How F-Commerce Failed Retailers

From the instant that brand pages were launched on Facebook, savvy online retailers have had a single question: Can we monetize the site? Can we take our products and sell them directly on our page? As jewelry retailers and national brands determine their online selling strategies and dedicate time and resources to those efforts, it’s only logical that they would ask themselves these very questions.

A recent Bloomberg article may have given us our answer: No, it does not appear that selling on Facebook—or F-commerce, as it is commonly known—is the future of online retail. Over the past year, we have seen major retailers, including J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, Gamestop, and the Gap, invest heavily in and then quietly eliminate their F-commerce offerings.

Marketers once thought Facebook—the modern-day equivalent of a digital mall—was the logical destination for online shopping. Now, it seems like ­“trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar,” as Forrester Research’s ­Sucharita Mulpuru told Bloomberg.

As entry barriers for F-­commerce drop, it may still be tempting to go this direction (despite many brands’ recent struggles). It’s easy and affordable to create Facebook stores; sites like Payvment allow you to handle your entire e-commerce experience through Facebook; and services like Storefront Social will drive traffic directly to your own website or third-party resellers such as Amazon or eBay.

In theory, F-commerce is a great idea. It adds a focused shopping experience to your Facebook page and it can help rationalize all the time and resources you are committing to social media. In practice, however, it’s often proved to be a waste of time. Here are two reasons why:

People visit your Facebook page only once. Consider your own Facebook usage. How often do you visit brand pages? You interact with brand messages daily on Facebook. But if you’re like most users, you visit the page once, “like” it, and follow the company’s posts alongside those of friends, colleagues, and other brands. Occasionally something might pique your interest and you click through, but for the most part you never go back to that page.

People visit social media sites to socialize. Unless you are a heavy user of social gaming, you go to see what friends are up to, find out what’s going on with colleagues, or find deals from your favorite brands. Our Facebook mindset is centered on socializing—not shopping. Compare that to the emails many of us receive from, say, Rue La La and Gilt. When you visit those sites, you’re there to shop and only to shop. The same simply isn’t true on Facebook.

Facebook fans don’t necessarily spend time (or money) in a store’s F shop.

It seems obvious F-commerce isn’t the online selling solution brands have been looking for. Yet it doesn’t mean your Facebook page can’t yield sales. Of Gamestop’s exit from F-commerce, VP of marketing and strategy Ashley Sheets told Bloomberg: “For us, it’s been a way we communicate with customers on deals, not a place to sell.” The same will likely prove true for ­jewelers going forward. While you always want to be careful with how many deals you send via Facebook, the occasional tactical offer can go a long way.

Facebook is an ideal way to feature products or take things to the next level with promotions on your page. Michael Agnello of Michael Agnello Jewelers in St. Clair Shores, Mich., has had tremendous success with his Deals of the Week. By leveraging Constant Contact (his email provider), he designs one exceptional deal per week that’s shared on Facebook and emailed to subscribers. The offer can only be purchased by calling the store—and it has proved to be the perfect mix of online experience and in-store commerce.

For those channeling loads of time and effort into drumming up Facebook sales, don’t despair. Just because Facebook isn’t shaping up to be the future of online retail doesn’t mean it won’t play a part in driving customers to shop on your site and in your store. It only means that, like most online marketing, it’s going to require a bit more work than adding a “buy” button.

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