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Square’s New Online Stores Could Make Twitter Where You Shop

Square’s New Online Stores Could Make Twitter Where You Shop

BY MARCUS WOHLSEN
06.26.13 12:01 AM

“Synergy” is one of the most abused clichés in the corporate lexicon. But when you’re both the chairman of Twitter and the CEO of one of the most-watched commerce startups around, synergy isn’t a bad place to aim.

Jack Dorsey may have hit the target with the launch today of Square Market, Square’s first big foray into online shopping.

Since launching in 2010, Square has mainly been known for its eponymous credit card reader that plugs into the headphone jack of a smartphone or tablet. And Dorsey has often spoken of the business opportunity presented by the 95 percent of commerce that happens offline.

Square Market not only acknowledges the reality that small retailers can no longer afford to remain offline-only; it gives them a tool to obliterate the distinction. Now any shopkeeper using Square as a cash register can simply flip a switch in the app to create an instant online store.

“Our mission is to make commerce easy,” Dorsey said while demo-ing the new product for Wired at Square’s San Francisco headquarters. “That doesn’t mean ‘make offline commerce easy’ or ‘make online commerce easy.’ It’s commerce in general.”

Square’s register works by letting store owners input their inventory—description, price, picture—into the app. When someone comes to the counter to make an offline purchase, the cashier taps the item to add it to the total. In the latest version of the app, a switch to the input screen that lets stores choose the option of selling online. Toggling the switch to “yes” instantly (at least during the demo) posts the product to that business’ Square-hosted online storefront.

In keeping with Square’s insistence on design that “gets out of the way,” these storefronts are stripped down to nearly the bare minimum needed to shop online—a picture, a price, a button to buy. But this isn’t just an aesthetic preference. It’s Square making a statement that the online storefront itself isn’t what’s most important. The product for sale is. This is where Twitter enters the picture.

You may not know that Twitter has something called a “product card” that turns a link to a product online into what amounts to a catalog listing embedded in a tweet. The product listings on Square Market don’t look much different than these cards, which is no accident. When a store owner—or anyone—tweets a link to a Square Market listing, the product card will include a buy button that flips right back over to Square. In effect, Twitter becomes the storefront.

Though not just Twitter. Sharing on Pinterest or Facebook accomplishes much the same thing. Square Market in that context isn’t so much a destination—though Square does hope it will become one—but a platform-agnostic backend for social selling. A product listed in Square Market becomes what Dorsey calls an “atomic unit” of commerce. The point is to highlight what’s being sold, he says, not to emphasize that it’s Square doing the selling.

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