Rethinking Facebook’s role in ‘f-commerce’

8thBridge helped coin the term “f-commerce” by being the first to open a store on Facebook in 2009 for 1-800-Flowers. But after helping build dozens of other branded stores on Facebook for companies, the sales never really materialized, something 8thBridge CEO Wade Gerten acknowledged earlier this year when he said f-commerce deserved an F.

But Gerten believes there is a future in using Facebook as a sales channel, though it means rethinking the role Facebook plays in it. On Tuesday, his company unveiled a new social commerce platform called 8thBridge Graphite that doesn’t rely on steering shoppers to Facebook stores. Instead, it integrates with existing e-commerce sites and uses Facebook as a place to communicate consumer interest in products, letting them shop and gain information before buying on a traditional retail site.

Gimme some Love

With Graphite, retailers can use Facebook’s Custom Open Graph to place unique buttons on their site that allow consumers to express their interest in products. So instead of a generic “like” button, retailers can include customized buttons for things like: Want, Love, Own, LOL, Gimme, Neeed, Ask a Friend or I Can’t Wait to Wear. When a user presses on a button, that interest gets placed into their timeline along with a “shoppable story,” which is like a widget that lets other friends get more information and zoom in on the product without having to leave the Timeline. If a user wants to buy the product, they are taken out to the seller’s existing e-commerce site, where the transaction is completed.

Facebook commerce hasn’t taken off because very few people know about stores on Facebook, Gerten said. For retailers, Facebook is another place that needs to be maintained but is not optimized for sales like their online store.

Perhaps more troubling, people don’t seem to want to buy things on Facebook yet. Minneapolis-based 8thBridge found that 82 percent of respondents in a survey of 2,500 people said they are not comfortable sharing their credit-card information on Facebook.

But Gerten believes that Facebook is still very valuable because it’s the place where people share their interest level in products and other things. By building and shaping commerce around people, retailers can still find a lot of value in Facebook as more of a shopping tool and less of a retail destination.

Use Facebook for shopping, not transacting

“I think the value of social media in general is word of mouth; it’s so easy to talk about your brand and Graphite is making it even easier,” Gerten said. “What really needs to happen is it has to move away from a (Facebook store) solution to an integrated thing with existing channels.”

Brands such as American Apparel, Hallmark, Elle, Oscar De la Renta are on board with Graphite and will start including customized buttons on their product pages. Gerten said retailers should see a clear lift because their customized buttons are more expressive, prompt more sharing and can be tested to get the best response. And he said friends on Facebook who see a shoppable story are 18 times more likely to interact with the story when they can view it inside Facebook instead getting redirected to a website via a link.

I think this evolution in Facebook commerce makes sense. There may come a time when people want to buy through Facebook stores but right now, the best use of Facebook seems to be in encouraging sharing and shopping. It’s really still early days in social commerce, but companies are starting to find smarter ways to use social media; not just to generate awareness and buzz, but also revenue.