Social Media ‘Buy’ Buttons Fail to Impress

01 February 2017

Social Media ‘Buy’ Buttons Fail to Impress

The issue of selling directly on social media has always been a bit of a contentious topic. In theory, it sounds great, as it opens up a new sales channel with a lot of virtual footfall. The reality, however, has conspicuously failed to live up to the dream, with high-profile social media sites either struggling with the challenge (Instagram and Pinterest) or just admitting defeat (Twitter and Facebook). There are two main schools of thought as to why this is.

Social media is for socialising, not selling

People use social media to hang out with their friends (or, in the case of LinkedIn, their colleagues and professional contacts). Hence, brands that are known for their impact on social media tend to be ones that use it to build relationships with (potential) customers so that they are seen in a similar light as friends.

Of course, it is possible to use social media to promote products and services, but generally the key to success here is to create valuable content, which just happens to feature your product or service, rather than creating openly commercial material. In other words, social media is the place to get to know a brand and get comfortable with it, rather than a place to transact with it directly.

The purchase process on social media is confusing and clunky

The golden rule of sales, via any channel, is to make it as easy as possible for the customer to buy your product. A quick look at any major ecommerce merchant shows just how seriously the big players take this concept.

In particular, they aim to whizz customers through the checkout process, to curtail the time they have available to change their minds and to minimise the dreaded “cart abandonment”, which is one of the biggest frustrations in online retail.

By contrast, the process of buying through social media buy buttons is, at best, generally lacklustre and can be actively frustrating. To make matters worse, social media sales bring a whole basketful of inventory-management issues with them, so if a customer does click on a buy button, they may well find themselves at a purchasing dead end. This, of course, creates a negative experience for them, which could put them off trying again and if they do try to make another purchase and find themselves in the same situation, they may give up completely.

Is there a future for social media sales?

This is, of course, the question occupying both the platforms and retailers. The platforms want to maximise their potential for revenue and would dearly love to be able to compete with the retail giants. Brands, naturally, want to capture as many sales as they possibly can, through as many channels as possible.

Realistically, the only way to discover if social media sales could succeed in the future would be to invest in improving the purchasing process so that it is as seamless as it is in a designated online store and then see how customers respond. The investment and testing required would be huge, leaving the question of whether or not even the larger social media platforms would consider it worthwhile.