F-Commerce: Facebook or Farce?
Facebook-commerce expectations are out of sync with most brands and the market’s capabilities. This leads to controversial debate where some commentators see enormous growth opportunities others see huge effort for no return.
In fact, the problem is in the evolution of communication within the medium shops on Facebook only work as part of a social media strategy.
Most brands or organisations are not sufficiently evolved in their social communication to make them work and most consumers have experienced enough good communication to expect to find easy-to-use f-commerce on Facebook.
Thus F-commerce has become a controversial topic. Expectations and reality do not fit together and protagonists blame the medium not the messages. Consultants Booz & Company predict global social commerce sales will be 30 billion dollars in 2015. But in fact, retail giants like the Gap clothing company, or the department store chain JC Penny and Nordstrom have closed their Facebook shops. A recent study by W3B suggests that only two percent of Facebook users have – purchased through the social network.
“Is f-commerce already dead?” Is the hype is already over before it’s really started? On the contrary – it is part of the process to eliminate social commerce’s “teething problems”. The failure in fact is caused by misunderstandings and it is in part, a structural communication problem:
1. EXPECTATIONS OF FANS versus CLAIMS OF COMPANIES
While the social media marketing manager dreams of loyal customers who suck up eagerly any new product and enthusiastically pass it on to 140 friends, the fan actually is only on Facebook, for a virtual beer with his buddies or to share and compare cats or holiday photos.
It should not be surprise that the current responses are limited to “quick wins”; the fan is interested in such as deals and iPad sweepstakes. But many brands can be successful if they enter a genuine two-way conversation with their fans.
2. COMMERCE versus CULTURE
Sticking to the popular image, Facebook is a bar, and – people do not want a sales pitch in a bar. When was the last time you heard of a bank representatives who rocked up in the local nightlife scene to offer their financial products? Even a good friend would be defriended if they pushed their own projects or purchases too often, or even worse, used affiliate links to earn five to seven percent commission by selling to a ‘friend’.
On the other hand business and deals are done in bars. It’s just a different type of communication and sell. Not a hard sell but gaining trust, comparison of needs and benefits and a more relaxed way to do business. Recommendations in the bar, or on Facebook, tend to be initiated by the buyer not the seller. It starts with, “I like you‘re t-shirt, where did you get it?”. Interested buyers tend to be prompted by other customers in the bar, and find themselves talking to advocates. Therefore brands need to provide their customers with something they want to be seen with, something they have had a hand in creating. Turn them into brand champions and enable the comverstiaon to start.
3. THEORY versus PAYMENT PRACTICE
In the end it’s all about money. But: Facebook credits are good so far, perhaps for virtual goods and micro-payment. But does the average consumer want another currency? As someone who does business in France, Germany, UK and US I already have three. Most consumers do not want more than one. Other checkouts are not integrated to Facebook registration and so further logins are necessary, delivery and payment info need to be inserted again. This a conversion killer that leaves the consumer better of going out of Facebook to shop.
WHAT IS THERE AT THE END?
You might be discouraged at this point and stop reading – but hang on and stay tuned. The conditions are right for f-commerce:
- a) Facebook still has a very high, loyal and active user base. If you have customers it is very likely that your customers are there. It is also possible that they react to pure advertisement differently than to real content.
- b) More and more people are now buying from the living room (and soon probably also from the bar). For many of them Facebook will be the first place, or one of the most important starting points.
- c) And, yes, many people talk about brands, recommend products, share shopping experiences on Facebook.
- d) Some brands are doing well on Facebook but they have adapted to the environment and offer products that fit with two-way communication.
- e) Communication is the key. Every medium from newspapers to TV and from websites to social media has had to develop the right communication styles. If you look at a 1950s advert it looks very naive compared to modern advertising or sales language, but this is because language has evolved. In reality marketers and commerce companies have had only a couple of years to develop the right communications and products.
When F-commerce works in practice, it is due to the relevance of the product and communication to the user’s current interest. F-commerce is more than the pure sale: The point is to activate fans, include them and create a presence on Facebook through their news stream. Store offers and news stream have to be combined editorially.
To do this properly brands need ever-changing products and communication to maintain relevance. We have several examples of success with f-commerce because our products are created on demand when the customer orders them, therefore brands can play with different ideas every time there is a need to update or refresh the site.
F-commerce functions according to the laws of Facebook users, not to those of traditional stores. Just being there is not enough. You need a lot of staying power, relevant good ideas and to develop the right language. It is all about the fast, action-oriented relevant sales.
People like to talk about brands, and especially about what they bought. Anyone who wants to take advantage of this must say goodbye to the traditional sales ideas and instead come up with new ways to inspire and activate fans.
Philip Rooke, CEO of clothing-commerce platform, Spreadshirt.