EDIT: 06/03/2011: Neil Glassman posted a counter argument to this post on SocialTimes.com. Follow the discussion!
Express launched an online storefront on Facebook yesterday. Users can try it out by clicking on a promo on Express’ Fan page. This will take the user to a Facebook app where users can shop from Express’ entire catalog.
Express is not the first, and I’m sure not the last, retailer to move the cash register closer to the water cooler in this way. However, while I’m bullish on Facebook as an eCommerce facilitator, I’m not sure that on-Facebook storefronts are the wave of the future.
Misconceptions about Facebook storefronts
For retailers looking to connect with Facebook’s members, Facebook storefronts might seem like a sound strategy, but I think it’s more of a boardroom knee-jerk reaction to “having to be on Facebook.” In this case, Express’ rationale is eloquently summed up by Jim Wright, Express’ SVP of CRM and e-commerce:
“If you look at what’s happening today, top-down marketing and driving people to places to [transact] has changed. We need to be where customers are having their experiences and sharing information. We need to take down the barriers preventing a shopping experience.”
These statements, which may get a few nods from fellow marketers, expose widely held misconceptions of how Facebook actually works. Let me explain.
“Top-down marketing and driving people to places to [transact] has changed.”
Yes, this may be correct. However, few Fans will visit a Facebook store without being driven there. Consider this: Agency Brandglue estimates that 96% of Fans never return to pages they Like. Think about it, how many brands do you Like and how often do you return to them for no reason whatsoever?
For Facebook pages and Facebook Stores alike, the retailer has to drive people to these destinations somehow. This leaves two “top-down marketing” options.
- Page Posts: Retailers may drive people to their Facebook Page by posting updates to the Page’s Wall (and by extension to their Fan’s News Feeds). Beware that Facebook’s News Feed filters typically makes this channel rather ineffective unless you have a large Fan-base.
- Facebook ads: Retailers can always bribe their way to people’s minds, if not hearts, the old-fashioned way. Facebook ads can be targeted at Fans of any Pages or applications (even to friends of the page’s Fans). How about “Dear Express Fans, today there’s a sale on men’s skinny jeans!” (targeted exclusively at men 18-34, not in a relationship, perhaps..).
In any event, there’s top-down marketing going on, driving people to places to transact. Most likely paid ads will be the method of choice (or necessity). That being the case, why drive them to a Facebook app as opposed to the “real” website, where they are more likely to convert?
“We need to be where customers are having their experiences and sharing information.”
Again, very few people ever visit a brand’s Facebook pages. Furthermore, most conversation and sharing happens through the News Feed. Brandglue found that only 0.5% of user comments to a Page update are made from a brand’s Facebook page. The remaining 99.5% of engagements happen via the News Feed.
Posting to the newsfeed
The News Feed is Facebook users’ window to the world. Some merchants may be surprised to find that they can post updates to the News Feed via their web pages, (just like with Facebook Fan pages,) and use this mechanism to drive traffic back to their web pages. All a retailer needs to do is to embed Facebook Like buttons on their site. Then the retailer may send Page posts directly to their web page Fans (even segment their Fans by product!), using free tools provided by Facebook.
Make Friends closer to home
I believe retailers should seek to earn Likes and cultivate friends on their own website rather than building Fans around their Facebook store. First of all, there’s already traffic there; no need to buy ads to direct users to yet another destination.
Secondly, the website can be just as effective of a viral marketing mechanism as a Facebook store. Any action a user takes on the website can be broadcast to friends via the News Feed, driving traffic back to the site.
“We need to take down the barriers preventing a shopping experience.”
There no barriers to Facebook-fueled shopping that a Facebook app can solve alone. As I’ve outlined, the challenges are with driving traffic to the shopping application, which can only be solved with relevant and timely messaging and advertising. Furthermore, with Facebook’s Social Plug-ins and Graph API, there are no “social” activities that can be offered on Facebook that can’t also be offered on an external website.
Sometimes Facebook storefronts are OK
Small merchants considering their first storefront, and don’t want to set up their own site using solutions like Goodsie or Magento GO may find that setting up a store on Facebook using solutions like Payvement or ShopTab may be an option. For large retailers with existing sites, (which typically receive more visitors than their Facebook Page, and are optimized to convert) I think it makes most sense to bring Facebook technology into their own sites than bringing their catalog into a Facebook app.
For those of you who think that there’s no harm in doing both, start reading from the top again