Twitter e-commerce play a mixed bag for marketers

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Marketers are keeping an open mind about using Twitter's just launched Early Bird Exclusive Offers e-commerce service, but none DMNews spoke with had made a concrete commitment to use the deal-promotion platform.

Twitter debuted the service July 6 as its first step into online retail.

The program, which creates an additional revenue stream for the social site, will allow Twitter and select advertisers to promote time- and supply-sensitive deals on products and events, such as concert tickets. Twitter users who subscribe to @earlybird will see the offers in their feeds, where links will lead them to the point of purchase after a few clicks.

Aaron Magness, senior director of brand marketing and business development for online shoe store Zappos.com, said his company's flagship brand likely wouldn't utilize @earlybird.

“We really utilize Twitter as a means to form personal connections and interact with our customers and employees,” he said. “We don't use it to offer discounts or deals.”

However, Magness added that he could envision companies that already use Twitter to offer discounts taking advantage of the service.

“It could be interesting for other sites and other retailers that are price sensitive,” he said. “We have a sister site – 6pm.com – that's all about value for great brands. At that point, it might be something that is interesting for 6pm.com. I think it really depends on how the retailers are utilizing tools like Twitter.”

Twitter will use the service to generate revenue through agreements with advertisers.

The microblogging site was criticized through 2009 for lacking an obvious business model. Its other recent revenue-focused platforms include the Promoted Tweets and sponsored trending topics.

Early Bird is similar to strategies implemented by marketers including computer maker Dell, and JetBlue Airways, which regularly post deals on their own Twitter pages. The move also makes Twitter a competitor to other daily-deal websites, including Groupon and Woot.

Morgan Johnston, manager of corporate communications at JetBlue Airways, said the airline is open to the idea of offering deals on @earlybird, adding that it uses Twitter's Promoted Tweets.

“We try to be an innovative company,” Johnston said. “We try to always look for what's going on in the future. As new products and services and initiatives develop, we're certainly going to take a look at them and see if they work with our strategy.”

It is unclear when the first deal will be posted to the feed. As of July 9, the @ earlybird page, which had nearly 23,000 followers, included a link to frequently asked questions about the program and a text message option for consumers. While

Twitter said on its blog that it plans “to choose exciting deals,” retailers will determine the prices of items and how many will be available.

Augie Ray, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said the service “seems like a fairly modest early entry” into e-commerce.

“In fact, I'm not even sure I'd call it e-commerce at this point,” he said. “It seems to be much more positioned as a bit of an advertising play, to be honest. It's a different strategy for them because they haven't been content producers.”

A Twitter representative referred calls from DMNews seeking comment to a company blog post on the platform's launch.

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