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Facebook trials social shopping feature with small businesses

  • Technology
  • October 15, 2015
  • Elly Strang
Facebook trials social shopping feature with small businesses
Image source / Facebook

Facebook says only a selected group of users would see items from small businesses in the US, so New Zealand isn’t involved yet, unlike the buy-and-sell function it tested here earlier in the year.

There will also be a product-search tool in the drop-down shopping section that will allow users to search for specific items, rather than just looking at recent posts.

The trial is significantly different from the retail ads that already pop up in your newsfeed in between the conspiracy theory rants from your high school friend that’s turned a bit weird and your mum’s inspirational quote posts.

It requires users to actively seek out products and retailers and choose to shop, rather than the traditional means of an ad appearing in a newsfeed with the hope that someone will get sucked in and click on it. 

"We're going from a paradigm of ads being a push to consumers to being more of a pull,” ThoughtWorks Retail strategy consultant Rachel Brooks said to Washington Post.

"So people are requesting content from brands, shops and retailers, instead of looking at them as more of a roadblock."

This follows the growing number of examples of content marketing, as brands and advertisers strive to make advertising useful to customers so they’ll actively seek it out, rather than avoid it.

Think Netflix’s sponsor-generated content on its new show, Narcos, called Cocainenomics, which was featured in The Washington Post. More locally, Mitre 10’s Easy As DIY videos on YouTube are done using products from its stores.

A key point for brands is the transactions only takes the customer to the retailer’s own website when the customer is about to purchase the item.

The majority of the sales process is carried out seamlessly in Facebook, giving companies less control over how customers experience its brand.

Social commerce has been trialled across every major social network, including Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, but no one has loudly celebrated the success of clicks translating into sales.

Facebook has given some insight, saying department store giant Neiman Marcus used the pre-existing ad carousel format on its site, which resulted in three times more conversions and 85 percent better click-through rates that other advertising efforts.

The lack of companies and social networks heralding the success of their social commerce trials could be considered a sign of it not taking off – yet.

Some think the attempts to engage customers might not work.

Scott Galloway, a New York University marketing and branding professor, suggested to the Washington Post that perhaps people view social networks as the digital equivalent of hanging out at a bar – a place to socialise and shoot the breeze, not buy material things.

It’s well documented that word of mouth is one of the most trusted avenues when deciding where to spend money, as people love to recommend or discuss products or companies within their own circles on social media.

However, those conversations occur in a safe environment between people who trust one another, so some might not take kindly to an unknown brand barging in on that discussion.

eBay recently made a very smart move in this direction with its ‘Help Me Shop’.

The button on items on it site allows customers to invite Facebook friends to assist them with a purchase decision by commenting or voting on their favourite item to help the user.

But not every company is as savvy as the ecommerce giant. Galloway says brands entering customer’s online social spaces could be seen as invasive.

 "Is it just a matter of time [before users start using it], or are social media firms trying to force an unnatural act?" Galloway says.

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