Twitter's New Mobile 'Buy' Button Mixes Payments, Social Marketing

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Twitter's long-awaited  "Buy" button is live, allowing nearly 30 pilot merchants and nonprofits to accept payments from within Twitter's mobile app. 

Twitter uses technology from Stripe and Gumroad to blend payments into the stream of tweets it presents to consumers. The process is designed to remove the friction of redirecting consumers to another app or website to purchase an item advertised on Twitter.

"For social media users, speed and convenience is absolutely vital … [the Buy button] makes it faster and easier for people to check out the product and make a purchase," said David Paine, co-founder of 911 Day, a national nonprofit taking part in Twitter's commerce pilot.

The organization, which inspires Americans to do charitable service as tribute to those who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, raises funds by accepting donations and selling T-shirts and other souvenirs. About 70% to 80% of 911 Day's funding comes from individual donations, said Paine.

"We rely heavily on social media to communicate with our followers and participants," said Paine. "We don’t have the money to run ads that bigger corporations do to reach customers, so Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms are essential."

Before the Twitter commerce service, 911 Day would post links to its merchandise within tweets, but "that was disconnected from the Twitter experience," with customers pushed to the nonprofit's website, Paine said.

To start selling items through the "Buy" button, Paine had to set up an account with Gumroad, which takes 5% on the total sale and 24 cents per transaction. Merchants don't pay an extra per-transaction or monthly fee to use the Twitter service, he said.

Gumroad also worked with Twitter on its initial product cards, which graphically present the details of product that people link to through individual tweets.

Product cards "are a much-loved and much-valued feature, and this is an intuitive next step," said Sahil Lavingia, founder and CEO of Gumroad.

Gumroad merchants "can treat this like an additional feature of our product, versus a replacement," Lavingia said. "We want to live in a world where people that make stuff and the people that want that stuff are in the metaphorical room together, with little else."

The "Buy" button also uses Stripe's one-touch payment processing application programming interface (API). Consumers who tap the "Buy" button must then input their payment credentials and shipping details. That information is then stored  for subsequent one-click purchases.  

"Social commerce is an exciting new direction," said Patrick Collison, co-founder and CEO of Stripe, in an email. "We're thrilled to be working with Twitter to enable seamless in-tweet purchase experiences for consumer and merchants."

Stripe allows merchants to accept credit cards in 139 different currencies. The company recently said it would support Bitcoin payments. It has also partnered with AliPay, enabling consumers in China to  more seamlessly make purchases with Stripe merchants. 

Some of Twitter's other test partners include Home Depot; musicians Brad Paisley, Wiz Khalifa and Pharrell; and RED, an AIDS awareness and prevention nonprofit. Specific tweets from these organizations will feature a "Buy" button to allow consumers to make purchases and donations through the new interface. 

Fancy, a social shopping platform and Musictoday, a direct-to-consumer ecommerce site for musicians, will also be initial partners for Twitter's commerce pilot. In February, mock-ups of a Twitter commerce platform were found on a public section of

In July, Twitter agreed to buy CardSpring, a payments infrastructure provider. The company's services allowed merchants to offer and track promotions across multiple channels. 

Social media payments have been hit or miss. Chirpify, Dwolla, American Express and a handful of startups facilitate consumer payments via Twitter. But Chirpify has changed its model to focus on advertising for large merchants and Dwolla said the initiative was more of a social experiment.

A number of cryptocurrency startups are working on peer-to-peer payment services via Twitter, including PikaPay, TipperCoin and ChangeCoin.

"Twitter is the only player that can actually create a 'viral sale,'" said Adil Moussa, payments strategic marketing analyst at Adil Consulting. "Today, the friction or the breakage in the sale process is happening because people don't have one environment that will support these three platforms at once: a distribution platform that reaches millions with one click, a payment platform attached to the distribution model that allows a one-click purchase, and a platform that is conducive to impulse purchases."

Moussa suggests Twitter could provide all three features in one application and make a profit by using an aggregation model like what Apple uses for small iTunes purchases. But, he said, "This is a complex undertaking that mixes payment, commerce and marketing while limited by 140 characters."

Twitter's new service is available to only a small percentage of U.S. consumers but will be rolled out to others later. 

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