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As the CEO of an ecommerce business with over 2,000 shops on Facebook, I have a unique perspective on Facebook selling.

After two years of testing, my company sees fewer sales from our global Facebook presence than from orders originating in New Zealand, where we don’t have a marketing or sales presence, or a country-specific website.

Quite frankly, Facebook has been underwhelming for sales generation.

Facebook in its current form is not the answer that ecommerce is hoping for. 

At the moment, consumers visit Facebook for social reasons and do not want their social time interrupted with companies trying to sell to them. It would be taboo in most social settings or would you tolerate a business trying to sell to you while you’re enjoying a nice pint with friends in a bar? 

The introduction of Graph Search, however, might yet be prove to be the answer that online retailers have been hoping for, if it can change the behaviour of users to combine both search and socialising.

Of course, this would be a delicate balancing act: no hard sell would work in this model but rather as the search results provide better data about the user and their network makes recommendations, a relationship could begin with the user and the recommended merchant or service.

Facebook’s Graph Search will be meaningful for ecommerce when it successfully bridges the gap between search and social and continually retains community referrals without breaching user trust.

The real success of Graph Search will require deft management of expectations of ecommerce retailers and the Facebook user experience.

Facebook Graph Search 

For the uninitiated, Facebook’s Graph Search is a highly personalised search engine within Facebook that customises responses to users based on feedback and interests of their social network.

Facebook considers their interactions with friends and brands and integrates it to give them what it considers to be most relevant responses. 

Unlike normal search engines that can drive response by SEO or product review sites that can be altered and edited by companies for image control; Facebook Graph Search will attempt to build off of our inherent trust of friends’ recommendations.  

In theory, this means the searcher will get results they can trust   

Will it work?

Facebook is currently seen as a hangout. Facebook is expecting that there will be a monumental shift in public perception and utilisation of the platform. Users are supposed to use it as both a buying search engine and as a networking site. 

The user expectation is still all about social connections and the mere ability to offer targeted commerce does not mean that the user will welcome or positively embrace the new Graph Search features and become more active consumers in Facebook. 

Don’t go the way of Yahoo, Excite and Lycos

Before Google’s rise, we were inundated with a plethora of search options. Yahoo, Excite, and Lycos all fell from grace because they forgot what made them meaningful.

They lost sight of their roots in search and branched out to force content on the user.  We all know how that strategy paid off and history may be repeating itself if users don’t respond to the search feature.

However, any social site needs to reinvent itself to stay relevant and engaging to users. If Facebook users eagerly embrace the new search feature, the relevance of the site and the engagement level of loyal users may be raised. The potential for users to turn to Facebook to explore shopping, dining, or travel ideas based on referrals from their friends can be huge.

However, I must temper my enthusiasm with a valid concern that Facebook could be losing focus on what made it great. It became popular because it is an awesome social site for friends and colleagues to remain in touch.

Facebook will have to be highly skilled in balancing its social community core identity with any new future enhancements or offerings. 

Why should we still pay attention?

While Facebook’s current efforts may not pay off, any good business leader acknowledges that they must always have an open mind about a changing business environment by:

  • Finding out more about Graph Search’s capabilities and how your business could benefit.
  • As the Graph Search feature gains traction, good community management from ecommerce will engage users if the interactions on Facebook are inspiring and activating. The relationship in Facebook is not about boosting sales figures but building a fan base.  

Experience tells me that regardless of the limitations of Facebook, I must pay attention to what’s going on in the social giant.

For the near future, the 1bn users on Facebook are not going anywhere and it is up to business leaders to figure out how and if they should connect with them for commerce or for business conversations

Philip Rooke

Published 18 June, 2013 by Philip Rooke

Philip Rooke is CEO of Spreadshirt and a contributor to Econsultancy.

8 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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Sheila Buckley, head of online at carphone warehouse

Hi Philip, have you seen differences in different sector in terms of the success of FB for sales? We've had good feedback from retailers online where they can showcase products on facebook and bring traffic to their site?

And it's FB important in the overall multiple journey?

Sheila

almost 3 years ago

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Lee Cash, VP Sales, EMEA at Triggit

I think we all realise that f-Commerce as we thought we might know it (i.e. various shop apps hosted on Facebook) didn't really happen, especially when the page layout of company Facebook pages changed to effectively "hide" the shopping apps.

However, as Sheila points out, we are seeing great success when using Facebook as a publisher platform to effectively target (and retarget) consumers on a product level, particularly now we can use our own data via Facebook Exchange to deliver this experience.

Since running FBX in the newsfeed (just over a month out of beta now) we are seeing a huge increase (about 200%) on eCommerce transactions and engagement and conversion levels not seen since the early days of search.

This is the true power of Facebook in eCommerce.

almost 3 years ago

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