Social commerce – it's a buzzword that many small business owners will have heard. Selling goods and services via the burgeoning social networks could be the next big commercial space for all businesses, no matter what their size. A new study from Deloitte estimates that the Facebook economy could be worth £12.7 billion at the moment with that figure set to rocket over the coming years.
All businesses should have a presence on Facebook, but moving from a brand awareness exercise to selling your company's goods or services is the next logical step. The National Retail Foundation in the US recently found that over half of Facebook users have clicked through to a retailers website, with nearly a quarter having made an actual purchase from within Facebook.
F-commerce looks likely to be a retail space that all businesses will need to be a part of, as their customer bases will simply expect this in a world were integrated retailing becomes the norm.
Nathalie Gaveau, founder and CEO of Shopcade says: "The difference that we are starting to see now is that consumers are shaping the future of retail in ways never seen before. The adoption of social media now means that consumers are more recommendation hungry than ever before – and when you combine this with technical advancements and the modern need of instant gratification, there's little doubt that social shopping will be a huge part of our futures."
With Eugene Kaznacheev, product manager at shopping cart software company Ecwid also commenting: "The most important consideration for any individual or brand considering selling on Facebook is to engage with customers. Facebook is a communication platform, and it is a huge turn-off for customers if a page is transformed into a list of links to products. Merchants should build a community around their items first and foremost, and then offer customers a convenient way to purchase them."
Commercial Facebook apps
There are a number of ways to add a commercial component to your business' Facebook page. Since the introduction of the Timeline, the layout of Facebook pages has become much clearer, which lends itself to F-commerce as your business can more easily showcase the goods or services it has for sale.
The current leading F-commerce applications include:
All of these platforms offer either free or low cost start-ups that can give your business a chance to test F-commerce for itself. The key is to look closely at the features that each platforms offers and more importantly, at their limitations before making your choice.
Apps are now available that either link your Facebook profile directly to your store, or they can pull products in from either eBay via Facebook's ebay items or Etsy's Theme Shop to create a standalone store on your Facebook page.
First steps to F-commerce
With the rush to tap into the millions of potential customers using Facebook every day, bear these points in mind when developing F-commerce for your business:
- Facebook is still a social space and should not be treated as just another marketing exercise.
- Interaction with customers is vital to maintain your business' social credentials. Don't let your business become just another faceless retailer.
- Remember that Facebook users talk to each other. The power of the shopper has never been greater, so treat them with respect or your business could suffer the commercial consequences.
- Integrate Facebook into your enterprises other activities. Today, retailing is all about delivering a seamless experience for the consumer.
Julia Priddle, head of key account management EMEA, at ChannelAdvisor advises: "The key to selling on Facebook is to engage and socialise with customers by offering promotions, giveaways, flash sales and even customer support, all of which are only available to your Facebook fans. It is also very important to keep your content as fresh as possible, just as you would with your website. The most successful retailers have been those who regularly update the products on their page and, more importantly, the discussion topics on their pages. New competitions are a great way of engaging fans."
What is vital to understand is that Facebook is not the goose that laid the golden egg when it comes to the next wave of e-commerce. It is early days for this space, but savvy businesses should begin to experiment now. With a range of free apps now available to test how your business' customers react to placing goods or services onto your Facebook pages, small businesses in particular can learn from these experiences and be ready to embrace F-commerce when it reaches critical mass in the very near future.