I’ve recently started a new brand of horse treats. Yes, horse treats! Being a scientist, a horse lover and having spotted a gap in the market it seemed only natural. So, off I went with my new horse treats. I tested the products and had a great response, but I hadn’t built a website yet. I wanted to find some way of having an online presence easily and quickly without waiting for a website to be built. I wondered if a Facebook Page and a Facebook shop could provide an easy quick way to launch the brand (Dr D’s Tasty Treats) and start online sales, but with more style than say an Ebay shop. I’d recently read an article about US Clothing brand, Lolly Wolly Doodle, that was setting trends in social shopping through Facebook. It seemed like it was worth a try. Could a Facebook shop be better at driving sales than a normal shop? In theory it seemed like there might be something in it. You could imagine how the network effect of Facebook could be a pretty powerful driver for sales.
Background on Facebook Shops:
Facebook shop apps have been around for a few years now with a flurry of interest from big retailers in early 2011. But then the tide shifted and many retailers pulled their shops not having achieved the desired ROI. Some pundits (Mashable, TechCrunch) have theorized that brands spent too much time and money on bespoke Facebook shops without putting the time and effort into engaging their fans. In addition, the Facebook shops didn’t add any benefits to the shopping experience. Furthermore, Sucharita Mulpuru from Forrester Research in the Mashable article theorized Facebook was too much like hanging out with your friends at the bar which was the wrong type of shopping environment to drive sales. I’m not sure I entirely agree, but it’s an interesting point. Perhaps it depends on what you are selling – office supplies probably not, but clothes people talk about when hanging out with their friends all the time.
What I Found:
After reviewing the available options (see list of Facebook Shop Apps below) I installed ShopTab on my Facebook Page, Dr D’s Tasty Treats. There offered a free trial, the starter package monthly fee was low, and it offered a stand alone store rather than being redirected to another eCommerce platform.
The implementation was relatively straightforward. Though immediately I was somewhat disappointed with the appearance. I’m not a design guru so I need the setup of whatever I’m working with to give me a good framework. I found the layout messy as all of the products and descriptions were listed on one page.
Secondly but more importantly, I didn’t realise that mobile users could not view the shop at all! They couldn’t even see the app option from the main page menu. Given that nearly half of all Facebook traffic is mobile only and it’s doubled in the last year this is a big, big deal. A customer will only give you so much time before they decide your store is too much hassle, so when you tell them they can shop on your Facebook page and they can’t see what you are talking about it’s a big problem in my book!
And it turns out that wasn’t Shop Tab’s fault. In this recent post from Shop Tab it seems mobile Facebook users can’t view ANY third-party apps. So, if 50% of Facebook users are only using mobiles and mobile users can’t view your shop you risk losing half of your sales before you’ve even started. Shop Tab says items can still be purchased if that item is promoted in someone’s news feed. Others such as StoreYa have similar solutions where individual items can be viewed and purchased if you post a link to that specific product. Actual mobile shopping numbers may still be low, but presumably potential customers would still like to be able to browse shops online even if they later use their computer to complete the transaction.
Above and beyond the mobile issue I’m not even sure that people using regular old PC’s were really aware that the shop was there. Most of the people I talked to weren’t aware that one could shop on Facebook.
Thus far, my Facebook shop has been mediocre. But a large part of the blame is with me. While I’ve been focusing on other areas of building the business (like figuring out how to scale up production) I haven’t been engaging the Facebook community as best I should. I haven’t run any Facebook Shop only promotions, nor have I kept up to date general posts. But in reviewing the available Shop Apps again I’ve decided I’ll probably switch app provider. There are several others offering totally free stand-along shops (I don’t believe this was the case when I first put up my shop) and some of those even offer the ability to schedule promotions and posts. Or now that I’ve got a website I could also link my Facebook shop to my eCommerce website which runs on WooCommerce.
So, is a Facebook Shop worth it?
I still like the idea and the potential. However, until the mobile issue is sorted out it won’t be a seamless experience and you’ll have to be careful about how your present your shop. It’s likely to be most successful for promoting specific products, sales, new items and Facebook Fan specials.
If you’ve got a small store or a startup and you can use one of the free solutions (see list below) and it offers another tool to engage your customers without much risk and capital outlay. Be sure to check out how the app you’ve selected suggests you work around the Facebook third party app mobile issue. Also check if they allow Fan or Like gating so you can grown your fan base and offer special discounts for them.
“Likes” – Low cost, ease of set up, direct link to Fan base
“Dislikes” – Lack of support for mobile devices, lack of intuitive use.
- Don’t spend a lot of money designing a bespoke Facebook Shop. Use something off the shelf that easily fits your budget.
- Focus on promoting specific products in order to keep engagement fresh and to circumvent the inability of mobile users to view the shop as a whole.
- Engage, engage, engage. Make sure your customers know your shop is there, keep promoting your products and show your Fans some love.
Facebook Shop Apps:
ShopTab – Offers Fan/Like gating. Integrates with their Shared Deal app to offer daily deals. Integrates with Twitter. Post scheduling only on more expensive plans.
Unique Feature: Integrates with Shared Deal app
Easy Social Shop – post and promotion scheduling, integrates only with existing eCommerce platforms – eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Shopify & Magento.
Unique Feature: Completely Free
Store Front Social – Free trial, basic service level starts at $9.95/mo,
Unique Feature: Customizable storefronts templates
Beetailer- Integrates with a number of existing eCommerce platforms Magento, Magento Go, Shopify and Prestashop, and can also be set up as a stand alone store. There is a free service level and free trials.
Unique Feature: automated scheduling for promotions and postings
Soldsie – A “post-based” approach to your Facebook Shop which sells through the comments section on your post. Retailers upload a photo and customer comment “sold”, they then connect to your Facebook Page, receive and invoice and then checkout. They don’t list pricing information on the website and require you to contact them to “discuss” pricing and plans.
Unique Feature: Post and comment based purchasing
Storeya – Offers a clean simple design which give individual products and categories their own page. Free plan and free trial available. Can be set up as a stand alone store or linked to a number of other eCommerce platforms.
Unique Feature: Clean, simple design
Appsmav.com – Offers Facebook app as part of their suite of apps for Retailers. It’s not too clear exactly what the FB shop itself looks like. The pricing for the overall “Retailer Package” is based on the number of Fans you have and starts at $4.95 per month for up to 500 Fans. That doesn’t seem to expensive, but then again you are paying for a number of other apps that you might not want. There doesn’t seem to be a free trial either.
Unique Feature – part of a package of other apps
NB: Other eCommerce platforms offer Facebook Shops that work within their framework, but cannot be used separately. Some of these include Muncom, BigCommerce, Ecwid.