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Buy buttons are more hype than reality so far: Forrester

While there is significant interest this year in buy buttons on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Google and Twitter, limited availability and poor execution are among the factors likely to hamper their potential to impact sales, according to a Forrester Research analyst.

In a new blog post, Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru writes that buy buttons may be a good idea in several cases, but the execution to date has been weak and, in some cases, holds little potential to drive sales. As a result, it seems unlikely that a significant portion of sales will migrate to these platforms in the near term.

“At this time social is still a single digit percent of digital sales and we don’t expect that to change in a big way yet,” Ms. Mulpuru said.

“When will the time be right?,” she said. “Everyone should test.

“Everyone will probably see some value from Google, but it’ll probably be another couple of years before these solutions have value for the shoppers they are trying to serve.”

Impulse purchasing
Platforms such as Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram have a large mobile user base and are looking for ways to monetize this audience. While advertising is an important focus, these companies recognize a potential to harness social recommendations to drive impulse buys and, by adding a buy button, they hope to overcome the hindrance to completing a transaction provided by the small screens on smartphones.

Mobile is a big focus of the buy button push, with the offerings from both Pinterest and Google available only on mobile at launch.

Apps such as Fancy have been trying to combine social sharing with impulse buying on mobile for several years and the jury is still out on whether or not these efforts have proven successful, according to Forrester‘s Ms. Mulpuru.

The platform with the biggest potential out of those planning buy buttons is Google, per the analyst.

Google is reportedly planning to enable shoppers to buy certain items directly on Google from a mobile device. This could be a powerful way to drive mobile conversions, but given Google’s reputation for poor customer service, execution could be a challenge. Even if Google does get it right, mcommerce is still a small percentage of overall retail and, therefore, is likely to be insignificant for most retailers.

The Amazon factor
While Amazon is not part of the conversation about buy buttons, Ms. Mulpuru believes that the ecommerce giant is in the best position to win a bigger share of impulse and considered purchases no matter where a shopper is through a combination of unbundling its voice-activated tool and its Prime shipping program.

Facebook first announced a buy button more than a year ago.

So far, Facebook seems to be just testing its buy buttons. They could be effective in categories such as tickets or books, where consumers are already paying attention to what others are endorsing. The potential in other categories could be more limited.

Ms. Mulpuru suggests that Facebook could be a buy button leader simply by virtue of its scale. However, the company does not so far seem to be very interested in winning here and is, instead, keeping its focus on its quickly growing ad business.

Despite a focus on visuals and products, Pinterest’s buy buttons are hard to find and the execution is weak, per Ms. Mulpuru. One of the biggest problems is likely to be that only a small percentage of a retailer’s items being pinned on the site will be in stock and buyable. As a result, Pinterest is likely to focus more heavily on advertising and sponsored pins.

Shopping habits
Instagram has a limited test in place of its own buy button. However, the fleeting nature of the images on the platform means they are likely to have little impact in terms of encouraging purchase.

Most the attempts to sell things on Twitter have been unremarkable, per the analyst. Here again, the short lifespan of content on Twitter means there is likely not going to be much of an impact on a merchant’s sales.

“In this age of hyperadoption, we’ll have a pretty early read on whether any of these buy buttons are successful for merchants,” Ms. Mulpuru said in the blog post. “Given that more and more ecommerce 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.

“Merchants that are intrigued by these offerings are wise to test and learn but to have low expectations,” She said. “In fact, I’d argue the biggest opportunity from social networks isn’t sales but the data around what keywords and images are trending.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York