Put a ‘Buy’ Button on That!

Carrie Brownstain and Fred Armisen’s characters in Portlandia offering to put a bird on your bread (via toasting, of course).

Carrie Brownstain and Fred Armisen’s characters in Portlandia offering to put a bird on your bread (via toasting, of course).

Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen’s Portlandia has arguably become the de-facto skewering of Hipster culture in America, and much like the ‘put a bird on it’ meme started by the show, web advertising platforms are hoping to make ‘put a buy button on it’ equally as popular.

Google just confirmed they’ll be adding Buy buttons to Search results in the next few weeks, calling the service “Purchase on Google”. Facebook has been testing a buy button for some time, but has announced that users of Shopify’s ecommerce platform will be able to push content, buy button included, directly to Facebook. Of course we can’t forget about Pinterest and ‘Buyable Pins’, announced in June. Pinterest has several major retailers as launch partners, including Macy’s, Neimen Marcus, and Nordstroms and are able to integrate with the Demandware and Shopify ecommerce platforms. What does this mean for those hoping to provide solutions to retailers and merchants?

First, and most obviously, it means there is a dearth of solutions catering to this new method of shopper engagement. Tremendous effort has been put into providing tools to merchandizers that let them craft the ideal customer experience on their storefront, but this technology (which will be embraced by retailers, make no mistake) reduces the customer experience to a product image, brief description, price and a Buy button. That must be sufficient to either trigger the purchase decision or at least entice the user to click through to the storefront. How do we address this channel? What levers do we have to pull?

Second, it introduces an additional layer of mediation between the retailer and their customer. Much like the recent goings-on in online publishing (I suggest reading The Awl’s ongoing series “The Content Wars” if interested), “platforms” are hoping to cash in on the access to customers they can provide. The key here is to not just help the merchandizer best drive customer interest through the platform, but to understand the value proposition offered by the platform and be armed with facts to improve their negotiating position as they engage with the platform owner.

Third, finally, and perhaps even most critically, it introduces yet another channel to drive customer confusion. As noted by Pinterest, Macy’s is participating in the launch of Buyable Pins. How exactly does Macy’s plan to manage Pinterest as an additional channel of commerce? Does it get the same price as Macys.com? Is that price aligned with their in-store pricing? What about the catalog and phone channels? When Macy’s realizes a gain in revenue from a fairly low-effort engagement with Pinterest what do they do next? Put up Buy buttons on Facebook, in Google Searches, and any number of other me-toos that will emerge from the Valley (you know which one) to become the hottest new platform for direct-consumer-social-purchase-engagement.

These issues need to be solved in a way that improves the customer experience, and makes platform owners and retailers more successful. No sweat!

Social purchasing like this has a unique challenge from a pricing perspective. It’s inexorably linked to social interaction. If we version pricing by user it won’t be long until someone Likes it and posts a comment mentioning the price. The jig is up! So what else can we do? Well, if the retailer has control over how and to whom the content is promoted we may be able to identify cohorts and offer them, plus anyone in the Friends list, or their followers, the same offer as to avoid the situation. This forces us to select a somewhat suboptimal price, while still enabling more optimality than one price across the entire web.

What about other aspects of merchandising? In this example from Facebook the merchant has very little to work with. Perhaps the same product image used on the retailer’s storefront isn’t going to cut it? Maybe customers in this interaction model assess and respond differently than when viewing the storefront. How do we help merchants make the best possible visual merchandising decisions? What about the product name, how do we get the most out of the character limit imposed by the platform?

Retailers will need to invest not only in tools to manage this, but also in time, creative assets, legal to review the platform contracts, and much more. How do they know the decisions they’re making are successful? How will they know that the deal they’ve made with the platform is advantageous for them? This needs a solution as well. A/B testing could be powerful, if it’s supported by the platform. Will Facebook provide retailers with the same, or better, user targeting features as they do for ads? How do we leverage this capability to enable a test and learn approach to maximizing value from all the Buyable Pins retailers are going to start placing?

These are problems we can solve. They strike at the core of “commerce” as a concept and retailers will be looking to us to lead the way and help them make the most of these new capabilities. What other ways could we get ahead of this trend?