Bloomberg recently reported that Gamestop, JC Penney, Gap, and Nordstrom have all closed their Facebook stores. Just to be sure I checked Nordstrom's Facebook page. It is true, the shopping tab is gone.
In the summer of 2011, I walked out of Payvment's Palo Alto office blown away. They had more than 60,000 merchants on the Facebook Commerce Platform. But I was still intrigued about the proposition of Facebook Stores. I wondered shouldn't the focus first be on engagement rather than sale.
I present three counter-arguments to arguments that favor an F-Store.
1 - There are a lot of people on Facebook and they discuss many things. Shopping is one of them and so it makes sense for you to open a store there.
Except that Facebook is more like a community center where we share little tidbits of our day with people we know, a gossip chamber where we drop in once a day to sniff something new, a silent sojourn we take to keep up with the lives of people we didn't keep in our lives - whatever it is, it is not a place to shop. Because, we don't go to Facebook with an intention to buy something. If we have that intention, we are more likely to go to the store that sells what we want.
2 - OK, but it is good to have a Facebook store so you are only a tab away.
If we agree that people who don't have shopping on their mind won't miss not having stores on Facebook, it leaves only two other types of people, impulse buyers and die-hard fans, to whom a Facebook Store may be relevant.
Often, when people have an impulse for a product, it is usually also for a specific kind of product. If they want to eat a chocolate, they might want to eat a Lindt, if they feel like having a soft drink, it might be a Diet Pepsi. Since impulse buyers also express their brand affinity, it is permissible to put them in the same category as die-hard fans.
So then, if I am a die-hard fan, do I really care if my beloved brand store is just a tab away? In any case, the 'tab away' is still a click away. Why can't I click on a link from Facebook and land up on their website?
3 - Fine. But it doesn't hurt to have a Store tab, does it?
Every business activity has a cost. Besides the cost of the service itself, there are maintenance and human resource costs. For some businesses this cost may not be significant and probably pays for the trickle of business that F-Stores can bring. But there are others who take a strong view against anything that doesn’t move the needle.
“We just didn’t get the return on investment we needed from the Facebook market, so we shut it down pretty quickly,” Ashley Sheetz, Gamestop's Vice President of Marketing and Strategy is reported to have said.
In the chain of events from - finding a lead, curating and converting it into a customer - Facebook stores come into play, if at all, in the last stage. Facebook's utility is many times more significant for the stages that precede the sale event.
It is all about Engagement
It is true for any business that it should engage the prospects before they become customers. Traditionally, businesses sought to do this on their websites. But people are spending more time on social networks than on any other property.
According to the FireClick Index, the Average User Session on Fashion & Apparel sites is 3 to 4 minutes. A truism from brick-and-mortar retail is that the more you browse the more you fill your shopping cart. By that same virtue, a retailer needs to drive up the engagement metric to get the conversions. And Facebook is the place to do it.
The Complexity of Engagements
What is worse than a Facebook page without fans? To have one with many fans. If you are doing nothing for them that is. I heard a story of a popular consumer brand that targets young males. They have over 2 million fans and the CMO woefully admitted that it is quite a challenge to keep all the testosterone on leash.
The whole premise of having a group of people in one place is to influence them on your brand proposition. Nordstrom runs a campaign called 'Sample Saturday' and gives their Facebook Fans an opportunity to sample the beauty products. Beautiful.
It however does this on a first-come-first-serve basis. What if Nordstrom wanted to offer this to only those fans that have a deeper engagement with the brand. To take the point forward, here is an example of a hypothetical Coffee chain, Starducks Coffee, and the many things it may want to do to promote its brand and convert leads into customers.
While Facebook's standard features and other free widgets are useful, rich and deep engagements require applications that can manage the complexity of automating the engagements, and the distribution and tracking of rewards.
Apps' the Way
Apps today are designed to do increasingly complex tasks and getting simpler to use. More good news is that the results are measurable.
Our own application, Trolly, has helped our client 99labels, a flash sales fashion retailer, achieve up to 8 minutes user engagement on their Facebook Page. Compared to the Average session duration discussed above, it is a over 122%. 99labels’ Facebook users saw up to 15 products per session and engaged with 70% of the products on Trolly. Not just that, 1 in 4 Trolly Users who engaged with 99labels products on Facebook visited the website with a strong 'intent to buy'. You can download the full case-study from our website trollyapp.com.
On reflection, the reason why many stores may have added an F-Store in a rush was because it was the easiest part of the Facebook Strategy. F-stores may yet prove useful but they will certainly tank if the other more important parts are not addressed.
At Google where I worked before, there was a motto. Focus on the User and all else will follow. In the case of social marketing, the motto is, Engage the User and all else will follow.
Kiran Kumar is the CEO and Co-Founder of Adepto Solutions, a company founded by ex-Googlers. Trolly, a Social Marketing Suite built by the company was exhibited at ad:tech in New Delhi on Feb 23-24.