It’s easy to understand why every retailer wanted a Facebook storefront. With over 845 million users, retailers would be hard-pressed to find a larger customer base pooled in one place. However, several major retailers–Gamestop, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom and Gap, among others–have recently closed their Facebook storefronts due to lack of success.
In this article, I’ll take a look at some reasons for this and suggest an alternate model for Facebook commerce (“F-commerce”) that involves making some minor tweaks to integrate Pinterest-like functionality.
Why Facebook Storefronts Don’t Work
Many experts have weighed-in on why Facebook storefronts are often unsuccessful. A large part of it simply boils down to the fact that Facebook isn’t an e-commerce site. This results in a contextual disconnect.
“Most people don’t go to Facebook wanting to purchase something,” says Josh Davis, social media strategist at ITFO Communications and blogger at LL Social. Davis believes that retailers were initially excited by the advertising potential, but are now realizing shopping-intent isn’t there.
In short, the context for F-commerce is wrong. Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru accurately likened F-commerce to “trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”
Facebook’s core focus is clearly stated on its login page: “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” Facebook is not about shopping. And it’s not about retailers. But Facebook is good for connecting people to each other.
A Better Model for F-Commerce?
While researching this article, I came across Lance Dzintars, who owns Zaria & Bella’s, a small gift shop in Schenectady, New York. He, too, was unable to effectively monetize his Facebook storefront and shut it down in November, 2011.
“The goal was to spread awareness of our store–and if we made a sale, that was great,” said Dzintars. “But we didn’t convert any sales.”
While Dzintars said he wasn’t able to generate transactions using Facebook, he had better luck converting referral sales through Mulu, which is something of a blend between Pinterest and e-commerce (and as an incentive, makes a contribution to a referrers’ charity of choice). I was intrigued by how a small retailer could be more successful with an upstart site than with Facebook.
The answer seems to be that Mulu, Pinterest and similar sites cater to the desire of people in social networks to refer products to each other, which ultimately drives traffic to retailers’ websites. This is very different than F-Commerce, in which Facebook provides a platform for retailers–not friends–to promote products.
I believe Mulu’s and Pinterest’s social commerce model would be a good one for Facebook to emulate. It plays on Facebook’s person-to-person focus and site functionality quite well. As Davis notes:
“Pinterest is successful because it’s built for e-commerce. It puts you in the mindset for window-shopping and that can lead to actual purchasing.”
Facebook has already proven it’s effective at referring traffic. Shareaholic’s January 2012 Referral Traffic Report found that 26.4 percent of January’s referral traffic came from Facebook. Yet Pinterest, with less than two percent the number of registered users as Facebook, referred an impressive 3.6 percent of the total referral traffic in January–up from 0.17 percent in July, 2011.
Four Things Facebook Could Learn from Pinterest
What if Facebook took a few notes from Pinterest? Here’s how Facebook could create a strong(er) referral-traffic social commerce model.
1. Implement a “Tag” feature. Pinterest makes it easy for users to “pin” content, where users can attach the content to the bulletin board category of their choosing. Similarly, Facebook could implement a “Tag” feature for users to categorize content that they come across on Facebook in which they feel their connections would be interested.
2. Promote a Tag button. Facebook should provide tools to make it easy to Tag products across the Web, much like how the Pin button allows users to categorize content. Retailers should promote these Tag buttons alongside their other social sharing buttons.
3. Add a “Category” function on the homepage. Facebook already suggests Lists (updates of users with similar connections) and allows users to Like both Facebook Pages and topics from their profiles. Going further, Facebook could allow users to create their own “Categories” similar to Pinterest’s Boards (e.g., clothing stores, electronics deals and kitchen ideas). These categories could be searchable and accessible from the user’s Facebook homepage.
4. Provide a platform for users to browse the Categories. Users could browse categories to discover content their friends have curated. This content would provide links to retailers’ websites if the user is interested in learning more or purchasing the item. Facebook users could also enable these category posts appearing in the Newsfeed, similar to the current Pinterest-Facebook integration.
These tweaks would create more compelling content by organizing it and making it easier to share with others of similar niche-interests. This functionally would:
- Increase users’ time spent on Facebook (great for the social network);
- Alleviate the F-commerce weaknesses from above (great for retailers); and
- Allow users to promote content directly to each other (great for all).
I’m interested in your thoughts. Do you think retail storefronts have a place on Facebook? How do you see F-commerce moving forward? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
Thumbnail image created by birgerking.