Recently, Gap and J.C. Penney closed their Facebook storefronts because the retailers weren’t seeing immediate traction. The move has sparked an interesting debate: whether Facebook commerce will actually take off.
Clearly, we are still in the very early days of Facebook shopping, but there is already ample evidence that social commerce is thriving. For every big brand that’s failed in its initial social commerce attempt, there are thousands of smaller brands that are killing it with Facebook commerce (F-commerce).
Why have some large retailers stumbled with their initial F-commerce attempts, while many smaller retailers are seeing success? Here are three things smaller sellers can teach large retailers about Facebook commerce.
1. Start From Scratch
The first mistake many large retailers make is trying to build custom storefronts that are essentially clones of their .com websites, when they should attempt to truly integrate their presences into the social fabric of Facebook. Smaller sellers have the advantage here; most don’t already maintain big ecommerce presences, so they can start from scratch with a social model.
Successful smaller sellers are also opting for commerce solutions that take full advantage of the Facebook platform, such as robust sharing, commenting and social expression features. They also typically have a smaller product catalog, which helps to focus sharing, promotions and wall posts, creating concentrated buzz and rapid fan and visitor growth to their storefronts.
2. Be Authentic
Successful smaller sellers engage in active, authentic communication and dialogue with their fans and shoppers on Facebook. It’s very compelling to talk to an actual jewelry designer about his or her inspiration, or to the creator of the sustainable t-shirts you found through a friend. The passion of the smaller seller and the direct, honest dialogue makes for lifelong customers that subsequently spread the word throughout their social connections.
It’s hard for a larger retailer’s marketing team to replicate this authenticity within its Facebook presence, but it’s possible. Start by picking the right person to manage your Facebook presence – and make sure he has the time and resources to drive robust interaction and conversation with your fan base. Or try featuring guest posts from a supplier or designer to drive more conversation, especially if that person has an interesting, authentic point of view and is willing to engage in some back and forth discussion. Finally, don’t make everything about sales and deals — there should be a balance between promotional posts and open-ended stories about the products you offer.
3. Join a Network
Large retailers have typically created custom tab storefronts on their Facebook Pages, which focus on selling to an existing fan base. This “island” mentality might work for .com destination stores, where SEO and email promotions drive the bulk of the traffic, but it doesn’t work very well on Facebook, where social discovery drives traffic and exposure to a broad swath of the social and interest graph is key. With a stand-alone store, you’re only as good as your “graph.” In other words, you’re limited to your existing fan base when it comes to product discovery and social sharing. Plus, you’re limited to relationship-based graphs rather than the possible interest graphs generated by broader community data.
Smaller sellers that are part of a community dramatically amplify social discovery of their products. Examples of this include Pinterest and Yardsellr, each of which enables a seller to expose his or her products to a rapidly growing base of visitors connected both socially and through shared interests.
The fact that some larger retailers have recently shuttered their Facebook stores doesn’t prove that social networks lack potential as sales channels. Chances are, many retailers will continue to experiment with the potential of these powerful social platforms.
When larger retailers move out of the .com paradigm and embrace a truly social model for their Facebook storefronts, they’ll discover a huge opportunity for success.
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