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Twitter Gets Serious About Shopping

Twitter Gets Serious About Shopping

Amazon started with books, and Twitter started with tweets. Could both end up in the same place -- that is, in that great shopping mall in the cloud? The trick will likely be to find a clever way to trigger the buying impulse in tweeters. "Users on eBay and Amazon are on those sites with shopping as their purpose," noted Ignite Social Media's Jim Tobin. "Users on Twitter are looking for news."

By Rachelle Dragani E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
08/28/13 5:10 PM PT

Twitter has hired Nathan Hubbard as its first head of commerce, with the goal of adding an online shopping component to its offerings.

Twitter plans to provide partners with tools to more effectively offer their goods and services, perhaps then taking a commission on any transactions completed through the site.

Hubbard was formerly the CEO of Ticketmaster.

E-Commerce Vision

Twitter's entry into the online commerce space is a logical next step toward expanding and diversifying its revenue streams before a hotly anticipated IPO, said Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media.

"Given the size and growth of Twitter recently, looking at e-commerce is a natural progression," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Hiring one executive to look at partnering is a very low-risk way to experiment."

One way the company could help expand its commerce platform is by using Twitter Cards, a feature that allows partner websites to expand tweets to include previews, images and videos, said Ron Rule, CEO of Coracent.

"A merchant could promote a product and users could buy that product without leaving Twitter," he told the E-Commerce Times. "It would be kind of like Fancy, where you can just buy the object right then, and that would certainly get a lot of brands paying attention to Twitter for reasons other than the standard brand messaging most are using it for now."

There is a chance that some of those brands would jump at the opportunity to use Twitter -- the site where consumers are already browsing and hanging out -- for commerce initiatives rather than having to lure them to their own site, Rule noted.

"Brands could use it not just for selling products but also for distributing samples or giving away a fixed number of items," he added. "Things like that would really keep their audience engaged and hanging on every tweet, so it would be a win all the way around."

Driving Engagement

That engagement could also help Twitter gain information about the online shopping habits of its users that the site's advertisers would find valuable, said Tobin. The company already has features in place designed to help advertisers understand how consumers use the site.

Twitter began working with a research firm earlier this month, for example, to track how its Promoted Tweets lead to sales in brick-and-mortar retail locations.

It will have a tougher time than some retail giants trying to collect that information without alienating a few consumers, though, Tobin pointed out.

"To compete with eBay or Amazon, Twitter has a fundamental problem," he noted. "Users on eBay and Amazon are on those sites with shopping as their purpose. Users on Twitter are looking for news and updates from their friends."

That doesn't make an e-commerce push impossible for Twitter, he added, but the site may have to come up with its own unique formula for online shopping if it wants to find success in the space.

"The items likely to sell best on Twitter would be flash sales or other impulse buys," he noted. "That means the offers on Twitter would have to be compelling to interrupt the users' activity and switch them into buying mode. That's a much bigger challenge than partnering or making changes to Twitter's technology."

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