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Mastering The Art Of The Impulse Buy On Twitter

Every other company has basically figured it out. Now it's Twitter's turn.

Posted on August 27, 2013, at 3:31 p.m. ET

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Twitter today announced it's hired the former head of Ticketmaster Nathan Hubbard to be the company's new "head of commerce." The news was first reported by Bloomberg.

His role, according to Bloomberg and a number of other publications, will be working with merchants to help them better sell products through Twitter. Hubbard specifically references Twitter's "cards" feature, in which each tweet is a self-contained unit of information on the Web containing some kind of media — like a video in the form of Vine or a picture uploaded to Twitter — as a point of interest in an interview with AllThingsD.

"If you think about where Twitter is and the evolution of using its interest data to target users…that's what the Card product is really about," Hubbard said in an interview with AllThingsD. "The next step down that cycle to me is, can we actually lessen the friction to buying? Can we drive the actual transaction via the platform?"

Separately, he told The Los Angeles Times in an interview that Twitter is aiming to "get people in the moment to buy and to act on their passions."

Combine all these things together, and what do you get: an advertising and commerce business that, essentially looks a heck of a lot like Google. And also Facebook. And Amazon. And walking through a mall. Essentially, it is the business of monetizing an impulse to buy something on the spot — something major tech companies like Google have long been good at figuring out, and Twitter has now decided to cash in on.

When someone does a search for a product on Google, the search giant serves up some of the best ads related to that search, and is able to charge a premium for those ads because it's a cross-section of intent, placement and a number of other factors. Apple was also able to show that impulse purchases matter by finding the sweet spot for single-track sales — to the point that they don't even think about the price, which is about $1 per song — to the point that it built a multibillion-dollar business from music sales.

Likewise, Amazon has its own barcode-scanning component to its app designed to trigger an impulse buy through Amazon if there's a better deal than what a brick-and-mortar store is offering. Amazon also serves advertisements for other products against its product pages. This is a tactic long-employed by supermarkets, where candy and tabloids hang out on the stands right next to checkout counters — where kids can grab and beg their parents to buy them a piece of chocolate.

Facebook can basically do the same thing, but it knows enough about you to the point that — if the data is good — you don't have to make that search for Facebook to serve up a relevant ad in your News Feed. (Facebook is also reportedly making a big push in the realm of commerce.)

Twitter has its own "interest graph" — a solid understanding of what it is you like to do and what your profile looks like on the internet as a mapping of who you follow, who follows you, and other data points. And it's able to serve up "promoted tweets" that basically double for advertisements on Twitter. Commerce, essentially, closes the loop.

Unsurprisingly, Hubbard's history with live events (also pointed out by AllThingsD) at Ticketmaster is one of the largest opportunity of seizing an impulse purchase: If a match at the U.S. Open is going ballistic on the web, why not serve up ads and shorten the distance to purchasing another ticket for the U.S. Open through a partner.

Still curiously, Hubbard in his interviews seems to be dancing around whether Twitter will full-on enable merchants to sell products within a tweet on the web and close the transaction within the tweet itself. "I wouldn't tell you we're becoming a payments-processing company," he told AllThingsD (though that also opens the door to Twitter partnering with companies to handle those payments for Twitter).

Advertising is a great business, as those other major tech companies have shown. But shortening the distance to that purchase makes users all the more likely to make a buy, and as Twitter seeks to flesh out its balance sheet ahead of an expected initial public offering, the hiring of a "head of commerce" to handle that is one of those moves that looks good across the board.

A representative from Twitter wasn't available to comment at the time this post was published.