Facebook Commerce

Facebook have finally followed in the footsteps on their Asian competitors (e.g. WeChat) and just announced their big play to grab a slice of the accelerating global e-commerce market yesterday. And critically, provide some level of competition to the Gorilla out there (i.e. Amazon). 

Shops started rolling out on Facebook yesterday in the United States and they are set to come to Instagram this summer. With this launch coming during COVID-19, it means commerce and community can finally play nicely together and enable SMEs to better respond to any e-commerce opportunities presented by the pandemic. For many, the online and mobile channel is the only hope for survival.

According to a survey conducted by Facebook and the Small Business Roundtable, a third of SMEs have stopped operating and an additional 11 percent say they could fail within the next three months if the current situation continues.

Here are the highlights (according to Facebook directly):

  • In a live stream, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said expanded e-commerce would be important to begin rebuilding the economy while the pandemic continues. “If you can’t physically open your store or restaurant, you can still take orders online and ship them to people,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of small businesses that never had online businesses get online for the first time.”
  • Businesses can now turn Facebook and Instagram pages into online shops. They also joined forces with Shopify, who recently released their Shop app, to allow merchants to leverage their shipping, inventory and fulfillment features. The aim is to help new shop owners and small businesses to leverage their existing audiences to compete with Amazon.
  • Shops can be found on businesses’ Facebook pages and Instagram profiles, and they can also appear in stories or be promoted in ads. Items that businesses have made available for purchase will appear within the shop, and users can either save items or place an order. (Some businesses enable users to make purchases directly on Facebook, while others will take you to the business’s website to complete the transaction.)
  • According to Facebook, Shops will improve on the standard web commerce experience by storing users’ payment credentials in a single place that they can then use on any Facebook or Instagram storefront.
  • Businesses can handle customer support issues through Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Eventually, the company plans to let you browse store catalogs and make purchases directly from the chat window. It also plans to enable shopping from live streams, allowing brands and creators to tag items from their Facebook catalogs so that they appear on the bottom of live videos.
  • The e-commerce ecosystem around this will hot up to help store owners. For example:
    • Elliot creates simple product landing pages with one-tap checkout 
    • Storr is for mobile commerce, so you can set up a store from your phone 

A few initial thoughts include the following:

  • While Shops are free to create, they could create significant new business opportunities for Facebook in advertising, payments, and other services. Businesses will be able to buy ads for their Shops, and when people use Facebook’s checkout option, it charges them a fee.
  • This shopping rollout will no doubt have big algorithm implications on Instagram and Facebook. Early reports are showing how a “shopping” tab might interact with the “activity” tab on Instagram to increase the focus on commerce for businesses and their followers. Soon I suspect you’ll see Shops appear in stories and promoted ads.
  • Facebook Shops will eventually be integrated with WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram DMs, so you can browse store catalogs and make purchases through chats. The influencer marketing industry is set to benefit too as live streaming and shopping will be pairing up. 

Facebook has been dabbling in commerce for years. In 2016, it introduced Marketplace, a destination within the app for peer-to-peer buying and selling. Two years later, Instagram began working on a standalone shopping app, though it was later abandoned. Instead, last year, Instagram added in-app checkout.

Given the devastation caused to many traditional physical retailers by COVID-19, hopefully this announcement makes it easier for SMEs to reach existing or new markets (or better serve existing customers).

With billion+ global userbase of the Facebook ecosystem and ongoing pandemic, you would think it will be a slam dunk. That said, I don’t think Jeff Bezos will be having any sleepless nights. But it will be interesting to see how it goes in these E-Commerce Wars. 

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