Facebook has signalled a major change in direction today with the announcement of a new "Buy" button which will allow users to make purchases directly from businesses through the site.
Companies can use the new option, which is currently being trialled with a handful of small businesses in the US, to advertise products in status updates or through their own profiles, with the option to buy embedded next to it.
It’s an interesting move, and comes just as Twitter is set to move into the same realm following several recent commerce-related acquisitions. But can the site really establish itself as a good channel for shopping?
Most Facebook users will tell you they get quickly annoyed at the targeted adverts the site pushes out to its customers, which use information such as browsing history and ‘likes’ to mould a profile for you. The new "Buy" option is set to appear on companies who purchase promotional options, meaning they will appear in your Facebook feed whether or not you follow them, which, if Twitter’s example is anything to go by, could get irritating quickly.
Security is another issue, as Facebook is frequently hit by cyberattacks looking to steal user credentials, which are often linked to a multitude of other sites and accounts across the Internet. Facebook says it’s taken steps to help make the payment experience secure, with no credit or debit card information being shared with other advertisers, but it may only take one minor attack to knock many consumers’ confidence.
So it remains to be seen if Facebook’s "Buy" option will sink or swim – but, much like the sweets on a supermarket checkout, it could prove extremely potent for low-cost impulse purchases, and could well change the way we experience certain retail sectors, especially fashion, where goods can be made and sold cheaply, streamlining and simplifying the process dramatically.