As part of this integration, retailers must ensure that the buy buttons are placed on products that are guaranteed to be in stock.

“Syncing product catalogs and or management is going to be a challenge because buy button purchases are completed through separate payment and order management systems as opposed to posts that link directly to the merchant’s web site,” explained Lapchick. “Retailers and social media sites have to consistently update each other when a purchase is made and when product information changes unless there is a product content management system that streamlines this process.”

Test Before Setting Expectations

Businesses that plan to leverage buy buttons should test their capabilities comprehensively before officially launching the service. During testing, retailers can gauge whether buy buttons will play a large role in future social commerce initiatives, or whether they will play a role at all. Depending on product offering, brand and intended demographic, retailers will have various uses for buy buttons that might not even be set in stone yet, and making assumptions based on other companies’ results may not be a future indicator of success.

While there is no set date for the wide scale release of all buy buttons, nor is there data regarding any retailer results thus far, Mulpuru indicated in her post that the buttons carried one point of certainty: “In this age of hyperadoption, we’ll have a pretty early read on whether any of these buy buttons are successful for merchants. Given that more and more e-Commerce traffic is organic (i.e. shoppers typing a company’s URL directly), I don’t think we’ll see a major shift in how shoppers buy anytime soon, at least not with the executions that have been announced to date.”


Featured Event

Join 5k+ attendees for an immersive experience where you can get inspired by retail’s most innovative minds and see their big ideas in action.



Access The Media Kit


Access Our Editorial Calendar

If you are downloading this on behalf of a client, please provide the company name and website information below: