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Twitter flexes its ability to actually sell you stuff

Twitter said Friday it's testing new pages that gather all sorts of information about products and places. Pages will collect tweets, images and video, along with information about products, as well as offer users the option to buy a product, book a trip, or visit a website for more information. Twitter cites the example of the book "The Martian," compiling tweets from the author, publisher, readers and an easy button to click to download the book.

The company also said its allowing influencers on the platform to share collections of products and places—launching with 41 individuals and brands, from Disney Store and Hallmark, to stylist Rachel Zoe and YouTube star and makeup guru Michelle Phan. Demi Lovato might offer a selection of books and clothes, Nike might showcase—and sell—a selection of LeBron James clothing and footwear.

Twitter
Damien Meyer | AFP | Getty Images

Twitter says millions of people tweet about what they love, "but it can be challenging to find and engage with the most relevant Tweets." Translation: People tweet about stuff they might want to buy, so the company is making it easier to actually buy stuff.

Why is Twitter doing this? Surprise: It's not about the social network trying to generate a new revenue stream from retail sales. Rather, it's a direct marketing play. It's designed to improve the ad experience for brands, giving them better information on the return on investment in promoted tweets.

The ability to "remove friction" or streamline the process is valuable, and likely to drive more sales than if consumers had to leave the service and go to a separate website to buy something, or worse, search then buy something. Plus, it benefits Twitter if people can stay on the service and not get distracted away from it while hunting for a product.

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Twitter is part of a larger trend of social services looking to sell stuff. Within the past few weeks Pinterest announced a "buy button" and Instagram announced it's enabling a "shop now" button on brands' photos. This after Facebook and Twitter both began testing buy buttons last year. Even Snapchat has experimented with a "click-to-buy" button.

So why do all these ad-based giants want to sell stuff? It's not about the social networks themselves selling stuff. They don't want to be burdened with inventory or all the other hassles of online retail. It's about letting consumers get what they want with little hassle, and giving brands more information and better results for their ad investments.

Pinterest has the most obvious retail potential: Two-thirds of the content on Pinterest comes from businesses, including retailers and publishers. And the company says that over the last five years the No. 1 feature request was "How can I buy this directly on Pinterest?" Pinterest's upcoming "buyable pins" are free to users and the merchant. But Pinterest will make money on the service: In the future the company will make "buyable pins" promotable—i.e. a retailer could advertise a product on the service.

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In coming months as we head into the key holiday shopping season we can expect a lot more movement in the social shopping space. It shouldn't be mistaken as a move into retail, but rather a push to make advertising far more effective.