Facebook Commerce for the Socially Challenged

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Today’s e-commerce merchants are being flooded with data claiming the explosive potential of Facebook storefronts. Consulting firm Booz & Company forecasts a 600-percent rate of growth in the next four years, resulting in a $30 billion market for products sold on the social network by 2015.

But that figure represents only a modest 4 percent of the projected growth of all online sales, meaning that Facebook commerce is an opportunity best suited for a minority of today’s retailers and not the vast majority. Socially driven categories such as music, games, travel and entertainment align well with selling product directly on Facebook, and numerous platforms and applications exist to make that possible.

But for the rest of the e-commerce industry, selling product directly on Facebook right now is more likely to alienate customers than drive conversions. In fact, the same Booz & Company report found that 73 percent of Facebook’s 600 million users say they will not shop directly on the site because of fears over security and privacy.

So, how do retailers outside of these few social categories most effectively connect with consumers on Facebook without compromising their comfort? To illustrate the best methods, we found the following examples of Facebook “commerce” for the less socially adept.

REI 
The outdoor gear retailer doesn’t have a place on its Facebook pages where I can actually buy product or even browse through their inventory, but I can learn just about everything else I would want to know about the company before leaving the site to do just that at REI.com. As for being socially inept, REI has more than 177,000 Facebook Likes, so they must be doing something right. Most likely, it is the easy access to dozens of how-to articles and videos, expert advice, user reviews and the company blog right from Facebook, all linking directly to the company’s home page where I can find and purchase any item in their inventory when I am good and ready – but not before.

Skittles
I am so enamored with the iconic rainbow branding when I land on Skittles' opening Facebook page that I am motivated to buy a pack of the candies the next time I leave the office. With more than 1,000 photos, dozens of videos and more than 15 million Likes -- curiously, some of my own friends among them -- Skittles obviously knows how to engage and entertain Facebook users without having to sell the product directly to them online.

Newegg 
When I arrive at Newegg’s Facebook page, I am met not with a product catalog or order form but instead a sweepstakes in which the grand prize is a full entertainment center for my mancave in honor of March Madness. There are plenty of other opportunities for me and the half-million fans to receive exclusive deals, product previews and promo codes, all of which will take me to the company site to make my purchases when I'm ready. There is no actual selling on Facebook, though; rather, this is the place where they’re practically giving it away for free.

Budweiser
Speaking of sweepstakes and promotions, I seem to remember something about the King of Beers running a contest in which Facebook Fans got to choose which commercials aired during the Super Bowl. I go to the page to confirm this and, sure enough, I’m met with another clever piece of branding that puts the product at the front of my mind without trying to sell it directly to me on Facebook. Audience participation appears to be the central theme of Bud’s Facebook presence, but I am so mesmerized by the larger-than-life red logos and the sweaty beer bottles that I add it to my shopping list right below Skittles. I am certain that I’m not the only one of three-quarters of a million fans to have had that same thought as we browsed the brewer’s Facebook pages.

Most consumers use Facebook to connect with friends, share ideas and to be visually or intellectually stimulated, which may or may not include making a purchase. By making those experiences as enjoyable, interactive and accessible as possible, the four retailers above have stimulated this consumer’s shopping instinct without selling me any actual product.

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