With a looming $100 billion IPO on the horizon and a community that’s estimated to hit a 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 1-800-FLOWERS 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 and 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. 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 underperforming against the opportunity.
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