How to sell on Facebook – shoplets and fan pages

Can your sell your products on Facebook? And by sell I mean – have the customers actually complete the transaction without ever leaving their favorite social playground? 1-800-flowers.com leads the way, or so it seems.

In July this year 1-800-flowers.com launched an online store inside their Facebook fan page using a solution provided by Alvenda, and have soon completed the first ever retail transaction inside Facebook. They have also distributed a huge number (a million, or so they say) of stores on Mother’s Day via Alvenda’s shoplets, but that’s an entirely new discussion topic. Let’s get back to The Social Network – and how you (or your clients) can leverage its huge popularity to generate more sales. Your customers are definitely spending way more time on Facebook that they are browsing through your store. So, how do you go about engaging them? How can you sell on (or in) Facebook?

Facebook Ads
Here’s a pretty straightforward option, and you can target just about anything… if your product aims at a single 21-year-old Croatian female college student who is a fan of How I Met Your Mother and snorkeling, you can make sure your ad will show up in the right place – of course, then there’s just that small thing – will she click? And if she clicks, will she buy?

Show up on Facebook Marketplace
This is more of a classifieds/eBay-like experience mostly for individuals, although some merchants are using it as well. Deserves to be mentioned, and that’s about it.

Create a Fan Page for your business/product
A must for the majority of retailers. 99% of online retailers have or plan to have a fan page on Facebook so you don’t want to be the only one not playing. Fan pages, in addition to generating and raising your brand awareness, can be used for all kinds of sales promotions (with a bunch of links to product landing pages on your site). But, and of course there’s a huge but there – as any other sales and marketing effort, your fan page has to have dedicated people working on it and it needs to engage the customers on a regular basis to constantly remind them why exactly are they your fans.

Develop a Facebook virtual store app
Some retailers have decided to go this way – usually a virtual store app would have many of the products available at the retailers online store showcased within the app and users can click their way directly to the checkout at the retailer’s online store (leaving Facebook to complete the transaction). I don’t know about you, but very early into my Facebook experience I’ve grown sick and tired of all different app requests that I received (and still do) on daily basis. At the moment I’m relentlessly ignoring all app requests so when I see the “Allow Access?” screen, it’s a huge turn off for me. This may not be the case for some of your potential customers, though…

So here we come to the two final options which I like the most right now – and they adopt very different Facebook tactics.

Integrate Facebook Connect on your online store
Many retailers have embraced Facebook Connect in an effort to combine the best of two worlds – online shopping and social networking – and enable their customers a collaborative shopping experience. This is achieved by customers logging in on a retailer’s site using their Facebook IDs – there they can view product reviews and get instant advice from family and friends in the process of making purchasing decisions. Here’s a list of some of the live sites using this API for a vast variety of purposes – maybe this can give you some ideas.

Create an actual store inside Facebook
While all the previous methods can help you and your customers spread the word, share your products with friends of friends’ friends, and, ultimately, increase your site traffic and total sales, only the last one, used by the famous florists from the top of the article, will allow your customers to make the actual purchase without ever having to leave Facebook, and this is where it definitely stands out.

1800-flowers-facebook

The Shop tab on their fan page brings you to the actual store – there’s no need to allow any app to access your data, there’s a selection of products you can order (although limited when compared with the actual 1800flowers.com store), and the ordering process is simple and easy, exactly like you’re buying from a merchant’s online store. However, although the checkout process is supported by VeriSign secure encryption, the one thing that could scare off some customers is the lack of that famous “https://” in the address bar (since this shoplet is actually in a form of a widget embedded in the fan page) so this will take some getting used to.

And the fact that this shoplet gives you the exact same shopping experience as the 1-800-flowers site is maybe its biggest flaw at the same time. What it lacks is the social networking component – you can’t share anything about your shopping experience with your friends, set birthday or anniversary reminders (not that anyone would admit they need to be reminded of that, right, guys?) or anything similar. It’s basically a shop within Facebook with all the good and the bad things that brings along.

I’ve tried getting some thoughts on this from the America’s favorite florists, but am yet to receive any reply. I’ll update the post when/if I get any feedback from them.

So, what do you think? Can the portable storefronts like these Alvenda’s shoplets or other ecommerce widgets be the next big thing or are they already lagging behind by failing to recognize the importance of embedding the social networking component in the online shopping experience (something Facebook Connect is more focused on)? It’s not black or white, of course, but these are some examples of very different approaches to leveraging social networks for improving your online business.

What would you rather go with – bringing customers to your store or bringing the store to your customers?

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59 comments

  1. Hi everyone,

    just wanted to drop by and wish you all a great and successful 2012 – this article has taken a life of its own since the day it was originally posted (back in December 2009) and I appreciate all of your suggestions and comments contributing to the discussion on the whole “social commerce” concept.

    I also wanted to present an interesting new solution for Magento users (since we at Inchoo are primarily focused on ecommerce development on Magento platform) – here is a nice brief case study of Sortal, a new platform that utilizes the best of Magento and Facebook…

    Admittedly, this solution is aimed more at enterprise-level clients, but I hope it can also give some good insights into what is possible and what may be the next steps in commerce as a whole (not just e-commerce, f-commerce, m-commerce and similar)…

    http://www.commerceonfacebook.com/2012/01/04/the-key-to-successfully-selling-on-facebook/

    Hope you’ll find this useful and an interesting read.

    Once again, I wish you all a healthy, happy and successful 2012!

  2. Very interesting subject and comments!
    I don’t believe that Facebook should be used for direct sell. Think that connection to your site is better, since you can easier interest customer to shop something else, educate about products, discuss with other customers, post ideas, follow blog etc.
    Facebook app still can’t deliver that.

  3. I would feel happier having my FB customer redirected to my own website’s checkout, which I have already used, tested and trust.

  4. Hi folks,
    For those who are individuals or small charities/groups, would it not be better just to place all your products/descriptions into a photo album, together with a Paypal link, and then promote the album on the Page? This seems much easier that integrating, especially for the non-technical small business person or charity. Or, is this somehow against FB’s terms and conditions, to use a photo album in this way? It sure would make things simple.

  5. I noticed the 8thBridge link on the flowers shop tab so missed the link between Alvenda and 8thBridge. Plus I didn’t notice the original date 2009. One would have thought that progress in this area of development would have made more progress. We’ve just completed a zen cart after moving away from oscommerce after nearly 10 years of using these os carts I just feel the leap into the new media sites is lacking a solution. I’ll check out 8thBridge now, apologies for being slightly on the negative side in fact your article was way ahead of its time looking at it again 🙂

  6. @Andy – I guess you didn’t actually read through the article carefully – you can see that the solution provider for 1-800-Flowers – Alvenda – is mentioned several times, and there are also many references to other solutions in the comments to this article (I also mention this in a comment just above yours).

    Now, this article was published back in December 2009 with the purpose of giving a quick overview of various ways to leverage Facebook and its fan pages (at that time) to grow sales – of course some things have changed since 2009 🙂

    If you’re particularly interested in a solution similar to Alvenda’s – they changed their name to 8thBridge in the meantime – so feel free to check them out now…

  7. The article describes many things but it doesn’t actually point to a solution, was this the intention? The flower shop tab is just a shop tab, the provider of this solution is?
    How do you get a shop on facebook? I dont understand why you write an article on a subject with no real substance, why you’re on top of the search engines for this is incredible. Does facebook have a shop app? Anyone?

  8. Aron,
    I am interested in receiving the informtion about selling on Facebook. Can you please send me the email ,and how to start selling my product .
    thanks so much for your help

  9. Hey, everyone – thanks for the latest comments – since the main article is now over 1,5 years old, there have been many changes in and around Facebook and ways merchants have been using its services to engage customers and/or even sell directly from Facebook.

    I just stumbled upon an article on Mashable that gives a good, up-to-date overview of F-commerce (selling on or via Facebook), so you should check definitely check it out.

    http://mashable.com/2011/07/14/facebook-commerce-guide/

  10. I actually found a new free platform called Easy Social shop (www.easysocialshop.com) that allows you to integrate your Amazon and Ebay shop easily and quickly!

  11. hi aron.

    caould you send the email that you send to the others about selling online.. any tips will be greatly appreciated.

    thanks

  12. how do i create a page to sell things? i am makeing key rings they are realy neat and i want to sell them. How do i creat a page to do it?

  13. Hi there Aron,

    Could you send it to me too? I sell T-shirts online. This information will help me a lot. Thanks!

  14. Hi Aron,
    Your comments are extremely helpful. Could you send me the information that you have sent Peggy and Valerie in the past. I am wanting to sell some designer children clothing online. Thank you!!

  15. Hi Aron,
    How can i innitiate and idea that can be a developed in to a soft ware or application that face book and others can benefit from it,
    thank yoou

  16. Hello Aron,
    I had a published title already listed on amazon.com for sale. Please how can i also sell the book through facebook using amazon.com as my on-line store, and what are the steps to follow in getting this done?
    Thanks
    Taiwo

  17. @Laila – thanks for the comment, glad you shared this with us. Can you share the Facebook page where this can be seen in action?

    @Sandy – hello, Wisconsin! 🙂 there are a lot of resources you can check to see how to use FB to your advantage – here’s a really quick advice – http://bit.ly/hWuAfS – the important thing is to make sure you have the basics in place – a working online storefront your customers can find easily and buy from easily

    Cheers,
    Aron

  18. Hi:

    I have used a company called Milyoni http://www.milyoni.com to setup shop and one can do the complete transaction within the 4 walls of facebook. Very simple to use for the consumer and not too hard to setup.
    Cheers,
    Laila

  19. Hi Aron, from Wisconsin here…we have a website which shows the hand-made post and rung chairs we make. I have recently bit the bullet and opened a facebook account. I waited because I didn’t want to get bogged down with friends and relatives wanting to friend me…which, by the way happened. I’m interested in using facebook to our business advantage. Also, I would like to sell a couple of rare books on line. Yes, I have tried other sites but wondered if Facebook has as ap for rare and collectable items for sale. Didn’t mean to meander but there you go. Thanks for any help you can give. Sandy Danielson

  20. Hello – I understand that those apps to sell on FB cost money (a listing price, then a commission to sell an item).
    I am waiting to get a few more products before I use this option, or set up shop on Ebay, or Etsy.
    In the meanwhile, I’ve been trying to find out whether or not it is permitted to list prices under photos in FB? I can’t find the rules on this anywhere…..

     Beach decor for sale by Vancouver artist
  21. @Judy – I’ve been getting a lot of similar inquiries from people asking for some tips on this, and there’s already a lot of information to be found in comments above.

    However, I see the need to work on another article where I’ll share some more options small merchants have as the market on different applications that allow for selling via Facebook has grown significantly since I wrote this post one year ago.

    I’ll be back… 🙂

  22. Hello, Aron! Is there somewhere we could check out all the tips and information you have to send individually to each person who asks about selling on Facebook? I am crafting baby quilts and other handmade items and I appreciate any help you can give me. Thanks so much!!!

  23. Hi-desperate seeking help! I sell accessories, headbands, earrings etc… I want to sell on facebook. But where do I start? What is the first thing I should do? Pleas help

  24. i’m also interested in selling on fb…wire wrapping tutorials written by me. Is there a way to automate the download process after payment?

    Any selling info on going about it from the very basic to advanced is appreciated.

    Cheryl

  25. Hello Aron

    Thanks for the reply, somehow i entered my another email address which i rarely check, hence the late reply.

    I have advertised on Facebook via their CPC Ads program. I will say that its not very sales friendly.

    I think its best used for Brand awareness, rather than generating sales.

  26. @Ibn – you can, of course, use some of the suggestions from this post (exploring the options with ShopTab or Alvenda if you have an existing online store would probably be the way to go – you’ll find the links in the article)

    But a good start would be just to start playing around with creating a Facebook page for your business/product and building a fan/follower base – without it, there would nothing to leverage.

    You can also take a look at some advertising options they offer at http://www.facebook.com/advertising/ if this is something that would be interesting.

    All the best…

  27. Hello

    I have been selling online since 2003. I would like to use Facebook as platform to sell my products.

    Can someone send me more details on how to setup a shop on Facebook

  28. @Peggy – I just sent you an email with some additional information – hope this helps

    @Valerie – thanks for the comment, ShopTab is being used by a lot of stores as an extension of their existing online storefront outside Facebook.

    What might be interesting for some who are only looking to leverage their Facebook page or their blog to sell their products/services, but are not interested in a full-fledged ecommerce solution, is something along what CartFly offers – http://cartfly.com

  29. Aron,
    I am also interested in receiving the informtion about selling on Facebook. Can you please send me the email that you sent to Lesa and Brittany?
    Thanks

  30. Aron,

    Thank you for the overview of Facebook eCommece apps.

    The idea of completing purchasing transactions within Facebook is very appealing as it doesn’t expose a potential Customer to multiple clicks, redirects or paralysis when presented with too many product options. It would seem the next logical step for Facebook to implement full eCommerce capability!

    That being said, based on your article and @Melissa Dougan’s comment suggestion, I took a look at ShopTab and am suitably impressed with the functionality and price.

    I would like to see more options in this space.

  31. Aron, Im interested in selling tshirts, bumper stickers etc. via a facebook page but havent a clue where or how to get started. Can you give me some suggestions, please?

  32. I mostly promote my jewelry via facebook and it has worked out well so far. I would like to sell on my facebook page like 1 800 flower but I can not figure out how to go about doing it. help please….

  33. @azuka – I would imagine selling fan pages would be against Facebook TOS… FaceFlippa used to have a marketplace for accounts and fan pages, but they have been taken down recently.

  34. Has anyone seen their Friends selling products directly from their Profile pages? In other words….”I’m a fan of product X and you can buy one right here on my page.”
    Do you think this type of peer to peer selling on Facebook will take off?

  35. One way for Facebook (or Facebook merchants) to get around the “https” issue is for Facebook to Secure these storefront pages with VeriSign SSL as well.

    1-800-Flowers uses VeriSign EV SSL on their Web site and I am assuming they would prefer Facebook to do the same.

    In order for this to happen, the Facebook storefront owners would have to push Facebook to make this upgrade.

    Just a thought…

  36. @Toni – that’s true, you don’t even need the store… I have a friend who makes handmade fashion accessories… and she manages to leverage Facebook beautifully just by using her profile (no fan pages, ads, shoplets…)

  37. @Bruno – yes, many are happy to jump on the bandwagon without having a clear strategy, for many retailers it’s all about tactics now.

    I somehow saw Facebook more as a great tool for retailers to raise awareness and share stories with an ever-increasing audience but it turns out it may just become the biggest shopping mall ever…not sure that they’d want to go that way, though.

  38. @Melissa – thanks for sharing your experiences and the link to the ShopTab – this is something I’ve seen retailers use and similar apps will probably soon be used on a much larger scale.

    I feel the retailers who chose to go with these store apps and/or integrate Facebook Connect on their off-Facebook (we’re starting to come up with some new words here… :)) stores will be able to leverage its true nature more effectively.

    I’m certainly glad to hear it’s working out for you 🙂

  39. Aron, I think the line between social networks and shopping are really getting blurry. Search engines like Yahoo just announced their “members” (over 300 million) can now log in with Facebook connect. When announcements like this start happening so frequently it definitely tells me that shopping on sites like Facebook is going to happen more often in the near future. For me its a conveneince factor if it becomes more norm as I spend a lot of time each day on Facebook checking out my friends updates and my favorite brands/company fan pages for updates. I am shocked to see how few of my favorite companies don’t have a Facebook shop tab.

    I saw that 800 Flowers shop a few months ago and was really excited about it. I contacted the company that made it but never heard back and did some searching online and could only find 1 company that helps retailers like me create a shop tab on Facebook. It was not easy to find so I thought I would share with you that Facebook business app to look into as it is definitely working for me (we sell handmade Jewelery) at http://www.facebook.com/shoptabapp

  40. “What would you rather go with – bringing customers to your store or bringing the store to your customers?”

    – as a Developer: why not having both?
    – as a Shop owner: That sounds lovely, how much will it cost?

    Regarding the Facebook selling, I wonder if the income per month gives it a good base to start having more facebook shops, and, if we going all to start having this… Facebook might change the status and become more of an Apple Store that had to deny something, or … Facebook will never be the same.

    This days more shops use Social Networking for share their products to the public, gathering more and more customers (at last, unique users), but their must to be a line where we say… That is it, something is wrong, we are not selling our products right, let’s change our Marketing flow, as let’s share our products with all Social Networks out there to see if we get more customers, we need to sell more…

  41. Hey Aron,

    I know a person who actually sold tons of apples via Facebook. The person didn’t have a store, he was simply taking orders via Facebook but it shows it can be done. If you can sell apples via Facebook you can probably sell anything 🙂

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