If you’ve been following the latest f-commerce news about retailers experimenting with social storefronts on Facebook, you’ll already know that the media are labeling the retailer efforts a failure following the shuttering of Facebook storefronts run by Gap, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom and Gamestop. These retailers were each pursuing a strategy that positioned their Facebook presence as a virtual extension of their website into the social network, one that permitted both browsing and actual e-commerce transactions within the confines of a Facebook tab. There are an increasing number of startups that have developed technology allowing smaller retailers to bring their storefronts to Facebook, promoting the promise of a social sales showcase and a virtual goldmine of profit and sales.
F-Commerce Goldmine or Landmine?
Judging by recent news reports, those Facebook (F-Commerce) shopping efforts appear to be more like a landmine, diverting precious innovation investments away from channels where retailers could be potentially making more money. But in truth, it’s very possible that the way these retailers were thinking about Facebook as a commerce platform was wrong from the starting line. They were focused on recreating a storefront, bringing their existing inventory and in many cases the same approach to the purchase funnel to an environment where it does not belong. Instead of thinking through how to leverage the value and unique elements of the social community on their Facebook Page, retailers are following a traditional playbook of monetizing their channels.
The thing about a social setting like Facebook is this – it’s not mission-driven like search. Nobody goes to Facebook in search of a new blouse, or a killer pair of kicks. They go to see what their friends are doing, see what their favorite brands are up to and essentially network and socialize. One analyst has described this as a bar scene, a setting in which nobody wants to be immediately sold a pair of pants.
Does that mean it’s impossible to develop a winning F-Commerce strategy, one that actually holds the promise of working long-term? No, it just means that retailers must think about this in a very different way. Let’s look at three examples of ways some brands have done this.
Three Techniques To Maximize F-Commerce Success
- Personalized Shopping: One of the most interesting uses of the vast amounts of data available via the Facebook platform are efforts around personalization. Consider the amount of data that people share on Facebook in their profiles – their marriage status, professions, geo-data (like where they’re living, or where they grew up), their university affiliations and their age, among many others. This data can be leveraged to help personalize the shopping experience and make it feel more tuned to the individual on the other end of the transaction. One retailer that has done a great job of this is Etsy. If you are signed in to their site via Facebook, they have a nifty tool that will scan your friends’ profiles and provide targeted recommendations for gifts they may like based on those interests. In using Facebook data this way they are at once making the shopping experience highly personal – after all, you may likely be on the Etsy site to find that perfect unusual gift – and increasing the likelihood that you’ll stick around and not abandon your search out of boredom or frustration. They’ve jumped you ahead in the purchase funnel, so to speak. If you wanted to get started on a tool similar to this you’ll want to dig into the documentation from Facebook about its Graph API.
- Social Shopping: Sometimes people want to shop together without actually being together. They want to share looks for feedback, seek opinions on the tie/shirt/suit combinations or just plain brag about great finds that they made. Or, they may want to simply click the “Want” button on your website and have that published to their News Feed so others can see what they’re interested in for a birthday gift. These are features that are not quite ready for primetime, but they will be soon. A new class of actions – called Facebook Gestures – were announced last year that will allow developers to build Facebook-powered experiences around actions beyond the Like button. Your consumers may be able to click “Want”, “Bought,” “Covet” or even “Wearing” buttons. In turn, those little actions will trigger an item in the News Feed. This is one of the ways that you’ll be able to take advantage of a more social shopping experience without building that clunky storefront on Facebook itself.
- Social Product Development: Another great way to use the power of the Facebook network is to develop products that are made specifically for your Facebook community. For example, you could run a t-shirt of the month campaign on Facebook, asking for design submissions and producing the winning entry as a limited-edition shirt available exclusively on a Facebook tab and only for a limited time. You can find tools that help you solicit those designs from companies like Wildfire, which provides an easy-to-use publishing and voting platform on Facebook. If your Facebook community were engaged in the selection of a t-shirt design, they will be more likely to click on over to your tab and see about making a purchase. And hey, why not offer them a pair of pants in the process?
All of these ideas have varying degrees of complexity but they are all do-able (or soon will be) even for the smallest of brands. Add these to existing efforts to offer custom deals and special offers for your Facebook community and you’ll soon realize that a solid source of e-commerce revenue is possible via Facebook.
Whether you choose to call that F-Commerce or just plain old Net Sales is up to you.