by Christine Tran
A version of this post is cross-posted at http://christineptran.com.
With over 500 million users, Facebook is poised to become one big shopping mall. Or is it?
The first thing to keep in mind is that Facebook users go to Facebook to socialize, not shop. Last month, Josh Himwich, VP of e-commerce solutions for sites Diapers.com and Soap.com, spoke at the Shop.org Summit (he also spoke at our Rise of Social Commerce conference) and shared the following: “Consumers go to Facebook to socialize, not spend 20 minutes shopping. No one wants an entire shopping experience in Facebook,” he said. “They want to spend time with friends.”
A quick review of Facebook fan page stores shows that f-commerce leaves a lot to be desired. Slow and clunky interfaces limit the shopping experience. See my post on Hallmark’s Facebook store; I also tried launching Delta’s Facebook store recently and got an error message (though you can read about it and see screenshots here). In some cases, opening a Facebook shopping app involves opening a new tab, nearly akin to just sending a fan to your website. Example: P&G’s Pamper’s store. The f- in f-commerce obviously doesn’t stand for frictionless just yet.
On top of this, Facebook is notorious for abruptly changing its API and being inattentive to brands’ needs. Earlier this year, Facebook announced it would start collecting 30% of virtual gift purchases (through Facebook Credits). Expect to see Facebook figure out a way to take its cut from f-commerce sales too.
That said, f-commerce isn’t dead on arrival. A 500 million customer base means that marketers can leverage their fan base, and an average of 130 friend connections per fan, to drive word of mouth and customer loyalty, and marketers hope, conversions.
The question for f-commerce is: How can you leverage Facebook beyond a store tab or simple sharing call to actions?
Here are a few use cases for f-commerce:
F-commerce is prime for digital gift offerings.
Give music and movie files, charitable donations on your friends’ behalf, or gift certificates. This is where f-commerce holds the most promise. It provides instant gratification to both the gift giver and gift receiver. For example, Starbucks’ Gift Card tab allows fans to give or renew a friend’s Starbucks card. Buy a gift card in four easy steps: 1) Choose a Facebook friend, 2) Add a personal message, 3) Pay for the card, and if you like 4) “Tell the World” or share your purchase with your entire network.
F-commerce taps into the social nature of special occasions.
Holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions, from engagements to movie premieres are naturally social events. Having your friends all in one place means marketers can leverage your social calendar. Below, Hallmark is positioned well to remind fans to give cards on special occasions. Also, you may remember Remember Toys Story’s Facebook app, which let fans buy movie tickets and invite their friends.
F-commerce rewards loyal fan base (and their networks) with special discounts, limited edition products, or product launches.
Think of it as an email campaign that actually gets shared and forwarded to friends. Special discounts, limited edition products, or product launches or the perfect types of campaigns to conduct on Facebook, among your most passionate customers. Exclusivity rewards fans for being loyal. Below, Pampers sold out of 1000 new diaper packs within one hour of launching this campaign on Facebook.
F-commerce enables peer-to-peer selling.
Beyond word of mouth, Facebook allows fans to sell your products to their friends. Avon’s line for young people, mark., empowers its fans to open up their own store to fans. mark. is activating advocates by providing incentives for reps. This is by far the most interesting example of selling on Facebook, yet there’s a fine line between fans authentically sharing their brand passion and spamming friends. Still, if you can provide real value and incentives, then your fans will be more likely to share. Just think daily deals.
F-commerce is a potential goldmine for Facebook, and expect to see a slow, but steady trickle of efforts from Facebook to enhance the f-commerce experience – for marketers and consumers.
In the meantime, approach f-commerce with cautious optimism and cover your bases: Combine your f-commerce efforts with a social sign-on on your corporate website. If customers don’t want to leave Facebook, as marketers are prone to say, then engage them with an f-commerce tab. However, if like me, they’re already at their computers and prefer an optimal online shopping experience at your site, let them take their friends with them. See the now oft-cited Levi’s social sign on as an example.