Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Brands Give Facebook F-Commerce an F

With a looming $10 billion IPO on the horizon and a community that’s estimated to hit 1 billion users this Fall, Facebook seems unstoppable. Yet on one important front, the store front that is, Facebook has exposed an imperfection. People are not proving ready to actually buy goods and services in Facebook – at least not at the scale retailers are used to seeing through traditional e-commerce. And suddenly, many question the role Facebook actually plays in the monetization strategy of any business.

F-commerce emerged only three years ago, offering the ability to buy and sell on Faceboook. Early adopters such as 1800FLOWERS and Delta Airlines opened capable and impressive initial Facebook storefronts. Once retailers saw what was possible, waves of F-commerce shops crashed over the social network one-by-one eventually transforming brand pages into digital malls. While initial reports painted promising future for introducing transactional relationships, Bloomberg stuck a pin in the balloons of idealistic social commerce strategists everywhere. In just the past year alone, Gamestop, Gap, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, Banana Republic, Old Navy among others have opened and closed storefronts on Facebook. Now many wonder what the future holds for F-commerce and whether or not retailers will ever Like it again.

I mean F-commerce only makes sense right? If the attention of almost one billion potential shoppers is fixated in one place then opening a Facebook storefront must be the answer! While only 7% of brands with a brand page experimented with F-commerce strategies, many struggled to justify the costs of designing and supporting customized boutiques on an evolving platform that’s far less standardized than the much more stable and proven foundation of e-commerce.

F-Commerce is the Failed Execution of the Uninspired

The problem is as much the platform as it is the vision of many of the F-commerce strategies we’ve seen in play to date. I believe that in new media, social, mobile, and disruptive, that brands tend to assume a mediumalistic approach. This is a phenomenon where architects and strategists place inordinate weight on the technology of any medium rather than amplifying platform strengths and the unique possibilities to deliver desired experiences and outcomes. It has less to do with the the ability to make a purchase than it has to do with the dynamic of Facebook, the overall UX, and psychology of social commerce.

As an analyst, I’ve studied the design, execution, and performance of many Facebook storefronts. As a strategist, I’ve also designed stores for global brands. With certainty, I can attest that the sky isn’t falling on F-commerce, but it is early. What’s missing is balance between creativity and capability and the desire or sense of need that unites them. Essentially, F-commerce only gets an “F” because brands used Facebook as yet another digital catalog for selling products and not as a platform for activating new experiences based on the nature and the psychology of the relationships that define the network.

As my fellow Pando Daily collaborator Erin Griffith recently observed, businesses need to, “Stop trying to make F-commerce happen.” She’s right. It seems forced, narrow or uninventive.

There are certainly examples of companies that take a test and learn perspective and in those cases, we see what’s possible when we re-image storefronts and social commerce overall. P&G for example, proved that with the right timing, the right interface, and the right product, companies can move product on Facebook. When the company launched a store for its new Pampers Cruisers line of diapers, 1,000 packs were sold at $9.99 in under an hour. I also think back to the Walmart Crowdsaver trial and the power of Likes to create a sense of urgency or exclusivity and eventually influence decisions. At one point the company offered a Groupon-like deal on a 42-inch plasma TV that unlocked after it earned 5,000 Likes.

As in any commerce strategy, the customer journey must be defined. This isn’t just about Facebook. It’s about all emerging channels where customer attention becomes increasingly distributed. Moving forward, businesses must look beyond mere distributed commerce plays and design a syndicated commerce program where commerce is designed for each channel, taking into account the needs, expectations and behavior within each. Channels can of course point to a common hub, but what’s most important is that they’re holistic in the experience the deliver and that the outcomes are defined at the platform and at the overall commerce levels.

To define the future of F-commerce, social commerce or syndicated commerce overall, it takes thoughtful UX and design, not just technology that facilitates sales and marketing. As IBM noted last year in its study, “From social media to Social CRM: What customers want,” customers have expressed that they do indeed wish to purchase within social networks. But, we can’t take that for face value. That’s the mistake many F-tailers make, they didn’t think through the experience nor did they seek inspiration from social customers to think through a new journey or transaction. Naturally, people want discounts and promotions. And if you dig deeper, they’re looking for exclusive opportunities that they can’t get anywhere else. And, by exclusive, these offers are also tied to deadlines and interactivity to make people feel vested in the transaction or that the transaction has a sense of urgency around it. It’s also the introduction of game mechanics to promote sharing around transactions to help engage the community beyond a sale.

IBM’s perception gap above exists within every company. What people want and what we think they want are often on opposite ends of the spectrum. Late last year, I ran a research project for the Pivot Conference where we asked marketers and brand managers if they knew the needs and wants of their social consumer. An astounding 77% said yes. But it is the next question that revealed the truth. We then asked if they ever asked customers directly what they wanted, preferred, or disliked from brands in social networks. The answer reflects the problem with F-commerce and social commerce overall, 53% said no and another 12% didn’t know.

Building a Bridge Between e-Commerce and Social Commerce

The lesson in the current state of F-commerce comes down to acting first rather than designing experiences that trigger desirable network effects and outcomes. By embedding the Like and Share buttons on e-commerce sites feeds customer desire or actions back into the Facebook News Feed. Brands must develop an experiential bridge that connects commerce and emotion to entice people to share AND take action. Data already shows that sharing or the ability to share contributes to customer discovery and ultimately to customer influence. For example, Ticketmaster and Eventbrite can tell you the value of a Like or Share as it converts into a sale that leads from Facebook to the website. And Levi’s can tell you the value of a Like sourced from the website, back into Facebook. Additionally, we know that revenue per click sourced in social networks is of greater value than that of traditional email. CelearSaleing minted that number at $5.24 versus $3.18 respectively.

With the rise of the Open Graph and “frictionless sharing,” brands are now presented with an opportunity to influence customer actions by empowering them to think beyond the Like. What those buttons and experiences look like, the language shared through the social graph and the resulting reactions are yours to define. And, as such, experiences and the customer journey require definition and not just a programmatic reaction to new technology.

Businesses must now think about a distributed commerce strategy that accounts not only for social commerce, but also all forms of commerce ranging from mobile commerce (m-commerce), e-commerce, Facebook commerce (F-commerce), social commerce, real world (in-store) commerce, e-mail commerce, and every other form of commerce that matters.

The future of commerce is not simply social. The future of commerce takes a holistic approach in the form of syndicated commerce where each channel’s strengths are played to create meaningful and shareable experiences. Customer deals, offers, promotions, and experiences must be one with the brand and the brand experience. To achieve oneness across syndicated commerce, business leaders must define the experience, desired outcomes, and mutual benefits along the way. Without an integrated approach to syndicated commerce, it’s impossible to grade any platform as a failure when it is in fact the strategy that’s under performing against the opportunity.

Connect with me: Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+ |

Please consider ordering The End of Business as Usual today…

Image Credit: Shutterstock

41 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Brands Give Facebook F-Commerce an F”

  1. spec18 says:

    all this proves is that social networks in general (especially Facebook) are a conduit to the the rest of your web properties, an extension of your web presence. It is unlikely that any social network can be a one-stop shop. The web is too big, with too many possibilities.

  2. Michael Hyatt has a great perspective on how Social Media serves as a platform for creating activity with your tribe. He’s got a book coming out soon called, “Platforms.”

    While I accept the notion that consumers like the interaction they can have with a brand, I still have the position that most people are Social Media Voyeurs. They want to peak over our shoulder, but they don’t want to let us look over theirs. And most of the ones who engage, try to use SM as a conversation board…

    The best experience I’ve had with SM is working with the Chick-fil-a Leadercast Team on an upcoming project. Their facebook page has been a GREAT source for sharing ideas, asking questions and finding solutions to obstacles.  It has been crowd-sourcing at its best!

    Brands might do well to teach its tribe members how to engage and the benefits they can gain from engaging and exchanging…

  3. “Brands must develop an experiential bridge that connects commerce and emotion to entice people to share AND take action” that line stuck out to me the most. I believe it is the most important rule in any form of sales. People buy products, not for the product itself, but for the need the product can full fill and usually people are tied to that need emotionally. 

  4. I often think back to Google who did such amazing search and then found a business model that actually made search better – the ads bring to the top the companies that most want to promote to me at that moment. Sometimes I want these guys, especially when I’m in the mood to buy. 

    Faceboook though, as an amazing way to stay in touch with my friends, hasn’t found the business model that makes their core stronger, or event sits next to it with diminishing it. They have tried, but failed so far. 

    It should be there. I trust my friends more than advertisers, but buying from them or because of them is different. It starts to violate our relationship and the very trust that is valuable. We found this working on 

    I’m also wondering whether nailing fcommerce will mean people want to go somewhere else to hid from commercialisation? Risky territory…

  5. Rich Reader (aka @VineBuzz ) says:

    Marketers mislead themselves into thinking that F-commerce fails, when it is they themselves who have failed to design a user experience which is consistent with what customers need/want & with the unified brand strategy.

    • briansolis says:

      Such a good point Rich…it’s really what I’m trying to convey here.

    •  Exactly an issue i started to take umbrage with when all the guru’s were saying that Facebook marketing is failing when in actuality their business fan pages are not conducive to purchasing. Or worse still, not leading me off page to a commerce site. The big boys are giving the small businesses a bad example to follow.

  6. Anonymous says:

    From a small business approach, many people assume Facebook Ads are simply traditional advertising + better targeting, and it really does take a completely different mindset and strategy. Your Facebook ad might not turn into a conversion immediately, but it may have planted the foundations of a relationship that could turn into a conversion, or multiple conversions in the future.

    People on Facebook are hardly ever ready to make a purchase decision right away, they are not searching for anything. They may come back to your website in a week where Google Analytics wont be able to track the conversion. We’ve had many customers tell our clients that they did see and click the Facebook ads, but did not take action until a later date, when direct conversion tracking was no longer possible – Especially in the tourism industry with vacation reservations.

  7. Bryan says:

    F-commerce will undoubtedly prove successful and in fact there are very good examples already. 1-800 flowers for example made $70 million last year from Facebook.

    It will be interesting to see how long the F lasts… I think it will do much much better in the near future.

  8. I don’t think facebook is as much to blame a it is the smaller companies that are changing the way that these companies are trying to follow suite. They are relying on other unique ways to change how they advertise. I don’t know necessarily that it is failing but I just feel like people aren’t ready for that way of commerce. I think if Bryan has proof to back up the 70 million, it would prove that.

  9. DanceF says:

    It’s too soon to lament the demise of F-commerce. What we do know is that replicating retailers’ ecommerce sites is not the way to go about generating revenue via Facebook, at least for now. 

  10. Michael Barabash says:

    Brayan, i am 100% agree “digital catalog for selling products and not as a platform for activating new experiences based on the nature and the psychology of the relationships that define the network”
    “F-commerce only gets an “F””, because they are using old type of buy/sell transaction. It’s time to introduce new one and i discover it. If you can give me 15min of your time in person i can explain it.

    Michael Barabash

  11. DanceF says:

    It’s too soon to lament the demise of F-commerce. What we do know is that replicating retailers’ ecommerce sites is not the way to go about generating revenue via Facebook, at least for now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our Mailing List

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Stay Connected