July 7, 2010, 1:14 PM

Twitter enters e-commerce

The microblogging site offers its own take on popular daily deal sites.

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Twitter is launching @earlybird, its own take on popular daily deal sites such as Rue La La or Gilt Groupe that offer limited-time sales at deep discounts.

"Many of you use Twitter to stay on top of timely, relevant information, and lots of businesses are already sharing special offers on Twitter,” reads Twitter’s announcement of the @earlybird account. “We believe that surfacing deals through the @earlybird account will help you discover the best of those deals, as well as find and follow accounts that consistently provide exceptional value."

Twitter has not elaborated on the types of deals it might promote, but it did say that initially the offers will be from large, international brands or focused on the U.S. market. Participating retailers will set the terms of the offers, including the availability, amount offered and price.

Twitter will control the @earlybird account, where it will post Twitter-exclusive deals on behalf of merchants. Companies will pay Twitter a fee to have their products and services promoted via the account.

Consumers who follow @earlybird will receive these messages in their Twitter feed, just like any other account.

While at launch the deals will be nationwide, Twitter says it is considering offering deals specific to a local area, such as cites or countries. Twitter has also hinted that it might later add filters so shoppers only interested in fashion or music, for instance, could only receive offers tailored to those interests.

Doing so would open a direction for Twitter, says Augie Ray, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "This is a way that Twitter can give people an opportunity to welcome advertising that is pertinent to them," he says. "Rather than interrupting them, like TV commericals, consumers will be able to choose to follow these accounts. No one who doesn't want to see the offers has to see them, and those who want to see them, will see them. So in a way, it is a win-win."

Part of its rationale for launching the @earlybird account is to create a new revenue source, says Ray. However, a side benefit could be a boost to Twitter’s relatively modest adoption rates. While heavily hyped, only 8% of the country’s online adults post and read updates on Twitter at least monthly, according to Forrester.

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