Why Is the Simple Buy Button So Hard to Implement?

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People see it. People buy it. The crux of the buy button’s mission on any platform—social, web or mobile app—seems like child’s play, but is easier said than done. The buy button occupied center stage in 2015, however despite lackluster results and raised eyebrows, there is still hope for success.

The promise of the buy button

What’s the allure of the buy button? Many believe it will help relieve one of the biggest challenges of online shopping, shopping cart abandonment. Millions of products never made the transition from shopping cart to checkout in e-commerce this year. The drop-offs on mobile web are dire, owing primarily to multi-step checkouts. Shopping apps are a viable proposition, but with consumers spending only 5 percent of their time in-app, according to Forrester, the odds of completing a sale on a mobile device are lower than retailers imagine. Beyond the large retailers and e-tailers, smaller and more niche players struggle to finance and promote a shopping app.

Buy buttons can unlock products from a retailer’s catalog, placing them directly on mobile apps, social platforms, mobile web and consumers’ devices themselves. The buttons challenge the notion of the app as a final destination and argue that any mobile real estate can now be “shoppable.” But there’s work to be done before buy buttons can truly become retail’s Holy Grail, as several pieces of the puzzle still need to fall into place in order for buy buttons to take off and deliver on their promise.

Is the buy button designed for discovery?

To create something engaging for individual users, platforms will need to understand consumer shopping habits in their entirety. What personas or avatars do they adopt? What do we know about their shopping habits so far? While each social platform or app has a significant amount of data, the true picture hides behind the overlap of historical data across platforms.

Users may seek recommendations on social platforms, but respond negatively to assistance or suggestions on other apps. Some of the data may not represent who the user is today, but instead highlight a one-off phase in their life. Looking at transactions or clicks alone can blind us to how consumers really shop. While recommending targeted and relevant products through data science is critical, the technology behind the buy button must also enable serendipitous discoveries.

Consumers often don’t know what they’re looking for, and want to be surprised or excited by what they discover. Platforms will need to strike a delicate balance between showing a user what they are bound to like and delighting them with something new. To do that, we will have to find a way to personalize and curate not only for relevance, but also for discovery.

Does it mirror a consumer’s real shopping behavior?

Sharpening an understanding of how users think is essential, and mobile shopping needs to learn from offline shopping behaviors. Will a user succumb to an impulse and buy immediately? How much information will a user need on mobile to make an educated choice without becoming overwhelmed? How much time does a user need to make a decision? Can the buy button provide an option to save the product to purchase later?

Consistently optimizing the buy button for real world shopping behavior is critical to catching the user’s attention with shoppable offers. As many consumers often like to share their picks on social platforms, how can the buy button enable sharing, or opinion seeking? Measuring the effectiveness of a buy button hinges on how well it marries with an offline shopping journey.

Is it designed for user buying needs?

Shopping; an entertaining, want-based activity, differs from buying; a need-based activity. Sometimes users start in a browsing mood, happy to wander and discover new products, but can be easily enticed to buy if the process is easy. The buy button, therefore, leans heavily on seamless payment mechanisms. The rapid uptake of mobile wallets and payments is a big boon, but given the wide array of options, optimizing for point-to-point solutions for every customer is key.

Real-time inventory poses an even bigger challenge as no consumer wants to discover something they’re ready to buy, only to learn it’s out of stock. Creating an accurate picture of available products across fleeting mobile moments can be tricky. Additionally, while purchases will be undoubtedly fulfilled by merchants, establishing a modus operandi that preserves user privacy across all digital properties will be pivotal to success.

Getting it right

The buy button is a great idea, poised to disrupt the mobile commerce space. What will help propel the ubiquity across mobile platforms is the confluence of understanding user interests, coupled with cutting edge technology for optimized experiences. Let’s also bear in mind that shopping doesn’t begin and end with a button. This is precisely why there’s much to be done behind the scenes to deliver its intended success. Shopping is a wonderful, complex and personal, activity. If done right, the buy button has the potential not only to power shopping, but to enhance the mobile experience for consumers everywhere.

Naveen Tewari is the CEO and founder of InMobi.

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