you're one of the hundreds of millions of regular Twitter or Facebook users,
you're used to seeing ads mixed in among the updates from random acquaintances
and links to funny cat videos -- and you probably ignore most of them. But imagine if one of
them really catches your eye and you could purchase the touted product simply
by writing "#buy." No fussing with digital shopping carts, no finding
the right size or color, just true one-click buying.
the kind of online shopping envisioned by Chirpify, a Portland, Ore.-based
company that last year introduced in-stream payment. Earlier
this year, American Express hopped on the in-stream payment bandwagon with its
Sync program; cardholders who connect their AmEx cards to
their social media accounts get offers for products that they can buy
instantly, with one tweet or post.
worth pausing before you hit "Enter." Instant gratification raises the specter of overspending. And a public record of your purchases comes with its own dangers.
How it really works
no arguing that in-stream purchasing is convenient. According to Chirpify CEO Chris Teso, most
first-time Chirpify customers sign on at Chirpify.com when they respond to an ad or promotion from a company or group they already follow, such as
Adidas or the Portland Trail Blazers. They go through a one-time enrollment process to
connect their social media accounts to either a credit card or a bank account,
put their mailing address on file, and ideally include purchasing preferences such as shoe and shirt sizes that make future
transactions completely seamless.
From then on, when they see an offer
they like, they only have to respond with certain words or hashtags right in
Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. After that, the transaction happens
automatically. The response instantly registers as a purchase, the customer's credit card is charged, and the item is processed and shipped.
how it's worked for Jason Lander, a software developer in Portland, Ore.,
who's an avid social media user. He used to avoid social media ads, knowing
that clicking a link would take him to a website where he'd have to create a
new account and fumble among pages to find the right item. "But the fact
that I know I can type the word 'buy' and click 'post,' it's almost unbelievable,"
he says. Lander has used Chirpify several times now to buy a range of products,
from shoes to artwork to books. "The first couple times I did it I didn't
believe it would work." But it did. And it was so easy, he says, "I
would liken it to magic." He even got a digital receipt at the end of each
Express's Sync program works in much the same way as Chirpify. "It's super
Bradley Minor, vice president of digital communications strategy for
American Express, in response to interview questions. "Card members sync their eligible cards at sync.americanexpress.com/twitter and tweet special hashtags to buy
products from top brands. We send an @reply asking them to confirm their
purchase. Once they do that, we then send a confirmation tweet and email, and
the product is shipped."
technology even allows social media users to easily donate to charities.
Chirpify just partnered with Greater Giving,
a company that helps nonprofits raise money. Now feel-good groups such as animal
hospitals and schools can create social media campaigns, and followers can give
money simply by replying "donate." Chirpify's already partnered with
MasterCard to run the Stand Up to Cancer campaign. "If you tweet #dogood
with a dollar amount, you'll have just made a donation," says Teso.
customers can buy products seamlessly in their social media stream, marketers
rejoice; it's the perfect way to reduce the distance between point A (seeing
something you like) and point B (actually buying it), or in other words, to
are benefits for regular folks, too. "What we hear all the time is that
consumers want more convenience," explains Teso. "The reason you're
in Facebook or another social media platform is that conversation. So with
Chirpify, all you have to do is reply or comment. It doesn't take any time or
take your attention away."
What's not to love?
that's precisely the problem, say credit experts. A number of studies have
shown that people spend more freely when they use credit than when they use
cash. The physical constraints imposed by cash help consumers stick to a budget.
Removing even more barriers presumably increases the danger of over-indulging.
it comes to this instant payment method, I do believe it inevitably ends in
buyer's remorse, because a shopper has no time to really think out the purchase
decision and can make impulse purchases much more easily," says consumer
finance expert Andrea Woroch. Seamless and simple purchasing, she suggests, can
"lead to lots of unnecessary spending and devastating debt."
When it comes to this instant payment method, I do believe it inevitably ends in
buyer's remorse, because a shopper has no time to really think out the purchase
decision and can make impulse purchases much more easily.
Consumer finance expert
is another thing to think about. Besides the possible embarrassment of having
your friends know about those Miley Cyrus tickets you bought, you may have
other reasons for keeping at least some purchases private. If nothing else, you
don't want potential criminals knowing all the loot that awaits them if they
break into your home.
Lander says he lives a very public life online and doesn't worry about privacy, but he could see it being an issue for others. "Or if there was something I wanted to purchase and didn't want the whole world to know about ... I'd imagine I wouldn't purchase it this way."
Getting poll results. Please wait...
crime is also a consideration. Anyone who's ever seen a friend's Facebook page bizarrely
barking about nutraceuticals or witnessed Burger King's Twitter account turned
into a McDonald's feed might pause when they consider the prevalence of social
media hacking. Connecting your Twitter and Facebook accounts to your banking or
credit card info seems like a disaster waiting to happen.
and Chirpify promise that high-tech security is in place to protect your data,
and both try to make it difficult for a hacker posing as you to tweet
"buy." "First, we always send a real-time purchase confirmation
to the card member's email address on file," says AmEx's Minor. "Second,
products can only be shipped to the card member's address on file. And,
finally, all products are fully refundable and shipping is free of charge."
of those safeguards, accidental purchases are also uncommon, says Teso. "We
expected more of 'I didn't mean to buy that, that was a mistake.' There just
simply hasn't been that. You're well aware that if you make certain comments that
will trigger a transaction."
The inescapable future
in-stream instant purchasing sounds scintillating or scary may depend on your trust
in technology, and your own willpower. But it may be inescapable. Chirpify's
member base is currently growing 25 percent a month, and the company plans to
enable its technology on other social media platforms. It's also extending its reach
by creating advertising that appears offline -- on billboards, TV or the
Jumbotron at an NBA game -- and directs consumers to Twitter and Facebook to
redeem special offers.
industry watchers predict that within a few years, these kinds of social media
transactions will increasingly take the place of the traditional online
shopping experience. Lander, the Chirpify customer, hopes so. "I feel that
these days most shopping cart experiences are horrible -- all the account
creation, the promo code that didn't work, that kind of thing. If I buy 10 different
pairs of shoes from 10 different companies, I don't want an account on all
their websites. It's too much data out there. So having a central place [to
store that], a social feed, I think is brilliant."
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