The "buy buttons" that are popping up on social media platforms are intentionally simple, often meant to enable one-click purchases of individual products. But as the technology's popularity grows, so must its capabilities.

Shopping technology company XpressBuy is seeking e-commerce partners to adopt what it calls "contextual buying," or the ability to make a purchase in the venue in which it's initially viewed. Its goal is to close the gap between a major e-commerce seller's website and its marketing channels.

"Normally, you would receive a message on your mobile device that there's a special offer at a retailer. You have to go to the site, and then to the checkout page, so the product purchase is really in three different places," Murali Subbarao, XpressBuy's CEO and founder. "This [new technology] creates a 'microsite' for that marketing and shopping experience."

The vendor just landed deals with four large e-commerce platforms—Demandware, IBM WebSphere Commerce, Shopify and Magento, which XpressBuy says can land its “buy buttons” with 30% of the largest 500 retailers. Its technology is accessible to 10,000 retailers overall, Subbarao said.

In a typical marketing email, the advertiser may show the sale price or an offer code, requiring the shopper to navigate to the full e-commerce site to redeem it. But in XpressBuy's microsite model, that marketing message could show "all of the different options available, stuff like color or size and you can pay right then," Subbarao said. "And at the same time, you can get all of the information you need, such as shipping charges."

Other companies, such as PayPal, are also building contextual retail experiences to bolster their merchant acquisition strategies. Social networks such as Facebook and Pinterest are also using buy buttons to link their Web and mobile apps to e-commerce sellers.

Apple Pay and the upcoming Android Pay are also designed to function as buy buttons for in-app sales.

The technology that allows payments to occur within Web advertising has existed for some time. The startup Zooz has offered such technology for at least two years, the now-defunct Google Checkout was designed to work within ads that appeared among Google's search results. What's new is the size of the deployments, and the use of the buttons to sew different channels together for a unified shopping experience.

"As long as the e-commerce platform already supports registered users to browse and purchase items using a card on file, this capability is relatively easy to deploy to a mobile app…more challenging is the ability to establish a "buy button" within an advertisement," said Tim Sloane, vice president of payments innovation and director of the emerging technologies advisory service at Mercator, adding authentication becomes more complex to manage in the case of an in-advertisement payment.

The technology that supports in-app searching and advertising is also expanding through new search tools called action graphs, Sloane said.

"It won't be very long before our devices recognize what we are doing or looking at and offer us relevant links and apps," Sloane said. "These breakthroughs will enable much more relevant information to be at our fingertips which suggests more 'buy' opportunities."

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