Facebook Connect for Ecommerce: Is It Right For Your Business?

If you’re one of Facebook’s 500 million users, you’ve likely encountered a Facebook Connect invitation in your travels through the Interweb. According to Facebook, 30% of its users actively engage with third party websites through Facebook Connect each month.

Facebook Connect is the next iteration of Facebook’s F8 Development Platform that allows websites to connect with a Facebook user’s identity, profile information and even information about the user’s Facebook friends through the Facebook API.

Web sites can benefit from offering Facebook Connect in a variety of ways:

  • Alternative to a sign up process. A logged in Facebook user can join a site with one click, authenticating his or her account using Facebook credentials.
  • Provide “social context” around web content and features. Users can grant permission to a web site to post stories to their Wall, share content with one click and even share wish lists or products they’ve purchased. Connected users can view what their friends have viewed, commented on, or reviewed on your site. This “social proof” builds trust, as people value their friends’ opinions over strangers’.
  • Enrich web site personalization. With access to profile data, web sites can personalize based on keywords in both the Connected user’s profile and his/her social graph (gift suggestions, birthday reminders, etc).
  • Improve customer service communication. Folks who frequent Facebook more than their email inboxes may prefer to receive product back-in-stock or shipment notifications through Facebook, especially when email inboxes are already overflowing.

Facebook claims sites that use Facebook Connect have seen 30% to 200% increases in site registrations, and 15% to 100% increases in user generated content like comments and product reviews. And Facebook is perhaps the richest source of information on a customer’s interests, as users are quite keen to share it with friends, and are constantly updating profile data.

The majority web sites that offer Facebook Connect are non-ecommerce sites. Information sites like TechCrunch or the Wall Street Journal benefit from increased content sharing. Social networks like Twitter and Vimeo benefit from one-click sign up. But a few heavy hitting e-commerce sites, most notably Amazon, have taken the plunge.

How Online Retailers Are Using Facebook Connect

Personalization – Amazon

The ‘Zon made a big splash last summer when it rolled out new personalization features with Facebook Connect. By connecting to your profile and social graph, Amazon can recommend products that match the interests of you and your friends beyond clickstream and purchase data it has from on-site Amazon behavior. (You can access this feature by clicking the “We have recommendations for you” link at the top of your Amazon page.)

Once connected, you can see recommended products based on what your friends Like, along with upcoming birthdays.

Amazon populates gift suggestions based on individual friends’ profile data.

Personalization – Teavana

Using the TurnTo application, Teavana allows you to search for what your friends have purchased on the Teavana site. You can also find out what strangers in your zip code have recently bought.

Though creative, I’m not convinced it adds value to product discovery or the purchase decision. Teavana could make it more fun and personalized with a “What’s Your Tea Personality?” feature. For example, friends who list yoga under their interests could be matched with Body + Mind White Tea, or sushi lovers with Gyokuro Imperial Green Tea.

Merchandising – Levi’s

Similar to sorting by customer reviews, The Levi’s “Friends Store” microsite merchandizes its product according to the number of Facebook Likes received.

Using Facebook Connect allows you to view what Levi’s products your friends have Liked, along with their birthdays. Unlike Amazon, Levi’s does not suggest products for your friends.

Unfortunately, this tool is only useful if many of your friends are active on the Levi’s site. For example, of my network of over 400 people, only three have Liked the Levi’s brand, and only one Liked a Levi’s product.

Without committed participation from one’s social circle, there’s not much you can do with such an application.

Product Pages – Jansport

Using the Fluid Social application, Jansport socializes its product pages. Connected users can filter review content down to what their friends have contributed or what reviews they’ve liked. They can also invite friends to chat right on Jansport.com about the product.

Again, the value add requires a critical mass of users actively participating. Consider that a product on Amazon receives, on average, one customer review for every 1,300 sales. Let’s assume one in five reviewers are Connected. That means one in 6,500 sales leaves a review. What are the odds of one of your Facebook friends leaving a review for the very back pack you are viewing on Jansport.com?

The co-shopping feature does not require a critical mass, but co-shopping tools have been around for years, and have yet to gain traction with users. Unlike gaming, online shopping is a personal activity.

The ability to post your product review right to your Facebook Wall, which enables “passive word of mouth,” may be valuable to Jansport. The retailer should be tracking all activity closely to see if the added exposure justifies the cost of the application.

Post-Purchase – Nike

Nike uses Facebook Connect to help customers evangelize their purchases. You may remember Facebook Beacon, which launched in 2007 and plunged in 2009, intended to do the same thing – without permission from the customer! The snafu cost Facebook nearly $10 million.

Nike only posts purchase announcements with users’ permission, and only after the purchase is complete so it doesn’t interrupt the checkout process and risk an abandoned cart.

Photo Credit: Digital Operative

This feature is on-point with Nike’s customizable product line. Customers who design a custom pair of shoes are more likely to want to share their purchase details than stock products, as building the shoe is a personal activity and a reflection of one’s individuality.

Groupon is another site that offers post-purchase evangelism. Again, this makes sense for the business model – the daily deal is something local friends may get excited about.

Is Facebook Connect Right For Your Online Shop

As there are several ecommerce applications of Facebook Connect, each should be considered individually.

Site Registration / Authentication

One-click sign up eliminates virtually all friction in the sign up process (other than the anxiety over potential privacy concerns), and solves the “dang, I forgot my password again” problem. Most Facebook users are perpetually logged in, or they log in frequently enough their login info is committed to memory.

There are pitfalls for online retailers, however. Facebook Connect cannot replace account creation process if you require complete or accurate information. It’s not unusual for a Facebook user to create a silly name, or to use just an initial for a last name. Users also control their own privacy settings for date of birth, gender and current city, and can restrict sharing that information.

Further, depending on your business, you may require customer information that does not exist in a Facebook profile, like unique account number, postal code, industry, account type (business or consumer) or mobile number (telco companies).

Privacy is also an issue. Facebook has a history of fudging their data security. Though they pinky swear they adhere to their own privacy policies, there’s reasonable doubt that customer data is always protected.

For these reasons, authentication with Facebook Connect is not well suited for ecommerce stores, rather there’s more value in social interactions the service offers.

Personalization

Rather than build a feature that relies on friends’ activity on your site, be like Amazon and find ways to leverage the latent data you have access to from the social graph. Take cues from keywords in friends’ profile data to recommend products for the Connected user and gift ideas.

Remember that most community features on your site require active participation from a large number of users to make them it useful. Facebook Connect is no exception. As we’ve seen with Levi’s, a large number of Facebook fans does not mean a lot of social action on your site.

Social sharing

The “Like” button is perhaps the easiest way to encourage “passive word of mouth.” Facebook Connect enables sharing beyond just liking products and brands, including posting a purchase, sharing a product review or any other content of interest on your site.

Third party applications like Fluid Social and TurnTo support this, and also make it easier for Connected Facebookers to find their friends’ activity on your site. However, without a critical mass of Connected and active Facebookers, these features add little value, which may cause the Connected to disconnect.

Customer Service

Offering the option to receive customer service notifications through Facebook, rather than regular email, may help your “signal” get through the noise of the already overflowing inbox, as a large number of Facebookers check their social networks constantly. Some sites have already used Twitter for this purpose. However, consider how these communications will be managed. You will need to find a way to “Connect” that data to the rest of your customer communication record.

The Bottom Line

Facebook Connect may be the latest shiny object in the F-commerce world, but ecommerce professionals must be realistic about the actual engagement and personalization benefits it will deliver. Millions of fans on your Facebook Page does not guarantee success with Facebook Connect, even with a tech-savvy and socially saturated target market. Your application needs to provide value without a critical mass of users, and should not conflict with other systems such as customer accounts, personalization tools and customer service. Your feature must be on-brand, on-product and on-customer.


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