Surprise! Facebook looks to boost revenue, mobile with Gifts

Four months after buying mobile social gifting startup Karma, Facebook (s FB) is today unveiling a new service that enables users to exchange physical gifts entirely through its platform.

Called Gifts, the service lets Facebook users choose from an online selection of items, which range from Starbucks gift cards and magazine subscriptions to whimsical knick-knacks and artisan foods, and then pay for the present and notify the recipient. Gift-givers can choose to alert friends through public posts or private messages and, when the receiver is notified about the gift, she provides the address for delivery.

Given Facebook’s purchase of Karma, the new feature isn’t a surprise, but it could mean big returns for the company. Not only is it Facebook’s first major step into e-commerce – which has only really dabbled in payments through virtual goods and social games – it gives Facebook users a reason to use the platform from their mobile devices. As has been widely covered (here and elsewhere) Facebook is under pressure to build and monetize a mobile audience.

Starting today, Gifts will be rolling out slowly, first in the U.S. and then globally, the company said. For now, users can click on “gifts” icons on friends’ timelines from Facebook’s desktop and mobile websites and Android phone, but the company will be expanding to iOS soon.

Facebook won’t be alone in the social gifting world — startups like Wrapp, Boomerang and Treater already use the social network as a gifting platform — and other companies, like giants Amazon (a AMZN) and eBay (s EBAY), are already leaders in e-commerce. But considering how much data Facebook has about its users, including birthdays, anniversaries and other gift-giving occasions, its latest endeavor has big potential.

The convenience factor is high given how many people already get birthday reminders through the site. But it will be interesting to see how comfortable people are with handing their credit card information over to Facebook.