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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.

Patricio Robles

Published 30 July, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Daniel Prager

Definitely think that storefronts will become common on facebook. As long as facebook develops them in a way that is interesting and interactive I think users will respond.

There are so many possibilites for retailers to take advantage of what facebook has to offer, and the social graph as Patricio aptly points out.

Imagine if retailers would get interactive with fb users. Now that would be worth talking about.

over 7 years ago

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craigm

If Facebook was a company that was a bit more grounded in the realities of commerce and not away with the $15B valuation fairies, then this is something they should have been all over for sometime themselves as part of the core of their offering.

Obviously there are about a million disadvantages to doing this from a retailer perspective, but the universal adoption of adwords and price comparison sites show that the average retailer's fear is being left behind by their "competitors" even if it puts another cost barrier between them and their customers.

Anyway (and this probably shows my still stuck-at-Web-1.0 credentials), if I was the dude running Facebook I'd have already introduced shopfronts (and be devoting huge efforts to making a social shopping model what people come to expect from online retail) and by now would be working on a challenger to Payal  to get revenue from the whole process.  Heck I'd have probably gone all gung ho and charged after eBay as well by now as well since they have utterly lost the plot and surely there is some depth to be added to the online auction model by introducing social graphing.

I'd have had none of this pretending that revenues don't matter so we'll just fanny around with text and small image ads that are the least compelling things to click on in the world.

Of course, my approach would have turned the whole shebang into a corporate monster and all the cool kids would probably have "macbooked" off to something else by now.  My P&L would probably be looking better though (at least in the short term)...

over 7 years ago

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anonymous

Is there a connection between this story and your account of BlogHer? Perhaps what Facebook realises is that if it lets ecommerce in beyond Pages that might change its  character and turn it into another site where you are sold to and that will kill the community. Is this why MySpace has failed? Impartial space where people can meet and not be sold to is the most valuable space on the internet. A magazine would never sell if it was all advertising. People buy magazines for the bits that are not advertising. Facebook is the bits inbetween the ads and it needs to think very carefully about the business model it adopts. I don't think Twitter has done this at all. It is over run with ads.Keep thinkng about it though.

over 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Totally agree Craigm, this is a no-brainer. Retailers have for years dabbled with alternative sales channels online like Amazon Marketplace, eBay and Price Comparison sites. Social networks leveraging their audience base makes perfect sense.

I think this is comparable to the affiliate marketplace - the objective is to extend your brand reach into niche communities that are served by specific web owners. As a retailer, no matter how large you might be, there are always pockets of customers you can't reach online. 

I know that some people will throw up the canibalisation of sales argument but customers really don't care about your commercial model, they care about convenience and service. If opening a store within your Facebook business page improves convenience to 1% of your audience and as a result they a) start shopping or b) shop more frequently and spend more then there could well be a viable business model in this.

I would be interested to learn more about Facebook's charging structure behind the shop - can either of you shed light on this?

Thanks

james

over 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

anonymous,

I don't think so. There's a huge difference between 'paying' bloggers for their supposed influence and having a little tab on a Facebook Page that enables interested users to make a purchase without leaving Facebook.

In fact, this intrudes far less on the user experience than advertising, 'word-of-mouth' marketing, etc. because it's up front. Here's what we're selling, feel free to buy. Not interested in buying? Nobody's forcing you to click on the 'Shop' tab.

over 7 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

I cannot agree with anyone :)

This excitement and "strategy" is misguided and illogical.  Yes -- it DOES cost real money to experiment like this.  No -- MOST marketers CANNOT afford to fail using social media in a down economy.  Yet bloggers, trade media and "experts" would have us believe this is bold and innovative.  Jim McCann and his otherwise brilliant team are busy taking the social media hype-and-spin bait and failing to innovate. This use of Facebook is a gratuitous one. It's on a fast-track to nowhere.  Facebook is NOT the e-commerce Holy Grail.  No, not yet.

If I had a nickel for every time someone said

"There are so many possibilites for retailers to take advantage of what facebook has to offer, and the social graph as Patricio aptly points out."

... and a dime for every time those possibilities turned out to be non-existant I'd be a very wealthy man.  No offense intended, Daniel.

The investment in a pop-up storefront on Facebook is a new idea?  Nope, it's a seriously old one.  ePods, Affinia!, Nexchange, iMediation and a list of about a dozen other failed companies tried this and failed in the early 1990's.  Nearly ever major publisher has tried to set up mini-storefronts using simple (affiliate marketing) to complex (drop-shipping) tech tools that link up sellers and publishers.  Fail. Fail. Fail. 

"Facebook is redefining the social Web, a cultural and social phenomenon that has changed the way we connect with one another," says CEO Jim McCann as he whips the 'social media' hype engine into overdrive -- blowing by rational thought.

How can we take anything this guys says as serious or anything Flowers does as serious let alone remarkable?

1) Facebook cannot re-define the social Web.  Facebook isn't doing anything that others aren't doing -- it just has more mass. 

2) The social Web isn't a cultural or social phenomenon that's changed the way we connect with one another.  The social Web merely makes what we've done for generations easier, faster and boarderless.

Sorry guys and gals but I strongly disagree.

over 7 years ago

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anonymous

You're right Patricio, it is a lot less offensive.

over 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Jeff,

Always good to get an opposing point of view to increase the scope of the debate but I don't agree with some of the points you make. As with any marketing channel, there are good and bad examples, success and failure, intelligence and laziness. 

I don't believe that Facebook is redefining the social web, I don't think anything redefines the social web. That misses the point. The social web by its very nature is in a constant state of evolution. Facebook is one part of that, albeit with a large enough audience to offer the potential for significant commercial impact. Consumers demand choice - offering a Facebook shop is simply an additional opportunity to capture consumer interested, recognising that not everybody shops via traditional online channels. It is not a revolution but it is innovative - a facet of innovation is doing something new and I am not aware of other brands operating Facebook shop fronts? However, if you have other examples please do share.

Brands do benefit from social presence, both in regards to customer communication & engagement, as well as financially. Yes the ROI model is hard to accurately measure and I would argue that is not the reason to be indulging in social media anyway. However, it can work. I know people who are using social media effectively to drive website traffic and sales because they offer a relevant service to their audience. In that respect social is no different to traditional channels.

And I also disagree with your point that social media has not changed the way we connect. It has. People are engaging in more frequent conversation (and on a micro level) with people they do not know and networking more effectively than ever before because the online tools are available. The value of information has also increased - I am talking from direct experience in relation to my use of social networking for business purposes. I never used to connect with people in this manner so frequently.

The desire to communicate and act of connecting have of course always been present but social media I believe is helping to drive and shape demand.

thanks

james

over 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Suchinwebs please don't post if you have nothing relevant to say about this discussion. This is not a forum to push your website and services, that is called spamming.

over 7 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Consumers demand choice - offering a Facebook shop is simply an additional opportunity to capture consumer...

Hi, James.  Well you say you don't agree then you seem to agree with me in your 2nd paragraph :).  As for your statement above -- this is precisely my point.  In the "real world" we don't make investments without having sound reasoning laid out (ie. demand).  I'm simply saying that what you offer up as reasoning is a very popular one -- a bit of a "why not?" which is nearly always quickly followed by "it costs almost nothing."

It absolutely costs real, hard-earned dollars to experiment with social media.  Time is money.  Add up the costs of all that time we’re spending experimenting on social media pet projects that are designed to fail -- those justified with "why not?"


Many also argue, “But Jeff, there are countless examples of successful companies that have used college interns or inexperienced talent to net REAL results on Twitter and Facebook.”

Aside from how most marketers seem happy to put completely in-experienced (typically younger, so they "get it" -- another myth) people on the project... how do many marketers define success? 

How many times have you heard a marketer re-define a failure as "branding"?

 “This campaign didn’t achieve the sales/sales lead goal but it was a BRANDING success.”

Oy!  I can hear the echos.

When marketers’ campaigns fail to actually create tangible business outcomes we often fall back on that comfy space — “branding.”  Somehow marketers get away with this re-setting of the goal-post (for decades now) but research indicates that this won’t last much longer — not in this tough economy.


Brands do benefit from social presence, both in regards to customer communication & engagement, as well as financially. Yes the ROI model is hard to accurately measure and I would argue that is not the reason to be indulging in social media anyway. However, it can work.

So you say they can benefit... then you admit you can't measure it... and defend it again.  Ok but this too seems to be a pattern among many.

I know people who are using social media effectively to drive website traffic and sales because they offer a relevant service to their audience. In that respect social is no different to traditional channels.

Right -- precisely my point.  They measure it quantitatively -- just as in mass media.  They under-utilize the infinately measurable digital channel by defaulting to using it as they would broadcast / traditional media!  This you admit so you too realize how weak this is.  We agree but I've turned in my badge :)

And I also disagree with your point that social media has not changed the way we connect. It has. People are engaging in more frequent conversation (and on a micro level) with people they do not know and networking more effectively than ever before because the online tools are available.

I'll give you that the way we connect has channged and on that point I've not taken the time to make my point correctly.  That is,

"The social Web merely makes what we've done for generations easier, faster and boarderless."

Which seems to be precisely your point.  What's the difference?  Again, I was not clear.  My point is that books are being written called "The Age of Conversation" when we've been living in that age for generations if not since the beginning of human civilization.  It's a road to more snake oil sales among self-appointed "social media experts" that I reject.  Nothing about the nature of how we communicate has changed -- just the means.  Is that remarkable?  Absolutely but "social media" isn't the second coming of Christ!  Let's get a grip.

I just find Mr. McCann's words to be far too hyperbolic for these difficult economic times.

over 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Jeff,

I think you choose to twist my words a little! I personally believe that having ROI as the only criterion for success is missing a big opportunity with social media. However, that does not preclude financial measurement and nor should it.

I am not advocating blowing money in the wind and you should track investment as far as possible but it is not possible to accurately track the full financial contribution of social media, simply because content moves between online & offline channels so quickly that tracking can never be guaranteed. To give an example, I bookmarked a cool retro toy to my Facebook profile (space hopper!), when I hooked up with my mates we talked about how much fun space hoppers used to be and how we should get one again. I turned up 1 week later to a party and my mate handed me a space hopper as a gift. Now, my social activity led to that sale but there is no means of tracking it because my mate acted independently to the original bookmark and paid online. That is why social media can't be measured on ROI alone, you only get part of the picture.

How can the financial impact of social activity be part-measured? In the same way any online marketing is, with tracking codes and analytics. Just because the media is more pervasive does not stop good practise techniques being applied. I monitor all my Twitter activity using unique tracking codes aligned back to Google Analytics campaigns and goals for the e-inbusiness website. I know how many (direct) clicks different types of conversation generate. I know if that leads to a conversion (whatever we define a conversion to be - download white paper, register for email etc). As with the above example, this will never accurately track 100% of the impact of my tweets but it does provide a level of visibility upon which to base future decisions. Is it fool proof? No. Many traditional marketing campaigns do not have foolproof tracking unless people have invested in advanced analytics - how many people make PPC decisions based on only a partial view of contribution because they fail to associate sales that have the final click attributed to other channels such as email.

As I said in my original post, I disagree with some of your comments, not all. I think you hit the nail on the head re hyperbole - that is the obsession of marketers, always has been, always will be. The focus is on talking about the opportunity rather than realising it. Just look at the love of keywords like "Web2.0" and now my favourite "Augmented Reality". However, when you look past the hype and self-interest, what you see is a really exciting engagement model where people can share information freely and interact with others where and when they want. The challenge is for brand marketers to understand how to leverage this communication and switch from a push mentality to one where they nurture conversation and allow nature to take its course, with gentle and positive encouragement for the community around them:)

So back to the original post - I think 1-800 Flowers move is interesting and innovative, I stand by my assertion. Sometimes you have to take the plunge and invest in something that could fail, provided you have built a sound business case for testing in the first place. Commercial sense doesn't have to be sacrificed to embrace social media.

I've enjoyed your comments and the discussion.

Thanks

james

over 7 years ago

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temperature controller

It's an interesting way to retail

about 7 years ago

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flowers london

I think I have to get it for my business , it looks nice on facebook.

almost 6 years ago

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