Twitter's recently announced launch into the online commerce space has gotten a lot of buzz, as practically any move Twitter makes these days does. The ability to buy directly from a tweet seems to be the natural extension of Twitter's card capability, and a clear response to the pressure to monetize social conversations. However, on closer inspection, the Twitter experience may not ultimately create fans among retailers and their customers. Why? Just look at the answers to these three questions:
2. Who services the customer? Everyone knows that buying online inevitably leads to a return or exchange. In fact, sometimes when my friends purchase shoes they buy two sizes to ensure they get the one that fits properly. Will Twitter process the returns and credit? Occasionally, a merchant mixes up my order and sends me the wrong goods, or bills me for something I didn't receive. If I buy from Twitter, who will I call to make things right? The merchant? Twitter? My credit card company? The lack of transparency around how Twitter plans to handle problems with fulfillment and returns could create hurdles to purchase for consumers, especially in the wake of credit card theft with more trusted merchants like Target and Home Depot.
3. Who bills the credit card? Recently, Squarespace, the platform behind this site, switched to billing through Stripe, the processor now working with Twitter. One day my Amex bill showed a monthly charge under the name "Stripe", prompting me to call Amex about the potential fraud for a charge I didn't recognize, only to discover it was placed on behalf of Squarespace. As far as the credit card company is concerned, Stripe was the merchant who billed. As a customer, though, I thought I purchased from Squarespace. If I have a dispute as a consumer, it is always telling who my credit card company communicates with on my behalf. Will the merchant brand, Twitter, or Stripe protect my credit interests best?
Online shopping depends on a trusted relationship between the consumer and the merchant. However, with the introduction of the Twitter Buy button, there are now a number of platforms involved in disintermediating that relationship when purchasing through Twitter. Consequently, it is hard to imagine that this trusted relationship will remain unaffected by the social giant participating in - and actually managing - these transactions on behalf of well-loved retail brands.
September 22, 2014 UPDATE:
Having just received a Burberry tweet with a BuyNow button embedded in it, I was able to test the end to end process and easily access a link to Twitter's new Commerce Terms.
A few interesting things to notice about their approach to the above questions...
1. Who Owns the Customer? Twitter indicates that the transfer of title and liability for the product arriving in good condition rests with the merchant. "The transfer of title and risk of loss for any Product you purchase using Buy Now is solely between you and the Merchant. Twitter is not responsible or liable for any Product loss, destruction or other damage, whether during delivery or otherwise." This indicates the Merchant remains the owner of the customer, and although Twitter is also storing all valid customer data they are not providing any consumer service for the benefit except facilitating repeat purchases.
2. Who Services the Customer? The language around Twitter's role in a consumer dispute related to a transcation that happens on Twitter is quite clear - Twitter is not involved. Go to the merchant, and please don't contact us if your order doesn't go through as you might have expected.
a. Customer Service. You agree that you will direct all customer service inquiries, complaints, problems and other issues, including disputes, to the Merchant who sold the Product you purchased.
b. Merchant Disputes. Twitter does not handle disputes on behalf of the Merchant. If you report any customer service issues relating to a purchase made through Buy Now Features to Twitter, we may forward that communication to the appropriate Merchant.
One way to avoid handling customer disputes is to indicate that a product bought through this method are not eligible for return (let alone a free return.) So read the return policy carefully.
3. Who Bills the Credit Card? It matters who bills your credit card, especially when unauthorized charges might appear on your statement. So it is important to note Twitter's position on this as I stated above. Once again, Twitter indicates they are not to be held accountable for unauthorized charges, despite the fact they are storing your credit data.
a. Unauthorized Charges. You agree that the applicable Merchant, not Twitter, will be solely responsible for resolving any unauthorized transaction claims or any other transaction disputes, and you will need to contact such Merchant directly to resolve any transaction claims or concerns.
b. Notification of Unauthorized Charge. You agree to notify Twitter immediately (for Twitter’s informational purposes only) if you believe an unauthorized transaction has occurred under your Twitter account using the Buy Now Features.
The thing to understand as a consumer is that Twitter's Commerce Terms are crafted solely to position their platform as a service with virtually no accountability for its role in handling the purchase transaction. "Twitter only provides the platform for facilitating the transaction and user services" and "assumes no responsibility or liability for the Product Listing, Products, order fulfillment (including shipping and returns), the actions or inaction of Merchants, or any dispute or communications you have with the Merchant."