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Don't think. Just click and buy

A "buy now" page on eBay.

Facebook is experimenting with a new service called “Autofill with Facebook.” The idea is if you want to buy something on an app, instead of having to enter in all your payment info, you just log in with Facebook. And zap, everything is filled out.

Right now, the social media giant has only partnered with two apps. But, more importantly, Facebook is making a move into what's known as “frictionless payment," which has  become the holy grail of online retail. To understand “frictionless payment,” it’s worth remembering what it used to be like to shop on, says Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at the Altimeter Group.

She says in the early days, before eBay bought PayPal, “When you purchased something on eBay, you then had to navigate over to PayPal, sign into your PayPal account, find the auction you just won...” 

If Lieb's sheer explanation is enough to make you tune out, you can imagine how the shoppers felt! eBay eventually bought PayPal and now, everything’s just a couple clicks away.

If you've ever bought anything on Amazon or iTunes, you know they are masters of  frictionless payment.

“They make transactions faster and easier and also more impulsive,” says Lieb.

And don't I know it. I look at half the songs I have downloaded from iTunes and wonder where they came from. Then I remember the party where everyone was asking if I had this song and that song. That was all it took. Click!

Facebook and Twitter would love to bring that kind of mindless buying behavior to social media, said Brian Yeager, an analyst at Emarketer.

“They’re trying to attract more advertisers to their platform,” Yeager said. “They want to be able to prove that if somebody sees an advertisement within a few clicks they can have a very seamless path to purchase.”

Yaeger says Facebook and Twitter are a long way off. But, he says, if they can make it super easy on to click an ad and buy, especially on a a mobile device, then they'll have a huge advantage over print and TV with advertisers.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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