In the world of brick and mortar retail, if you had to list one key to success, it'd probably be the good old "location, location, location".
Online, where anyone can set up shop, location works a bit differently. Some swear that a highly-generic domain name is the equivalent of a retail space on Fifth Avenue. Others strive to make sure they're visible to consumers through organic and paid search.
Floral retailer 1-800-Flowers.com is taking a different approach: it has set up shop on Facebook.
Its Facebook Page today sports a tab, "Shop!", which contains an embedded Flash-based storefront. The storefront is powered by Alvenda, which creates 'Shoplets' for online retailers who want to reach customers wherever they are. Through 1-800-Flowers.com's Facebook storefront, Facebook users don't have to leave Facebook to send flowers to friends, family members and special someones.
The interface is simple enough to use. Users can browse for flowers based on occasion, there's search functionality and the shopping cart works like a regular shopping cart. Checkout takes place within the embedded storefront.
So are Facebook storefronts part of online retail's future? I think they might be. With more than 250m users around the world, Facebook has the "location, location, location" that retailers look for. But that doesn't necessarily mean that online retail on Facebook is going to be a breeze.
In the case of 1-800-Flowers.com, its Facebook Page has less than 2,000 fans. So it will need to build up its following before its storefront has the potential to drive meaningful sales. It seems to be making a decent effort in this area; 1-800-Flowers.com is promoting that becoming a fan on Facebook will give you access to "exclusive offers and giveaways".
From a broader perspective, I also think there's room to create more enjoyable shopping experiences on Facebook. Alvenda's solution is not poorly executed but the Flash-based embedded storefront leaves a lot of potential on the table. A more significant Facebook retail application that takes advantage of the 'social graph' could be developed that, for instance, suggests products when a friend has a birthday and allows users to create address books based on their friends list.
I suspect that eventually somebody will spend the time and money creating such a storefront and retailers on Facebook with a significant following might want to be the first to consider it.