Chirpify turns Twitter into a payment and commerce platform

Twitter has become a high-powered news, information and interest network but it hasn’t really flexed its potential as a commerce platform. But a new Portland, Ore., startup called Chirpify is looking to leverage the exploding Twitter network to create a tool for brands, organizations and users to sell items, take donations and accept payments, all without forcing people to leave Twitter.

Chirpify, formerly known as Sell Simply, is today unveiling its Twitter commerce platform, an all-in-one tool that taps PayPal (s ebay) and allows users to monetize their tweets. The company said it’s the first one to turn Twitter into a direct sales channel. Chirpify has signed up its first brand, PowerBar, which will sell products directly through Twitter.

There are actually three ways to use Chirpify. There’s Chirpify Commerce for brands, Chirpify Payments for peer-to-peer transactions and Chirpify Donations for charitable organizations looking to raise funds. Sell Simply, which quietly rolled out in July, offered a basic version of the service, primarily for peer-to-peer payments. But now, the platform is ready for a formal launch as it fills out its offering as a commerce service.

Here’s how it works: A brand with a following on Twitter can connect its PayPal business account to Chirpify and then start tweeting out items for sale through a simple dashboard. This could be time-sensitive deals or highlighted items that are on sale or need to be moved. The tweet could say something like “Sale on X item. Reply ‘buy’ to purchase X.” When the user replies with a tweet saying they want to buy the product, the money will get deducted from their PayPal account. Chirpify parses the tweet and then will fulfill the transaction if the user has connected their PayPal account to Chirpify using a quick OAuth permission. If the buyer doesn’t have a PayPal account, they are prompted to set one up and connect to Chirpify.

Chirpify will take 4 percent of transactions from recipients who use the free account. For $49 a month, sellers and recipients can lower the fee to 2 percent. And for bigger brands, they can pay $500 for no fees and deep integration into their back office software. Right now, Chirpify can work with ecommerce software Magento, allowing sellers to list and manage items on Twitter from Magento.

“Brands are already tweeting about products, but those are just broadcast ads trying to lure consumers from Twitter to a five-step checkout process,” said Chris Teso, founder of Chirpify. “We eliminate that and make commerce frictionless.”

Chirpify is interesting because it brings payment and commerce functionality to a platform that wasn’t designed for it. But Twitter is increasingly where people are hanging out, following friends, celebrities and brands too. Being able to sell directly through Twitter allows a brand to not just push out advertising messages through a popular channel, but actually do some business. If pursued with moderation, it could be a powerful way to reach out directly to consumers and could result in a lot of impulse buying. And because it’s built atop Twitter, a popular item or sale could go viral, especially with the right supporters.

Brands are trying to also leverage Facebook, but many try to divert consumers away to their own sites. Chirpify would keep people right inside Twitter. That could be helpful for some companies that have built good consumer engagement through Twitter or have seen their email open rates for newsletters and daily deals decline.

But if taken too far, this could sour some users on a brand if they push too much of a hard sell. The items or sales will need to have some significant value, or users may find the Twitter relationship suddenly very pushy. Also, brands will need to be selective about what they sell, choosing straightforward items that can be described in a few words with perhaps an accompanying picture. And consumers will need to sign up for Chirpify and connect their Twitter and PayPal accounts, which is pretty painless but still requires a couple steps.

But I think this could still be pretty powerful if consumers sign up for Chirpify. Nonprofits could rake in a lot of money with a simple appeal. Celebrities could go directly to their fans with an exclusive deal or sale.