Retail on Facebook: Is “F-commerce” All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

There’s been nothing but hype around Facebook’s upcoming IPO. Hundreds of millions of users, mountains of personal data, brands dying to repurpose their ad dollars online. This is going to be huge! Isn’t it?

Facebook is great as a social network for communicating with friends and family or customers if you’re a business. I use it every day for those purposes. I’d like to check and reset my privacy settings whenever FB changes things, which is often, but they make it so difficult you’d be hardpressed to call it user-friendly. I suppose most people aren’t as concerned about such things as I am. But if they’re not, they’re just falling aimlessly into FB’s data trap.

And then there’s the matter of how bloated the app has become. It’s more like using MS Word now than a cool social tool. Who can understand all the features? Do I subscribe, follow, post, or write a story? Why is the button I tapped yesterday gone today? And why do posts always seem to disappear? Do ordinary people understand any of this? Maybe this obscurity works to FB’s advantage, keeping their users in the dark while capturing more and more of their personal information as they blithely use the site.

Anyway, as a business, people don’t go to FB to shop — they go to connect. Yes, they learn a lot from their friends’ recommendations and get exposed to new products. And brands do a good job of chatting up (if not completely annoying) customers, placing sales and specials in the newsfeed with links back to their sites. But how is ‘F-commerce’ doing? Well, many brands have opened up storefronts on FB itself, but some are closing them just as quickly. According to a recent article,

“There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop, but it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

Apparently, FB’s offer to let us connect and communicate with friends isn’t going to automatically turn into a commerce goldmine. Is this a surprise? People go to FB to talk, not buy. Maybe buying things is actually a lot easier and better on Amazon or Google after all. Of course, with almost a billion eyeballs on the site, advertising might be the real goldmine.

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