Yesterday afternoon, I had serious WTF moment as I read an article titled “Facebook has limited future in e-commerce”.
The basis of the piece was more of a news-feature than opinion, founded around a piece of research from Shoppercentric. I really feel that the conclusions that have been drawn seem to be fairly short-sighted.
It’s like watching a replay of where the online industry was ten years ago: optimistic, exciting and full of potential. So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that I have a few issues with the findings of the report.
My first point is that although a thousand consumers were assessed, it’s UK-based. This is a horribly important fact that seems to have been somewhat overlooked.
Looking at Facebook’s overall demographics, the US user-base is more than five times greater than the UK. It’s a matter of size and scale and, as a general rule, this is why the USA is, more often than not, the canary in the coal mine for the digital industry. When it comes to f-commerce, this is no exception.
Here’s some killer examples of brands selling on Facebook. They range across FMCG and travel, to fashion and luxury goods.
Make a mental note how many of them are based in the States.
See my point? Pretty much all of them are USA access-only, likely because with a larger captive audience, there’s more room for brands to experiment in order to find out what works: An important part of retailing, online and offline.
So, moving this back across the pond, to the UK. We all heard the news a few weeks ago that ASOS and French Connection are upping their f-commerce activities and it’s more than likely that this will set the benchmark for a lot of retailers in the fashion sector. And that’s just one industry.
As in the examples I’ve given, most things can be sold online. Facebook is just a platform extension to e-commerce, limited only by their internal regulations for commercial brands.
Looking forward, the news that Facebook is scrapping FBML in a few weeks time, to replace it with iFrames means that the floodgates will be opened to online retailers.
This move to iFrames means three key things for commercial Facebook pages: Better design, better tracking and better selling functionality.
I won’t dwell on this too much, but the flexibility that this will bring could launch f-commerce into another level over the next twelve months or so.
Secure transactions using the likes of PayPal or VBV are likely to emerge onsite, along with the ability of e-commerce merchants to integrate and display their entire online stock inside Facebook to an even more customised degree.
Along these lines, I was surprised by Shoppercentric’s comment that
“If Facebook starts to overlap too much with commerce web sites, it raises the question, why do you have the two touch points?"
If anything so far, best practice e-commerce has taught us that if you have the resources to extend to different touch points, then do it. It’s not either/or. It’s about enabling consumers to have the choice to shop where they choose.
As a wider concept, think about Facebook Places Deals. Again, this was initially launched in the USA and then rolled out to the UK, plus a few other select countries. Although it’s not strictly f-commerce, it’s arguably on the edge of it. The UK retailers currently involved in rewarding consumers with physical products and monetary discounts include Argos, Debenhams, Starbucks and O2.
A fundamental trait of social media is allowing consumers to increasingly find themselves empowered in how, where and when they engage with commercial businesses. Again, I’ll return to the point that Facebook can act as an extension of this.
The findings of the research are accurate in that social media is currently performing poorly as a commerce channel with 63% of consumers/shoppers visiting a retailers website to make a purchase, compared with just 6% through social media.
But this isn’t particularly new or revealing. Econsultancy’s own consumer reports demonstrate similar findings. A major barrier that’s seen across the online industry is the slow rate of consumer adoption and these figures are just a reflection of that.
We’ve seen it with the birth and growth of static e-commerce and mobile-commerce, the latter of which is still very much in its infancy, but now becoming widely-used, predicted to be worth some £275m of online retail spend in the UK alone.
Another barrier to f-commerce is Facebook itself, with various issues of usability, security and privacy. But as an online presence, it’s not going away anytime soon and is consciously trying to address these issues, as evidenced by the shift away from FBML.
By streamlining and optimising itself, the cyclical process of consumer engagement and brand presence with be strengthened, allowing Facebook to continue evolving into a powerful platform that can span different functions for both users and businesses.
To say Facebook has limited future in e-commerce is far from the truth. In reality, the future is likely to be limitless.
[Image credit: bb_matt]