The buzz about Facebook’s storefronts, known as f-commerce, has been hot over the last few years. Recently, the temperature toward storefronts on Facebook has turned decidedly cooler, with retail giants like JCPenney, Nordstrom, The Gap and GameStop all closing their Facebook shops. Does this signal the end of social e-commerce? Absolutely not.
First, we must analyze why f-commerce did not pan out as expected. With too many unauthorized wall posts, unwanted messages and sudden terms of service changes, users are increasingly wary of trusting Facebook. Couple that distrust with the fact that it is a “sharing” site, and consumers are resistant to entering their credit card information on Facebook.
From a usability standpoint, viewing scads of products in a confined viewing area crammed between Facebook navigation and Facebook ads is not a particularly pleasant experience. Additionally, the browser back button returns the user to the previous Facebook page, not the previous shopping page. Companies can spend millions to create an online storefront, so why wouldn’t customers prefer to shop within the much more robust experience of a true e-commerce site?
Despite these challenges, there are terrific avenues for the savvy brand to leverage Facebook for e-commerce. And since one out of every seven minutes spent online is spent on Facebook (think about that!), it is only smart for brands to meet their customers where they spend the most time.
Developing a full Facebook storefront is probably not the most effective allocation of marketing dollars for most brands at this point. Using Facebook to leverage and enhance existing assets is the smart play.
Because consumers connect with and publicly declare that they “like” a particular brand or product, your company can benefit from powerful affinity marketing on Facebook. Allow users to comment on specific products, and friends of that user can see the product in their newsfeed, both exposing them to the product and letting them know what their friend thinks of it. Most consumers are more inclined to trust the uncensored reviews of friends or other consumers. Positive reviews can tip the scale in favor of purchase. Conversely, if the product is unfavorably reviewed, it can destroy sales.
To counter the crowded Facebook space, consider a limited product offering, like Starbucks. The only f-commerce they offer is the gift card. Starbucks is in a strong position for selling via Facebook since their customers tend to be passionately loyal and frequently online socially. Users may purchase a gift card and then send it to their friend, all within Facebook. Purchases under $25 may encourage users to sample Facebook f-commerce and directly share a gift with tangible physical value.
Traditional E-Commerce Support
Perhaps f-commerce in its literal sense is not right for your brand. Use your social network to support and spread your brand’s traditional e-commerce site. For instance, Scottevest Travel Clothing promotes current sales on their Facebook profile picture and offers a “Daily Sale!” section on their Facebook page so fans can easily find their specials and link directly to their e-commerce site. Scottevest responds quickly to consumer feedback on their Facebook page and Twitter feed (Twitter responses are directly from the CEO) and takes care of any issues that arise, building a loyal customer base that feels the brand truly cares for them.
The Home Depot has taken f-commerce in a more natural direction. Seasonal Facebook apps encourage different projects and, at the end of the how-to, offer a list of products that support the project. This very simplified product offering is far more palatable in Facebook’s limited space than a full product line. If a user chooses to purchase via a “buy now” button on Facebook, they are redirected to The Home Depot site and the product is placed in their shopping cart. Users can then take advantage of the robust offerings of The Home Depot e-commerce site, including product previews, multiple product views, specifications, extensive filtering and search, coordinating items and more. Instead of attempting to duplicate this cart on Facebook, The Home Depot may allocate those dollars to brand engagement and relationship building with their consumers.
Exclusivity and Limited Product Sales
Exclusivity is a powerful purchasing motivation, and Facebook can provide the perfect channel. Take Oscar de la Renta: the brand offers a monthly Facebook-exclusive product as the only item available to purchase through their Facebook store. Users may still click through to the main Oscar de la Renta e-commerce site to purchase other products, but this one product is only available to their Facebook fans. Or consider Gilt, which offers an hour-early preview of its sales. Not only do the fans feel as if they are insiders, they are reminded of the Gilt sale when they check their newsfeed.
Facebook is a viable nontraditional sales channel, but brands must treat their Facebook fans differently than they do their website visitors. Facebook is considered personal space by its users, and brands can build affinity with their products as long as they remain respectful of that space. Brands should use caution so as not to become the ugly relative who is always asking for money or pushing products they don’t want. Any f-commerce engagement must therefore tread gently to help brands build a trusted relationship with their consumers.