Facebook is looking to cash in on the growing number of people shopping online by making it easier to use credit and debit cards through the site.
The social media giant will amp up its advertising options by adding a “Buy” button that’s already being tested in the US.
“With this feature, people on desktop or mobile can click the “Buy” call-to-action button on ads and Page posts to purchase a product directly from a business, without leaving Facebook,” the company says in a blog post about the test.
Just as with online retailers, hitting the Facebook Buy button will prompt you to enter or save your credit card or debit card details whenever a product or service that you want to purchase comes up on your news feed.
Facebook – ever aware of the risk of privacy concerns – also says it has “taken steps to help make the payment experience safe and secure.”
“None of the credit or debit card information people share with Facebook when completing a transaction will be shared with other advertisers, and people can select whether or not they’d like to save payment information for future purchases.”
But does that really mean payments will be secure?
While privacy concerns and Facebook often go hand-in-hand, the reality of this feature is that it should be as safe as any other online shopping option.
Facebook will no doubt use payment processes that are tried and tested – perhaps even familiar to online shoppers – so in that sense card details and other information should be safe.
But it is worth thinking about other potential security issues. If people did start storing card details on Facebook, hackers would have even more of an incentive to try and break into user accounts on the site.
Credit and debit card details could become similarly vulnerable to hacking if payment data is stored or if the processing gateway is compromised in some way – but again, that is an issue and risk faced by all online retailers.
Will The Buy Button Work?
Facebook and other online giants like Google often test out a wide range of different features and applications, with some making it onto the main site and others disappearing into the ether.
When it comes to the Buy button, whether or not it makes it onto our news feeds depends a lot on how it sits with advertisers.
Basically, Facebook’s announcement about the feature – and most of the news that’s come since – suggests the goal is to increase advertising revenue with a range of new features.
Facebook already makes huge profits off advertising, with it’s second quarterly report for 2014 showing it made $2.68 billion from advertising – a 67% increase on the previous year’s figures.
But as Times reporter Kara Brandeisky points out in an article about the Buy button, this feature is a plan “to sell enhanced advertising”.
“Facebook’s founders are adamant that the buy button is just a way to “streamline” the process of buying from other companies,” Brandeisky writes.
She goes on to recall that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously said their main business is advertising and says: “When it comes to the “main business,” Facebook has a clear competitive advantage: its 1.32 billion users worldwide.”
For businesses, prospective and current retailers and many other advertisers, that is a much larger customer base than they would be able to get on their own. So from an advertisers perspective, the chances of the Buy button being worth the investment is clear.
But, while a lot of the information Facebook provides for current and prospective advertisers suggests a Buy button could be a dream come true for them, ultimately it still depends on how users respond to this feature.
“In a way, Facebook’s greatest asset – detailed information about your likes, dislikes, and all of your social connections – is also its greatest vulnerability,” Brandeisky writes.
“If Facebook could tell you which products your friends like, maybe you’ll be more likely to buy those products within the social network itself (with just two clicks!). Or maybe your friends will be totally freaked out that you know what they’re buying.”
Facebook is already one of the biggest dividers on social media, with new features often creating polarity among users. The Buy button is likely to do the same.
On the one hand, it could be a convenient and fast way to buy what you want as soon as you see or think of it. On the other hand, it could fuel impulse buying or expose you to more card security risks.
But whatever perspective you have about this feature, at least you will have a choice between whether or not you use it. And being aware of all the implications now means that decision will be as informed as possible if and when the Buy button shows up in your news feed.