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Some have questioned the effectiveness of Facebook as a commerce platform, but can you dismiss an ad and marketing channel with 800+ million users?

Here are some tips for increasing the opportunities for commerce on Facebook.

Recently, Bloomberg published an article about several retailers, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, Gap and Gamestop, who all closed their Facebook stores in 2011.

As a consultant implementing s-commerce (Social Commerce) solutions for my clients, I am writing to let you know that Facebook commerce (f-commerce) is alive and well and customers are making money selling products and services via Facebook. 

I can’t speak about the f-commerce implementations of the aforementioned companies, only from my own experience.

For one company, Grassroots Festival, we created a Facebook store to sell discounted tickets on the festival’s Facebook fan page.

The Facebook store generated a 4.1% clickthrough rate, resulted in a significant ROI and also cut-out the middle men in terms of ticket sales, who require substantial commission. 

Justin Thorne Facebook campaign for Grassroots

We have also seen considerable success with smaller clients who do not currently sell their products online. The success of their s-commerce efforts has prompted them to commercialize their businesses online with e-commerce functionality on their websites.

For larger online retailers, unless they are offering specific incentives for their Facebook Fans to purchase from their Facebook stores, why would a consumer purchase something anywhere other than their website?

It is even more effective to find a specific niche or focus on clearance lines, rather than replicate your entire inventory in a Facebook store.

We have many hotel clients who have seen considerable volume in their Facebook stores specifically for gift vouchers, a growing category in the hospitality sector. Their websites are not usually geared up for anything other than booking rooms, and even then, they usually use a third party booking engine rather than managing their own functionality.

Again, commission is usually pretty high and with third party voucher sites, very high. Facebook is an excellent solution to reach potential customers and loyal customers looking to purchase a gift card for friends, family and loved ones. 

Like the first e-commerce websites from the 1990s, just because you build a Facebook Storefront to sell products and services, it does not mean that your prospect customers will find your store.

Facebook storefronts need to be optimised for the Facebook experience. In fact, the real investment for companies looking to create a Facebook storefront is not from the cost of building the store – you can use an off-the-shelf Facebook storefront.

The real cost comes from building a Facebook-friendly community and engaging your fan base. It must be a win-win relationship - Facebook users are much more comfortable un-liking pages if there is nothing in it for them.

Again, simply replicating your inventory in a Facebook store will not win you sales. You either have to be providing exclusive content or exclusive pricing to win the conversion. This can be utilised very effectively to grow your community.

Creating a Facebook community starts by understanding that the traditional 'retailer - customer' relationship, as it exists in brick and mortar stores and even e-commerce stores, is very different on Facebook.

Social networks were created for connecting and sharing, therefore the relationship between the retailer and the customer on Facebook must take this into consideration.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t sell on Facebook, it just means that it has to be an 'exclusive' sale, i.e. you won't find this price on our website or in our Amazon store.

So how can an online retailer build a Facebook community to support their store? 

It’s Facebook

If customers wanted to buy from your website, they would have typed your website address straight into their browser or searched for specific products in their search engine. Shoppers who choose to shop via Facebook do so because they want to be on Facebook and often are simply fulfilling their online social needs and are not even looking for products... they find them because great deals have been shared by their friends and connections.

If retailers want to succeed, they need to respect that consumers are in a very different mindset when socializing as opposed to searching or browsing retailer sites. The look, feel and experience must fit seamlessly with the Facebook interface, ethos and netiquette.

Success in s-commerce will come to companies who integrate their brands with Facebook instead of treating Facebook as simply an extension of their existing e-commerce identity and process.

Provide Facebook-fan page only specials

With all likelihood, people ‘Liked’ your fan page in order to get something – a discount, a special offer, new products or content early.

Make sure you respect this by repaying their ‘Like’ with an incentive and keep doing so for the ongoing relationship. That’s what s-commerce is all about.

For example, luxury flash-sale site Gilt Groupe has been offering exclusive sales to Facebook fans. This gives people a real reason to use the brand's Facebook store. 

Give Facebook fans a reason to return

You’ve run a Facebook-only promotion which generates lots of Likes and sales? Great. Now follow it up. You need to provide your Facebook fans with continuous and steady stream of content which will provide reasons to return to your Facebook page and store.

Nothing hurts your social media efforts more than when you’re most recent post on your Facebook fan page is more than 10 weeks old. That’s not being social. You also have to remember that the more a Fan interacts with your page, the more likely that your future updates will appear in their news streams.

Remember, Facebook recently highlighted the concept of Edge Rank and that even very popular pages are only communicating with circa 20% of their followers via their wall. 

Offer content which is of value to users on you Facebook fan page 

If you’re selling word processors or widgets, offer content which provides value to your fans without selling them anything.

Beyond Facebook fan-page specials, provide new and seasonal information about your products, processes, history and industry news.

A broad rule of thumb for social media communications is that sales-related posts should represent no more than 20% of your messaging. Otherwise you run the risk of annoying your fans. 

Don’t treat Facebook fans like your personal sales force 

An easy trap to fall into is offering Facebook fans additional discounts for referring their friends who are converted into Facebook fans. Similar tactics have been effective for companies like Amway, but most customers will be turned off by a campaign like this. 

With Facebook’s 800+ million users identifying their interests and affinities, the social network offers the greatest potential for ad targeting on the internet.

We’re still early in the f-commerce life cycle and we have not yet refined ad targeting and other social marketing opportunities that are possible via Facebook, including daily deals, flash sales and other shopping activities that benefit from a group / social environment. 

It is very easy to write off Facebook stores but we have to remember that Facebook users are still learning how to use the platform, especially as Facebook is constantly evolving both from a user perspective and as a marketing channel.

E-commerce was written off initially, as 'experts' believed that the majority of consumers would never feel comfortable sharing their credit card details over the internet. Look how that worked out!

We are probably still in the early adopters and innovators stage of f-commerce's life cycle, i.e. it may take some time before the vast majority adopt the technology and culture shift required to feel comfortable buying products within Facebook, but I am absolutely convinced that it will become mainstream very quickly.

Like all things, it is great being first, but setting up a presence is not all that is required to succeed; you must have a strategy, you must understand your target market and you must provide them with compelling offers that differentiate you from your competitors.

I look forward to writing about the large retailers returning to f-commerce and how they are tackling it differently.  

Justin Thorne

Published 27 March, 2012 by Justin Thorne

Justin Thorne is Digital Marketing Director at Blank Page and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

1 more post from this author

Comments (12)

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Simon McDowell, Head of Digital Marketing at River Film Communication

Some valid points - but it's out of date. Facebook timeline for brand pages has completely changed the f-commerce dynamic. Brands can no longer serve "Like-gate" landing pages as the Gilt screenshot suggests (Gilt moved to the new timeline yesterday) it seems the multi-paged brand pages we're used to is going to be replaced with an all-serving single paged timeline. I'd be interested to see how retailers plan to respond to the new Facebook environment...

over 4 years ago

Justin Thorne

Justin Thorne, Marketing Director EMEA at Kenshoo

It is still possible to build reveal (like to see content) pages and apps, in fact with the new width limit the opportunities are even greater for brands to roll out communications and promotions. I don't think there will be a single paged timeline approach at all, brands will still use apps and iFrames to engage with customers. The Timeline is just an aesthetically pleasing wall and I think brands will simply use it to drive fans to deeper content. I agree we can't default the landing page for new visitors anymore but I don't think that helped with existing customer engagement anyway. I am in the process of building apps, including reveal pages for a number of clients with Timelines. We've had to tweak the approach, scrap a welcome page per se - although if you look at Coca-Cola's official Timeline, they still provide a welcome landing page.

over 4 years ago


Damon Eastwood, Director at Switch Apps

You mention off the shelf storefront products, are you referring to Payvment? Surely the danger is that all stores start looking the same, is that not why the larger brands developed their own store platforms and sunk so much budget?

over 4 years ago



This may be older news than you think. Habbo generated 20 million Dollars from F-commerce by honing in on the right form they could utilise on Facebook. Yes Habbo is a game but they realised fast that successful F-commerce is about access to self-expression.

All it takes is one very large festival here in the UK and all the sponsers and festival goers get immediately enrolled into the platforms (payvment is awesome) F-Commerce will bring (Facebook - sponser a festival to do this!).

The only trouble with Facebook Commerce will be speed and security. Let the big brand emmigration begin!

over 4 years ago

Justin Thorne

Justin Thorne, Marketing Director EMEA at Kenshoo

I can totally understand why larger retailers want to control every aspect of their store, particularly from a branding perspective. I also think that is one reason why some haven't been very successful. You're in Facebook world now and stepping outside of brand guidelines is difficult for marketers, especially with a central brand team, compliance and other stakeholders involved in the sign-off process. I can't comment on the associated budgets of the larger brands, but assume they iFramed their eCommerce platforms so the fulfillment and payment processes fully integrated. I am sure it wasn't cheap but understand the decision.

I wasn't referring specifically to Payvment but I have used the platform for some of my personal projects (books and CDs). It is free, which is nice, but the functionality and customization is limited.

For clients I tend to use Zibaba Shops, a paid for solution that is scale-able in terms of products and you can control some brand elements. In terms of F-Commerce, I think some uniform navigation and look and feel (i.e. integrating with the feel of Facebook itself) is a good thing for the consumer. The upside - clients can build their store and products very quickly and start selling. The downside - out of comfort zone and disconnect from standard processes.

Buy hey, as I said, we are in Facebook world now, which means we need to look at adapting our standard ways of doing things. If we are open to asking the question, 'How do our clients want to engage with us?' and Facebook is one of the answers, we need to adapt, right?

over 4 years ago


Mia Perry

There are a lot of great F-commerce solutions out there such as: StoreYa.com which provides you with 100% brand customization!
BTW, we serve thousands of merchants on a daily basis, and a lot of them are getting amazing ROI using Facebook shops. It's all about the right solution and the right engagement.

over 4 years ago



Question for Justin and anyone interested:

Do you think complex large volume retailers will pore their whole product archive into single constrained F-Commerce window/page?

Does integration of F-Commerce onto the retailer's site make more sense e.g. a FB wallet.

over 4 years ago



Justin- Thank you for listing some options for f-commerce payment gateways. I've done a lot of research but its nice to hear of platforms you've used before. Again, much appreciated!

over 4 years ago

Justin Thorne

Justin Thorne, Marketing Director EMEA at Kenshoo


I think the key is pricing strategy. Some of the retailers tried feeding their entire product range into a Facebook store and it wasn't a great experience for consumers, especially with the 510 width restriction.

Like I said in my blog post, why would I shop in Facebook if I can get the same price from the retailer's website - with better navigation and search functionality. Much better to be selective and pick products that can be priced specifically for the Facebook channel.

Pricing really is key, but it is a complex decision. A retailer may be setting prices on their website to be competitive but are also viewing a sale to a new customer in terms of the lifetime value of that customer (repeat purchase opportunity) rather than the single transaction. A lower margin in exchange for a registered customer is a transaction we understand and are comfortable with. On Facebook, we are trying to win fans and keep existing fans happy with deals but we are not capturing their details - and may not communicate with all of our followers when we update our Timelines.

Of course we understand the reciprocity opportunities with the social layer so we should be able to price accordingly.

I love your idea of large retailer sites rewarding their Facebook followers during their shopping experience on their websites, i.e. the site can tell when a customer is following them on Facebook and can price accordingly and perhaps allow payment via an FB wallet or FB Credits. However, I think you need to do both, when someone is in Facebook mode, they want to socialize and stay connected.

Facebook will never replace our websites, but it is our home in the social layer (a phrase Brian Solis coined so well).

over 4 years ago

Justin Thorne

Justin Thorne, Marketing Director EMEA at Kenshoo

My pleasure, Beth. If anyone has implemented F-Commerce for clients or their own brands it would be interesting to hear from you what worked and what did not. We know some large volume retailers have pulled their stores and we know that Facebook has been effective for smaller, niche brands but what about businesses in-between? Has anyone purchased products in Facebook?

I was fascinated when Warner Brothers allowed Facebook users to watch the Dark Knight in Facebook (users bought the movie using Facebook credits) but I haven't seen any figures on the take-up. I also loved Pizza Hut's Facebook App that allowed users to order and pay for pizza delivery. Were these just gimmicks? Anyone seen anything else interesting in terms of transactions in FB?

over 4 years ago


Mark Paterson

Great article Justin, you raise some good points with regards to f-commerce and doing it the 'right way'. The reality is, you cannot just replicate your traditional store with a facebook frame around it and expect customers to flock in their droves (which some have tried and failed), the customer needs to get value from making a purchase through fb. In my opinion personalisation of content is another way in which value can be given , let's give potential customers products and services that are relevant to them rather than just another bunch of merchandised products. This when combined with exclusive offers and other engagement applications will result in f-commerce truly growing from its embryonic state.

over 4 years ago

Justin Thorne

Justin Thorne, Marketing Director EMEA at Kenshoo

Hi Mark, excellent points.

It's a very similar problem we all faced with our websites 5 years ago... without getting into Wayne's World 2 or Field of Dreams, the answer to 'If we build it, will they come?' is definitely No... and consumers' expectation of what is in it for them only ever increases.

I was having a chat yesterday with a platform provider that enables FB Store Owners to feed a unique set of products to FB users based on the user's likes, interests and demographics, providing a highly targeted shopping experience for each user... that sounds interesting! Couple that with a pricing strategy purely for Facebook and we may be onto something.

over 4 years ago

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