Over the past few days we’ve seen a number of articles on how major brands were pulling their Facebook storefronts out, being disappointed with the results, and seeing no future in F-commerce.
It all started with this Bloomberg story where the world’s leading news source on business and finance talked about “cracks in the model” which made companies like Gap, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom and Gamestop close their Facebook stores.
A few days later Barry Silverstein of ReveNews published his reaction to Bloomberg’s story, summarizing: “At this stage, it may be that social media users are just that – users, and maybe prospects, but not necessarily buyers, at least not yet.”
On the same day Linda Bustos, who will be speaking at our upcoming San Francisco conference, published her take on the topic. I am a big fan of Linda’s writing, and I love her train of thought there. She wrote: “Simply plugging a catalog into a Fan page is not social commerce. It’s just commerce inside a social network” and no one said that a simple plug-n-play is all that’s required to succeed in selling with/on Facebook. In her post Linda illustrated how “F-stores don’t have to be catalogs” and should, in fact, “be anything but your full catalog”. If there’s “something that your customers want, that you can provide and add value to in Facebook,” then do use the platform to satisfy the need. If not, don’t bother.
The fact that the above-quoted brands shut their “Facebook stores” is in no way indicative of an unsuitable platform. It might indeed had been that “the model” used was what had “cracks”. Yes, the end-goal was to land that sale, but was the plug-in store really the best means to achieve the goal in this particular context?
Social media is already synonymous with “connecting” and “conversing”, “interacting” and “designing conversations“. As Chris Brogan wrote (on same day that the Barry and Linda posted their reactions to the Bloomberg article): “We seek to connect with people. We want to reach them … in a meaningful way that benefits our mutual needs that should be the goal” and it is “never about the delivery mechanism” itself [emphasis added]. So, if you can use Facebook to connect with your customers (current or prospective) in a meaningful way (read: creating a truly useful customer experience) — do find a way to use it. Same with Twitter. Same with Google+… The name of the medium is irrelevant. It is just your “delivery mechanism”, and you want to use it in a way that’s coherent with how your end-consumer uses it.
Finally, all of the above buzz about F-commerce is, actually, very timely. We are going to have a session on this very topic at AM Days San Francisco 2012. On the morning (10:15-11:00 am) of March 8 we will have a session by Marc Phillips where he is going to discuss how merchants can employ a combination of affiliate marketing and Facebook — to increase sales, driven to their online stores via affiliates who are active on the major social network. Here’s that session’s description:
One of the biggest revenue growth opportunities for merchants and affiliate managers is monetization on Facebook. Set to reap over $5 billion from their upcoming IPO, Facebook’s 845 million visitors present opportunities for merchants to sell more products and services. Affiliate managers are challenged with identifying and implementing various social commerce programs for merchants. As Facebook’s platform moves beyond “likes” with new shopping actions such as ‘want’ ‘wish’ and ‘own’, merchant’s Facebook offerings will need to embrace social affiliate marketing. With F-Commerce still in it’s infancy, merchants are looking to implement programs on Facebook to expose their product feeds and generate customer wishlists. This session will provides insights into the social commerce opportunities for merchants, challenges faced by affiliate managers and give insights into how Facebook can be leveraged as a new affiliate system.
So, there are also ways to leverage Facebook “as a new affiliate system” — especially if you are an online retailer. Come to AM Days SF to learn how.
By the way, on March 9 we will also have a session on integrating “mobile and social media campaigns into existing traditional affiliate programs” [more here] — a task, clearly, intertwined with the whole above-mentioned topic.
See you in San Francisco in just two weeks!
Many of my colleagues, including venture capitalist who have funded F-Commerce start ups and executives within larger Internet retailers find Facebook such a big opportunity - they aren’t worried about “if” social commerce will prevail, just “when”. The recent closure of high profile F-Commerce stores might be more about the single digit growth in retail sales (year on year) and U.S. retail sales in January falling short of analyst expectations. Facebook has the eyeballs, people aren’t buying in large volumes yet but we all know that window shopping eventually leads to sales. It’s a matter of when and the industry will quickly innovate to bridge the gap between “lookers” and “bookers”.
I’ve commented on another doom mongering story on the topic, but to sum up my opinion - the method of delivery needs to improve instead of blaming the channel of delivery. Improve the method, message, and give the user a motive , (my 3M theory right there!) and you will see more sales coming in. Utilising the channel is needed since people spend so much time on it, but perhaps it’s better to judge results against specific kpi’s as opposed to comparing the money made on FB vs. money made on site.
Marc, Shaeeb, thank you for our comments.
I full agree with Shaeeb. To blame “the channel of delivery” is the easiest thing to do. Those who will learn how exactly to use it so that it yields sales, they will reap the sweeter fruit. Facebook is alreay nearing 1 billion users (expected to hit this milestone in August of this year). It *must* be used for commerce. But social is very different from the rest of the channels we use. We want to respect the differences, and learn how to make them work for us.
I’m thinking I should’ve attended this event. There’s always next year, right?
Actually, much earlier than “next year”, Ashley. We’re holding Affiliate Management Days East in October (most likely, in the second half of the month). So, hope to see you there.