An article in Bloomberg a few months back listed a number of prominent retailers ranging from Gamestop to JC Penny that shut down their e-commerce stores on Facebook this past year because of dismal on-site sales. As Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research wryly noted in the Bloomberg post, “There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop…but it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”
If the future of commerce is social and mobile, why are companies having such a hard time selling their products on social media sites like Facebook?
More importantly, do such negative experiences with Facebook commerce expose a natural limitation of social media for business?
Not by a long shot.
This is a classic example of form over substance, with most companies overly-focusing on the “how” of social commerce rather than the “why.”
Brands often pay too much attention to the technical and process-oriented aspects of social commerce, such as site construction and/or website integration, forgetting about the overarching customer experience. By doing so they’re assuming the sale without bothering to consult their target audience or analyze buyer motivations when purchasing through social media.
In other words, they are concentrating on how, and forgetting to ask why.
Brian Solis underscored this idea in a recent post. When analyzing recent brand adaptation of Facebook commerce, or “F-Commerce,” he had this to say: “F-commerce only gets an “F” because brands used Facebook as yet another digital catalog for selling products and not as a platform for activating new experiences based on the nature and the psychology of the relationships that define the network…Some use Facebook as an opportunity to spam offers, others present versions of their online storefronts as a way to garner more sales. But is this the right way to make money? Is this the right way to gain loyalty from your Facebook fans?”
It doesn’t sound like a wise approach to me. Remember folks, it’s about the journey, not the destination.
GIVE ME VALUE, OR GIVE ME DEATH
On the other hand, IBM’s 2011 study entitled “From social media to Social CRM: What customers want,” found that on the main customers are far more interested in getting “tangible value” when seeking out brands’ social media sites than building deeper connections. The study went on to suggest that companies may be confusing “their own desire for customer intimacy with consumers’ motivations for engaging.”
Wait a minute. What happened to building customer loyalty through deeper social engagement?
Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater and rewrite your social strategy, this data is actually good news for business, because it means that consumers are embracing social media in a more organic and three-dimensional way.
Users are now viewing social media as an essential organizing principle for their lives rather than just a fun place to chat with friends. Consumers have accepted “why” they’re using social media; it’s time for businesses to catch up.
As Eileen Brown wrote in a post on ZD.Net, “Social shopping is more than the click-to-buy mentality common across some e-commerce sites. F-commerce is about sharing, influencing and encouraging your friends to engage and purchase things that you love and recommend.”
Universal Pictures took this concept out for a test drive when promoting last year’s movie “Safe House.” Through a social-based ticketing app, fans could watch and share the movie trailer, find show times, invite friends, and buy tickets, all without leaving the Facebook wall. Leigh Godfrey, Director of Digital Marketing, Universal Pictures “fully expect(s) the continued use of this unique tool as fans make plans to see other Universal films in 2012.”¹
Facebook can facilitate this kind of three-dimensional approach to consumer engagement via social thanks to its Open Graph, which seamlessly integrates 3rd party apps into the Facebook experience to create a more engaged ecosystem that caters to individual consumer interests.²
IT’S THE STRATEGY, STUPID
As with many things, companies are failing at Facebook commerce in particular and social commerce in general because they are too focused on process and not focused enough on strategy.
Building a complex, user-friendly s-commerce platform is not a bad idea per se, as long as it is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
In any event, your company’s social commerce site structure and process flow should be subordinate to a well-thought out social commerce strategy that fully integrates your online (and offline) marketing efforts, all while never forgetting to factor in the needs and wants of your target audience.
Simply put: don’t ask how, ask why.
² Brain Solis, "Brands Give Facebook F-Commerce an F"
³ Brian Solis, "Likes, Genre, Action- Facebook Introduces Clicks to Action"
Image Courtesy of Shoptab.net