Facebook's 'buy' button could transform social commerce

        Laura Heller

Social commerce is heating up now that Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has enabled a "buy" feature that lets users shop directly from their newsfeed and it could transform social commerce, at least for a certain demographic.

The social site is testing in-news-feed-purchasing with a handful of small- to medium-sized retailers in the United States and an eye to expanding the program.

Of course, Facebook users could previously see product ads and click to purchase, but they had to leave the site in order to buy. No more, if the test proves profitable. Shoppers would be able to simply click to buy in their newsfeed without leaving the site.

It's the holy grail of social shopping, being able to click and buy without leaving. All those products or brands will be right there for the clicking.

For an impulsive shopper like me, it's either a dream come true or a recipe for disaster. Facebook's ability to target ads based on a user's interests and activity means my news feed is filled with pertinent products.

There's the blue dress I've got on my wish list at an online boutique, juice fast services I recently read up on or airline tickets thanks to my interest in a friend's vacation photos.

There they are in my news feed. Fairly soon, all I'll have to do is click. There will be fewer steps to get between myself and that vacation package.

Shopping on Facebook, however, will require users to share and possibly store credit and payment information. The site promises this information will be secure, but getting shoppers to trust Facebook with their personal and credit information may be its biggest hurdle, particularly after news that the site manipulated users' feelings in a study.

All of this begs the question, who will be the Facebook shopper? Not millennials. Not yet.

More likely it will be Generation X shoppers like myself or baby boomers, for many of the same reasons that mobile commerce has been slow to catch on with the younger set.

Despite being the most mobile of generations, millennials are more likely to use the mobile device as a tool, something to enable the buying experience rather than complete it.

They don't own tablets in great numbers, either. Tablets, especially iPads, are much more conducive to mobile shopping, making for an easier transaction and far better user experience. They are also expensive and hardly a necessity.

Most U.S. consumers have a mobile device based on multiple needs and many have a computer for work purposes. But tablets are a luxury, as evidenced by Barneys only mobile app built for the iPad. That's a retailer that really knows its shopper base and how to reach them and it isn't by pushing out coupons to an Android device.

But shopping on Facebook is the inevitable endgame, and shoppers like myself will take advantage of it. We are the demographic that still spends time on Facebook, interacting with far flung family and friends we don't have time to see or talk to often. We have incomes and time demands that make ease of use very attractive.

"We can offer a sheer reach that no other platform can," said Nicolas Franchet, Facebook's global head of retail and e-commerce during a meeting with the press in San Francisco earlier this year, according to Wired.

Monetizing social networks has presented problems as many sites have struggled with ad efficacy. But recent acquisitions and technologies promise to solve this problem.

Twitter went live with a "buy now" button in early July, and recently announced the acquisition of CardSpring, a company that lets online shoppers sync coupons to credit cards to redeem in physical stores. This pushes the company closer to what CEO Dick Costolo calls "commerce in the moment." Re/code reports that shopping for goods within a Tweet will arrive by the holidays, perhaps putting some pressure on Amazon.

Social shopping has held much promise but delivery has fallen short. Could this be the year that social shopping finally breaks out? -Laura

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