After years of working around the edges, and trying to find ways to make a bigger dip into eCommerce, the COVID-19 pandemic has finally given Facebook the push is needs to take the next major step.
Today, Facebook has launched 'Shops' on both Facebook and Instagram.
As explained by Facebook:
"Facebook Shops make it easy for businesses to set up a single online store for customers to access on both Facebook and Instagram. Creating a Facebook Shop is free and simple. Businesses can choose the products they want to feature from their catalog and then customize the look and feel of their shop with a cover image and accent colors that showcase their brand. This means any seller, no matter their size or budget, can bring their business online and connect with customers wherever and whenever it’s convenient for them."
The process works like this:
Soon, Facebook will provide eligible businesses with a link to a new 'Shop Builder' platform, an extension of your existing Facebook Page tools. From the Shop Builder, businesses will be able to upload their product listings one-by-one, or connect to their existing eCommerce provider in order to stream through their current catalog - Facebook's working with Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, ChannelAdvisor, CedCommerce, Cafe24, Tienda Nube and Feedonomics to facilitate this process.
Here's an example of what the Shop Builder currently looks like:
Facebook's main aim will be to make this process as simple as possible, in order maximize business take-up of the Shops option. From a single platform, brands will be able to build their Shops, on both Facebook and Instagram - but it won't be available to everybody straight away.
As per Facebook:
"Starting today, we will begin a phased roll out of shops to all businesses globally on Facebook and Instagram Shopping. We will start with eligible businesses who use Instagram Profile Shops and will expand access over the next few months. Eligible businesses will receive an email when their shop is ready to start customizing."
There's no definitive word on when each region and/or business will be able to access Shops, but as noted, Facebook will let Page managers know, over time, as it brings more on-board.
And that's the only the start of it.
In order to best facilitate the new on-platform shopping experience, Facebook will also make it easy for customers to message businesses from their shop listings, via WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct. And in the future, customers will also be able to view a business’ shop, and make purchases from within a messenger stream.
Facebook's been exploring more ways to facilitate eCommerce via message in India, which it's now also looking to expand upon, and the connection between the new Shops process and messaging will make it easier for more businesses to take-up this option, and connect with more potential shoppers across its various apps.
In addition to this, Facebook's also adding new video connection tools to further facilitate eCommerce activity:
"People have been using live video on our apps to showcase products for years, from shoe stores announcing new sneakers to beauty influencers trying on different lipsticks. Now, we’re making it easier to shop for products in real time. Soon, sellers, brands and creators will be able to tag products from their Facebook Shop or catalog before going live and those products will be shown at the bottom of the video so people can easily tap to learn more and purchase."
Facebook's also testing ways to connect customer loyalty programs - and even help SMBs build loyalty schemes - within the new shopping options, providing more ways for businesses to establish ongoing connection with their audiences.
Facebook launched a pilot program of this new process with Sephora back in March, providing another way to connect a brand's existing data profile on its customers with their Facebook identity - thereby facilitating new ways incentivize on-platform shopping activity, while also helping businesses better target their offerings to each person.
And further, on Instagram, Facebook's also adding a new 'Shop' section to Explore, boosting product discovery.
"You can get inspired by collections from @shop, browse selections from your favorite brands and creators, filter by categories like beauty and home, and purchase the looks you love all in one place. And later this year, we’re adding a new shop tab in the navigation bar, so you can get to Instagram Shop in just one tap."
There is a lot to take in here, and we don't have all the details as yet, as Facebook's still finalizing its plans and processes. But it's safe to say that your Facebook apps are about to get a lot more shoppable - there's going to be a lot more direct buying options, and a lot more brands competing for your attention on such in and around your news feeds.
And given the rise in eCommerce activity, as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns, now, really, is the time for Facebook to make its next big push in this respect.
As noted, Facebook has been working for years to incorporate more shopping options. Back in 2015, I wrote about how Facebook was looking to take the next steps into on-platform shopping with the introductions of Canvas ads, 'Buy' buttons and a dedicated Shopping feed, accessible via the lower function bar.
Various changes in direction and strategy have delayed this push over time, including its Messenger bots initiative, the merging of its messaging functions, integrating Instagram into the mix, its Libra cryptocurrency project - each of these elements ties back into its broader eCommerce advance, in some way, and every time there's been an issue with one, that's then forced Facebook to reconsider how to best approach the option.
But now, really, is the time. As noted, Facebook's looking to make a bigger push into regions like India and Indonesia with Facebook Pay, which will facilitate more on-platform commerce, while the rise in eCommerce activity as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns is likely to become a long-term, behavior-changing trend.
eCommerce sales have been on a steady rise for some time anyway, and the lockdowns will only exacerbate the broader shift to online purchasing. Once consumers realize the ease in which they can shop from home - the benefit of, say, doing your grocery shopping from your pantry, or quickly making a purchase in the moment so you don't forget. Once consumers are accustomed to these options, engrained by months of having to rely on such, many will continue to utilize those mechanisms, as opposed to simply going back to their regular, in-store routines.
And Facebook, where most people are already active, can lean into this.
The key elements of benefit for Facebook are: audience, offering and functionality.
Facebook has the audience, with almost 3 billion monthly active users across its 'Family of Apps', and it will soon have the offering, with Shops. The key, and challenging, step is functionality. Facebook has sought alternate ways to streamline payments, via Libra and other means, and it's worked to improve the functionality of its Marketplace listings with a view to encouraging eCommerce activity.
If Facebook Shops are, in fact, easy for businesses to create, and they provide a great customer experience, they could be massive, and cause a major shift in the online commerce space.
Going on what we can see, this looks likely, which will have immediate implications for brands, but also, wider reaching impacts on the broader online marketplace.
We'll keep you updated on each element as Facebook provides more information.