F-Commerce (or Facebook Commerce) is essentially shopping through Facebook by means of an eCommerce store embedded within the social network. And, just as you’re probably thinking – ‘Who would buy something on Facebook, why not just visit their website?’- I’m going to explain why that’s a logical thought to have made, and why so many others have agreed so ferociously in the past. But, I’m also going to explain why social media marketing platform, F-Commerce, could potentially develop into a capable selling tool for SME’s and local businesses that need to expand their sales network and offer a more personal approach.

In the beginning

As part of Facebook’s aspiring eCommerce ambitions, they enabled a small selection of brands to display their available stock in a shop section and let the customers check out without having to leave the site. With the first item sold (a flower cake) back in 2009, it seemed like F-Commerce could be the ideal platform for the perfect shopping experience. However, when it was tested with a number of high-profile brands such as Banana Republic, GameStop, Gap and J.C. Penney in 2011, it went down like a lead balloon and they closed their stores within 12 months. For big brands, it seemed that there clearly wasn’t a market for selling products through Facebook because either; consumers feel comfortable in using the payment gateways, or it simply didn’t deliver a worthwhile return on investment (ROI).

Banana Republic F-Commerce store 2011

Via Acadaca

Therefore, it’s hardly a surprise to see why F-Commerce has been so widely criticised over recent years and why you’ve probably never heard of it, with some claiming it’s perhaps Mark Zuckerberg’s biggest failure to date. To coin a popular analogy of the time,

“Facebook felt like a party where you went hang out with your friends to chat and flirt. Now brands wanted to interrupt the party to get you to spend money on clothes, games, or flower cakes? No, thank you.”

But what if it wasn’t necessarily meant for big brands? And what if those ‘brands’ were your friends? Or, friends of friends? Does it still constitute interrupting the party if they’re also a part of it?

F-Commerce for SME’s & Local Businesses

“Optimising your experience on mobile is the number one priority for every retailer on the planet right now,” claims Wade Gerten from 8thBridge, but what if you don’t have the financial manoeuvrability to afford a new website?

FB Commerce

Via Business Insider

For some local businesses and SME’s, the affordability of a new mobile responsive website for their business in the early days would be out of the question. However, F-Commerce provides the ability for the merchant to sell their products through an all-improved Shopify platform, offering a more cost-effective system to grow their local business. In the long term, the natural progression should be on to a more powerful e-commerce platform such as Magento, but in the short-term, it could prove to be a useful tool for SME’s & local businesses.

FB Messenger

Via Business Insider

In addition to this, merchants are able to offer their customers a much more personal approach. Facebook by its very nature serves to connect people and form new relationships, so why can’t that extend to a merchant-buyer scenario?

Pages from R2_2015_speaker PPT Amazon Payments-2

Via PYMNTS

Much of the reason that consumers are sceptical to the idea of purchasing products through Facebook is as a consequence of low trust levels for the merchant they’re buying from (as they’re generally redirected to a third party site). However, if you’re looking to buy a product and you; have been recommended to buy from a particular seller; know the merchant personally; are able to communicate directly with them; then it’s likely that your trust levels of the transaction will be much higher. Not only that but by offering your products through Facebook as a merchant, then you’ll be able to interact and connect with buyers to offer them a great shopping experience with your business and retain their future custom.

F-Commerce for Larger Businesses

As mentioned earlier in this post, I’ve questioned whether F-Commerce is a suitable system for larger businesses given the evidential dislike of some the USA’s biggest brands back in 2011. However, the reason why these top brands didn’t see longevity in this endeavour is simply because it didn’t bring them the ROI that they initially thought they would receive. As such, they canned the idea pretty quickly, but since then many have reignited the F-Commerce flame with Facebook seemingly gearing up to give it another push.

GAP Facebook store

Via @UKGAP

Though the ROIs (in monetary terms) of F-Commerce sales may not be substantial enough for top brands, there is certainly much scope for success in the future as Facebook continues to dominate smartphone users’ time. Despite this, though, there are still many benefits offered to big brands that use F-Commerce now in terms of brand awareness, credibility, social influencers, increased online visibility and exposure, among others. Additionally, the integration of ‘Shop Now’ and ‘Buy’ call-to-action buttons into the ads now serve to direct consumers to their F-Commerce stores, rather than to a third party site, which could have a positive impact on conversion rates.

ASOS F-Commerce store

Moreover, even if their products aren’t being sold through F-Commerce, this doesn’t mean to say that it hasn’t played a part in the purchasing journey of their customers. Social referrals to a brand’s website are abundant for many businesses that have a vast social following, so by creating a store through F-Commerce the chances of attracting new customers even if they don’t convert through Facebook. Even companies with service-based offerings have taken to F-Commerce as a way to greater their reach and attract new customers, such as the example provided below.

Your Parking Space suggested F-commerce ad

The key point of all of this is that, with F-Commerce, you can’t just list your products/services and expect that you’ll automatically get new sales; you’ve still got to market it!

So does all of this mean to you?

In short, F-Commerce could be an efficient and cost-effective solution for many SME’s and local businesses that are looking to make their way in the online world. For larger businesses, the efficacy of F-Commerce doesn’t just rely on securing an ROI because this should come naturally when the store is marketed well, and as credibility and brand awareness is increased. As such, don’t perceive this as the be-all and end-all of social media marketing, it’s simply a cog in a broader digital strategy.

At Digital Next, we understand the importance of multi-channel marketing for businesses, so if you’re looking to market your business using social media marketing then why not give us a call to see how we can help!

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