Customer Support | 5 min read

What problem does #AmazonCart fix?

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Is Amazon’s #AmazonCart Twitter integration just a cool technology solution in need of a problem?

At first glance it sounded interesting and attracted lots of media coverage. There is something inherently cool about being able to get a product delivered having initiated the transaction with a reply to a tweet.

Amazon’s promotional video for the service is slick and sells the convenience of the service. But as I watched it I wondered about some things: When was the last time I saw a product link in a tweet? And if I saw one would I even notice that the link was to Amazon rather than some other retailer? And what would I buy based on a 140 character description anyway?

A quick click on the #AmazonCart hashtag (or #AmazonBasket in the UK) gives a flavour of how it is being used. It’s been pounced on by authors promoting their (mostly) self-published low cost books and others who are quick to adopt the latest social marketing techniques. In contrast Amazon’s own videos to promote the launch shows customers interacting with big consumer brands on Twitter like Pampers, Cadburys and Oral-B, and it will be interesting to see how well their campaigns will fare.

What’s in it for Twitter?

One can easily understand why Twitter would go for this, as it extends the platform and opens up a potentially lucrative new stream of revenue. Currently Amazon Associates offers up to 10 per cent commission depending on the type of product sold so it suggests there’s a margin on this kind of referral that could be shared with Twitter. It also has the potential to make Twitter more attractive to advertisers.

Twitter has widely reported to be working on its own commerce platform and as its recent results underlined would love to announce new revenue streams to appease investors. Whether #AmazonCart is the first iteration of that or simply a good way of demonstrating to other retailers what is possible is not clear.

What can’t be argued with is that the holy grail for marketers, social commerce, is still in its infancy. Twitter’s previous efforts to add commerce – with Starbucks and American Express – similarly attracted headlines at launch but now seem to have petered out.

Others have suggested some interesting directions that this could go in – buying concert tickets that are rapidly selling out, donating to a disaster relief campaign, or just buying a cool suit that you see in an episode of Mad Men.

Why not 1-Tweet?

It’s also significant that #AmazonCart does exactly what it says on the tin. It puts a product in your basket but you still have to go to Amazon, either on the web or in an app, and complete the transaction. Certainly it completes a significant step in the process – getting the product into your basket – and is a more frictionless sale. But this is Amazon who patented 1-Click shopping and has fought hard to defend that extremely profitable patent. Wouldn’t a “1-Tweet” process have been a real game-changer? Some of the use cases above – such as grabbing tickets to a rapidly selling-out concert – will not work nearly as well due with a two-step process.

It’s not the first time that Twitter has allowed users to trigger actions on other apps and platforms with a Tweet. Both Comcast in the US and Sky in Britain have experimented with tools which allow subscribers to record TV shows directly from a tweet. Given the popularity of TV watching in the company of your Twitter followers this could be interesting.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you will

But are people researching purchases on Twitter? The most common uses of Twitter are as a news source, to communicate with friends, following live events you can’t attend, and to get recommendations (primarily of the where to go variety). Just because people can now make Amazon purchases when on there, doesn’t necessarily mean they will. Twitter may face a similar problem to newspapers and other old media who have engaged users on their sites but because they are not actively researching purchases are not seen as being of value to advertisers or e-commerce partners.

The real downside of #AmazonCart is that it forces the buyer to make their purchase in public – the tweet putting the product in your basket will be visible on your timeline. While not quite in the league of the short-lived and ill thought out, Facebook Beacon, most people do not want to share their purchases with the rest of the world. On the other hand marketers absolutely want us to share details of what we are buying online so that our friends might follow suit.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo suggested recently that enhancements to Twitters direct messaging could be on the way. Certainly it’s an area of Twitter that hasn’t seen much innovation since the early days of the platform and giving the option of a DM as well as a reply would certainly encourage usage.

Social commerce is still in its infancy but the history of e-commerce is littered with failed experiments that frankly look a little embarrassing today. Remember :cuecat the handheld barcode scanner shaped like a cat? Or Microsoft Tag, Redmond’s response to the QR code, but which it is handing over to a third party? Despite the initial “oh that’s cool” reaction, Amazon and Twitter will have to innovate rapidly if #AmazonCart is not to become a similar footnote.