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Is Amex’s launch of a purchase-by-Twitter service a sign of things to come?

American Express’ launch of a purchase-by-tweet service for its US-based customers has been greeted with very mixed reviews. Some see this close co-operation with a social media platform as an indication of things to come, whereas others have simply laughed off the initiative as nothing more than a gimmick.

Amex credit-card holders in the U.S. will be able to post a specific hashtag on Twitter to trigger an automatic payment from their account. There are already a number of products from major retailers like Amazon, Sony and Microsoft being offered at discounts to entice shoppers to use the service. Some marketers believe this new service has no future, and that it is simply an illustration of Amex’s desperation to climb aboard the social media bandwagon. Yet, to be fair to American Express, this isn’t the first time they’ve tried a tie-up with social media. You may have noticed that it already operates a voucher-free discount scheme with location-based network, Foursquare, both in the U.S and the UK. It is also offering savings to any user who tweets to promote hashtags: as an example, #AmexWarby is listed on its Twitter account.

Will the new service soon be available in the UK and other countries? It’s too soon to say. Amex is as yet unable to provide any detail of when it might extend the latest scheme to other countries. The system itself is best-described as convoluted and rather cumbersome. U.S. credit-card holders have to register to take advantage of the new purchase-by-tweet service. First they will need to link their card to their Twitter account via Amex’s app. Then they will have to visit Amex’s Twitter page and select the favourites section to view the sale items and their associated hashtags.

After sending an initial tweet to start the sales process, they will have to wait for a confirmation message from the @AmexSyncaccount. This confirmation will contain another hashtag that has to be posted by the user in a new tweet within 15 minutes for the sale to be completed. Moreover Amex makes it clear that as these offers are sales: only one sale item can be purchased by an individual and if items sell out quickly the process will be voided. That sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Amex’s senior vice president for digital partnerships, Leslie Berland, believes that the success of the firm’s existing social media schemes suggested that there was “significant power in combining our assets with Twitter’s platform”. However, Bryan Roberts, director of retail insight at consultants Kantar Retail, didn’t share Amex’s optimism, telling the BBC:

“It seems to be technology for technology’s sake. The advances in payment technology that are going to win in the long run are the ones that make shoppers’ lives easier or quicker. This seems to tick neither box, so it’s a nice marketing gimmick but it won’t go much beyond that.”

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