Is a Facebook e-commerce site necessary?
The gloves are off
Vikram Sharma, CEO at ShopLocal,
CEO, ShopLocal, the retail division of PointRoll, and more than 20 years of retail marketing and market research experience
One of the most basic tenets of retail is to "put your stores where the people are." It's the reason major retailers are flocking to highly populated countries like China and India. Now consider this: If Facebook was a country, it would be the third largest in the world.
Facebook's nearly 600 million members are spending an average of almost 1,500 minutes on the site each month, and they want to connect with brands they like and companies offering deals and exclusive promotions. On average, Facebook users are connected to more than 60 pages or groups and 64% of them "like" a company to learn about specials and deals.
Retailers should use Facebook as an extension of a cross-channel shopping experience for their consumers. By creating a store in this social environment with key shopping elements around it, consumers can not only transact but also instantly find and like new products or offers. A Facebook store gives consumers access to the products you have to offer while creating a viral purchasing effect that leads others to the point of purchase. Through "likes," shopping history posted to newsfeeds, and "sharing" options, your consumer base will discover and share as they become more engaged with your products and brand.
The bottom line is that you need to be present where your target consumers are spending their time. This means that retailers need to think about operating physical stores, e-commerce stores and social commerce stores. Just as e-commerce sites were an "addition to," not a "replacement of" physical stores, a Facebook shopping experience should be an "addition to" the online store. Traditional e-commerce sites should be maintained, but shopping within the Facebook platform is inevitable, so retailers should make that experience as seamless as possible.
Savvy retailers will offer their customers the most respectful social shopping experience possible. What do I mean by "respectful?" When consumers click a link posted on their Facebook wall, the last thing they want is for their experience to be disrupted as they're taken to an outside website. If retailers can make shopping within Facebook convenient, appealing and respectful, Facebook will become the nearest store consumers visit.
There's no denying that social networks and e-commerce are linked. However, "linked" and "interchangeable" are two very different terms. Both social networks and e-commerce play vital roles in the typical purchase journey, but these roles are — and should remain — fundamentally separate. Social networks weren't designed for e-commerce. They are hyperactive hubs for word-of-mouth communication. Consumers turn to their social networks during the exploratory stages of the purchase journey, where a single question can return many honest recommendations from friends and family. They solidify an opinion of the product along with purchase intent.
That's what social networks do best. They prime consumers for the next crucial stages of the purchase journey — the one-second click over to Google for a search for the best price, then another click over to a traditional e-commerce site to purchase.
A vital role of e-commerce, then, is to provide a trusted environment where consumers can feel safe and secure sending their credit card information over the Internet. Whereas consumers trust digital storefronts almost as much as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, social networks are naturally open and social — two qualities that don't exactly scream "trust me."
Retailers are attracted to the idea of merging e-commerce with social networks for two reasons: because it's cool, and because that's where the "fish" are. With an audience of roughly 600 million Facebook users — almost 9% of the world's population — many retailers assume if they jam a checkout button onto their brand's page, those millions of fish are going to buy.
So why not allow social media to support the purchase process organically instead of forcing e-commerce into an ill-equipped arena? The best e-commerce sites are evolving alongside social media. By incorporating some conversational aspects, like a live-streaming Twitter feed, brands can amplify consumer influence much closer to the point in time when the checkout button is clicked.
Jumping on the "e-commerce 2.0" bandwagon without stopping to think is ill-advised. Brands should use some of the more effective aspects of social media to support their e-retail, but not merge the two simply because it's the trend of the moment.Direct Marketing News' Decision
Facebook has hundreds of millions of members. That's exactly why brands should begin to use the website as a direct-to-consumer sales channel. Many companies could take a page from the Amazon.com playbook, which launched Facebook shopping tools in late January for its Soap.com and Diapers.com brands.
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