Jay Dunn calls Facebook an ecosystem--it has certainly progressed beyond the point of website or social media channel. It has infiltrated other websites with its Like button and drawn sensible businesses into a money-making courtship. In turn, companies have flocked to Facebook with multiple branding attempts under the wing of the site's well-known interface. As brands begin to create stores in Facebook's platform, does it make sense for them to take on the camouflage of their environment, or should each brand flaunt its own style?
This leads us to the topic of the day: store experiences on Facebook. It is clear that brands currently build F-commerce stores in many different styles, with all manner of content presentation (or lack thereof). Will consumers embrace a platform that operates in varied and unpredictable ways?
Before you go any farther, I feel it's only fair to tell you: I don't have any conclusions. This post is just an exercise--a thought experiment, if you will--that I hope will inspire you to think deep thoughts about the direction of F-commerce and conceptualize ways to improve upon its current state.
I'll jump right into it, then. Data suggests that the next generation is ready to buy from stores on Facebook. Once, people were skeptical that consumers would be willing to submit their credit card information online. It's sometimes fun to look at the past and laugh. Five years from now, will we be laughing at our current thoughts about F-commerce?
Let me draw a quick parallel between the e-commerce past and the F-commerce present. E-commerce began with a bunch of websites all offering different experiences. Over time, some things became standard. Photos, for instance. A checkout button and the idea of a cart, for another. And it managed to take off without any kind of predictability or much of a plan. Then, in the first half of the 2000s, the industry scrambled to figure out what consumers needed and wanted, make universal recommendations, and implement changes. For more about that, check out this smart and still relevant top ten best practices article on ECommerce-Guide. (It is from 2002, which will be obvious when you encounter this quaint statement: "Search engines and e-commerce brokers such as AOL, MSN and Yahoo! are the malls of the Internet.")
Retailers stepped up, and today have a universal set of standards to follow if they want to stay competitive. For an example of how companies keep separate branding yet follow some basic principles, compare these product pages:
A very different look and feel on each site, but many basic things remain consistent--image style, the format of checkout options, links to similar products. If Facebook wants to succeed in the e-commerce business, should they not demand of their sellers a basic uniformity of process and experience?
F-commerce currently has the same inconsistencies found in online retail sites 10 or more years ago. It may be possible for the social media site to begin raking in the dough and develop best practices later. However, at this point in the online sales game, consumers have expectations they did not have the first time around. Can Facebook stores begin earning a profit without the uniformity of experience found on successful retail sites?
The inconsistency strikes hardest where consumers actually input their credit card data. Facebook stores range from window shopping to true, seamless e-commerce experiences. At this point, it is hard to tell if consumers have a preference, although opening new tabs to catapult users onto a different site does not bode well for transaction completion rates.
Take a glance at the vast army of websites and blogs and journals and diaries dedicated to e-commerce and you will see that, despite quite a bit of variation, the industry continues to evolve as a whole and develop new best practices in response to consumer demands. For example, adding good content about your products to increase sales *cough, cough*.
We should expect Facebook stores to start developing best (and consistent) practices as well. What are those best practices? And how should brands integrate their signature designs and features as they enter into a new platform? On Independent Retailer, Jaclyn Allard investigates those very questions, citing a Gigya white paper on three best practices for F-commerce. One suggestion from the paper: "Keep the browsing and shopping experience consistent on [your site and Facebook.com], making the customer feel as if they are viewing an extension of your company website."
That seems to be a popular stance. Tony Ahn, on Social Media Today, also says Facebook stores would do best to maintain their own unique experience through the Facebook platform. "The very best Facebook fan pages look like a mini-website that just happens to be hosted at www.facebook.com," he wrote. "Multimedia enriches the experience for your fans and gives them more of what they want: YOU and your product."
Will Facebook gradually adopt the same practices generated by the retail industry in the past decade, or develop as-yet-unknown functionality and features that require a new set? Time will tell. For now, I suggest good content across all platforms as a place to start. Pair that with other aspects of successful e-commerce stores, such as a good return policy explanation and trust seals, and you have a foundation for building consumer confidence in any forum.
And here's the reveal: this post is about Amazon, too. Amazon has grown to be an e-business giant: comScore reported Amazon had the largest global audience--20 percent of all retail site visitors, to be exact--of any major retailer in June. The experience on this site is unified and predictable. Has this been a factor in the company's success? Will Facebook be able to catch up if the social site's commerce experience is so varied? Given Nielson's recent finding that Facebook is officially the most trafficked site among U.S. Internet users, chances seem decent, if businesses opening up stores in Facebook and the site itself start talking to each other and making decisions.