Direct sales through social clicks

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Gaiam is among the brands selling products on Facebook
Gaiam is among the brands selling products on Facebook

Multichannel retailers are expanding their tactics for selling directly to consumers on Facebook, adding e-commerce functionality to both company fan pages and members' news feeds. Avon, Gaiam, 1-800-Flowers and Brooks Brothers are among the brands that recently introduced or improved their Facebook web shopping capabilities.

Avon launched a social shopping service last week to let consumers buy products from its Mark cosmetics brand directly from a Facebook newsfeed. Facebook members who are either fans of Mark, or friends of fans who share the Mark link from their profiles, can complete transactions through the social network's newsfeed.

"We thought it would be an innovative way to bring together our direct selling approach with our social media marketing," said Annemarie Frank, director of e-commerce, digital and strategic alliances for Avon's Mark brand.

Avon is also helping consumers connect with its sales reps on the social network when they check out. If none of their friends are sales reps, Facebook members can locate one through a ZIP Code finder. The company also allows sales representatives to use social shopping tools to curate their own boutiques on Facebook pages.

"We are always looking to add value to our representatives out there and allow them to boost their business," said Frank.

Avon is far from alone in exploring the e-commerce value of Facebook. In the past month, Gaiam and Brooks Brothers both opened storefronts within a "shop" tab on their respective fan pages. 1-800-Flowers, which opened up shop on Facebook last July, also recently expanded its e-commercecapabilities on the social network to allow consumers to shop within news feeds.

"Retail companies who sell direct to the consumer are going to have to very seriously consider storefronts on Facebook, because people are spending so much time there," said Augie Ray, senior analyst at Forrester Research.

Facebook e-commerce applications are also adding a social element to web shopping, which many consumers expect, added Ray.

"Shopping is inherently a social experience for many consumers, particularly women, so we should be expecting companies to be making shopping online more social," he added.

While Avon and 1-800-Flowers are ahead of many multichannel retailers with shop-from-newsfeed capabilities, more companies are adding "shop" tabs to their official Facebook pages.

Gaiam, a Yoga products cataloger and e-commerce merchant, opened its web sales tab on Facebook midway through last month. Consumers can make purchases with an e-commerce cart on the tab, just as they would on Gaiam.com, the company's main Internet shopping site. Gaiam's social shopping app offers a $20-off coupon for consumers who spend more than $100.

"We spent a lot of energy cultivating a loyal fanbase on Facebook," said Kristin Fox, new business development manager at Gaiam. "This is another way for [consumers] to engage with the brand on Facebook. They can spread the word within their friend groups. If they have an upcoming birthday, they can shop on Gaiam and put things on their registry and wish lists that can be shared on Facebook."

Avon's Mark brand, Brooks Brothers, Gaiam and 1-800-Flowers all work with technology services firm Alvenda, which builds e-commerce apps for social networks. The shopping tools function as extensions of the brands' e-commerce sites, so consumers can feel secure at a time when Facebook's privacy policies are under scrutiny. "This information goes to Gaiam and not Facebook," reads a notice at the bottom of Gaiam's Facebook shopping tab.

Despite brands embracing "shop" tabs, e-commerce portals are not without challenges. For instance, many Facebook members rarely leave their personal homepages, said Wade Gerten, CEO of Alvenda. For that reason, e-commerce-enabled wall posts in consumers' news feeds are 18% more effective than a "shop" tab, according to Alvenda.

"The reality is hardly anyone goes to fan pages of companies on Facebook, most users stay on their own Facebook homepage and pay attention to their news stream," he said.

Brands are also taking other routes to sell directly to consumers on Facebook. Levi's is not selling products in-app, nor do they have plans to. However, the denim brand has added social applications to its own site. Levi's partnered with Facebook to integrate its "like" technology onto the brand's e-commerce site at the end of April.

"This allows passionate brand ambassadors to take this functionality and share with their friends and social networks," said Megan O'Connor, director of digital and social marketing at Levi's.

Levi's was one of the first brands to use Facebook's "Social Plugins" tool, a part of Open Graph, a platform that allows apps to share information about consumers to tailor offers. The tool lets Levi's create pages for products on Facebook that consumers can "like." The items then appear in a consumer's news feed, as well as on the brand's e-commerce site.

O'Connor would not say how these platforms have influenced sales, but she explained that "liked" products have higher price points and are more fashion forward. O'Connor added that popular items tend to get liked more often because of viral momentum.

"It will not just help you browse, but it will help you shop when you...see what products are popular and which ones your friends like," she said.

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