by Matt Kapko

Twitter takes another shot at social shopping

News Analysis
Jun 23, 2015
E-commerce SoftwareSocial Networking AppsTwitter

Twitter tried to break into social shopping in the past, but its efforts mostly fell flat. The struggling social network hopes to make waves (and revenue) with new product pages built for ecommerce, but is it another ill-conceived initiative?

Twitter is taking cues from Amazon, Pinterest and others in its latest foray into social shopping. The company announced a new set of pages that are designed to streamline the purchase process on Twitter. Pages for products and places can include images, video, product descriptions and prices, and — most importantly for Twitter — the option to buy products or visit advertiser websites for more information. The new shopping features are available now on Twitter’s website and in its Android and iOS apps. 

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The concept of social shopping isn’t new to Twitter. Its previous efforts consisted of promoted tweets, hashtags, in-stream buy buttons and connections with third-party accounts, such as its ongoing partnership with American Express. Twitter, however, has struggled to find new ways to turn the 500 million tweets that are posted to its platform every day into revenue streams, and it is again looking to social shopping as solution. In a blog post that details the announcement, Twitter describes the latest initiative as an experiment with purposefully limited scope. In fact, the word “test,” or some variation of it, appears six times.

Keeping users on Twitter with product pages

Twitter’s first iteration of product pages looks like an attempt to combine various external services and then present them as a part of Twitter, according to Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. Dawson says Twitter took notable cues from Product Hunt, a popular site that lets users find and share new products, and Amazon.

“So much activity on Twitter doesn’t generate any revenue for the company because it takes users elsewhere,” he says. The company could tap new revenue streams if it can find a way to keep users engaged within the confines of Twitter and tie more of that activity to purchases, according to Dawson. 

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J Barbush, vice president and creative social media director at advertising agency RPA, says Twitter’s product pages are an effective way to retain the charm and creative restraints of the service’s 140-character limit while keeping users on Twitter in search of more information.

Twitter is also testing collections of product-related pages you can access by clicking “Browse Collection” buttons on company or curator profile pages. Twitter had 41 partners at launch. Nike gathered a series of LeBron Elite products for its basketball profile, and actress Reese Witherspoon curated a group of summer picks from her Draper James product line. 

twitter collections mobile Twitter

Twitter product pages leave bad first impression

Unfortunately, the early pages Twitter chose to highlight aren’t great advertisements for the features, according to Dawson. “It feels incredibly commercialized and self-promotional…and that’s not a great first impression,” he says.

Twitter already had issues with relatively simple but important details, such as pricing. For example, the product page for Draper James’s Pierre Renoir Boat Hat shows a price of $140, but the “Go there” button takes you to the retailer’s site, where the hat is listed for $88.

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It can be difficult for companies to build new layers (in this case, shopping) on top of platforms that don’t inherently serve the purpose, says Dawson. “Whether it’s Product Hunt, Pinterest or Amazon, those services have a single core purpose, and these features are key elements of it, but at Twitter this is being bolted onto something very different, which makes it feel a little awkward.”

Barbush says Twitter has an opportunity to surface tweets, reviews and product information that can help inform users’ buying decisions. “I like Twitter’s approach,” he says. “Sometimes companies noodle things to death. Twitter tries many things and sees what works. I admire that.”