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I Tried Holiday Shopping on Facebook and Twitter and Got Nowhere

Facebook and Twitter aren't ready for prime-time holiday shoppers.

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Facebook and Twitter have let another holiday shopping season pass them by.

Both companies make the vast majority of their revenue from advertising, but it’s no secret they’d like you to buy a few items in between “Likes” every now and then. It’s why they’re working with big retail partners like Shopify and Bigcommerce, and testing shopping tabs and product catalogues built into networks originally reserved for status updates.

The thinking is that if Facebook can show you an ad for that new hoverboard you’ve always wanted, you should be able to buy it right then and there without ever leaving Facebook. More importantly, it also would prove to marketers that social sites are good places to advertise if those ads directly lead to sales, which is the whole point of advertising anyway.

Twitter and Facebook have both been testing Buy buttons for more than a year, and they aren’t moving quickly. (I can’t remember the last time I saw one.) But when both companies started adding more shopping features over the past six months, it appeared that 2015 might be the year “social commerce” turned into more than an unfulfilled tech cliche.

Not exactly. I spent the last three days “shopping” for my family members on Facebook and Twitter, and the good news is … it’s going to be a very gentle holiday season on my wallet. The bad news for my family is … they aren’t going to get any gifts. I couldn’t find anything to buy.

I didn’t venture into Pinterest for two reasons: I’m not an active user and wanted to keep this test to sites I frequently visit, and Pinterest is adamant that it’s not a social product so I’m leaving it as a separate category.

I figured the pickings would be slim on Facebook and Twitter, so I went after this problem with a pretty generic shopping list: A black sweater for Mom, a golf bag for Dad and something warm with a Seahawks logo on it for my brother, like a sweatshirt, jacket or stocking cap. All relatively open-ended and somewhat easy to find, I thought.

With Facebook, my shopping experience ended before it ever started. I looked for the new “shopping” tab the company started testing in October and couldn’t find it. I wasn’t in the test group. So I requested access to the section for this story — and got denied. A spokesperson told me the feature is in “the early stages of testing,” which means it’s nowhere close to handling a primetime shopping season.


Instead, I searched for all three items in the Facebook search bar. The result was a list of user posts about the keywords I entered. “Finally found my Seahawks sweatshirt!” I saw a few post from Pages with links to shopping sites, but nowhere to actually buy things on Facebook. I even scrolled through News Feed in hopes of finding a rogue Buy button — just anything that was buyable directly from the site. No dice.

I did, though, find a link to this cool Hanukkah sweater posted by rapper 2 Chainz when looking for a gift for my Mom. After some internal debate (and a consultation with my girlfriend), I elected to pass.

Twitter wasn’t much better. I ran into the same issue. At first, I couldn’t find a single product catalogue, a feature the company started testing in June. When I went to look at existing accounts where I knew I’d seen these catalogues before (like Ellen DeGeneres’s profile), they had been removed.

Eventually I found them buried inside the search feature within the mobile app after some help from a company spokesperson. I didn’t find anything on my list, though, and it appeared that most of the items featured in this section were not actually buyable on Twitter. They simply sent you outside of Twitter to the retailer’s Web page.

So I performed a general search instead. “Golf bag” returned plenty of links to other websites where I could make a purchase, but nowhere to do it on Twitter. I started searching my timeline for a Buy button in hopes that I’d stumble upon something inspirational. (At this point, I had given up on finding what was actually on my list.) Again, nothing.

To be fair, I would have been shocked if Facebook and Twitter had delivered my shopping needs. E-commerce requires impressive search tools like you get when shopping on Google — neither Facebook nor Twitter have that yet. And that may never be their specialty. The beauty of both Facebook and Twitter is that they surface things to me that I didn’t even know I wanted. Eventually, the companies claim they’ll do that with products, too.

But it has been a year since they launched Buy buttons and I didn’t see them anywhere. The lack of options from both sites was surprising — there’s still a long way to go.


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