We’re all familiar with e-commerce, but how many of us have engaged in f-commerce? The “f” stands for Facebook, which you may have heard of. Hailed as the next big thing last year, f-commerce storefronts, launched by some of the nation’s leading retailers, are shutting down or scaling back, citing disappointing sales and return on investment. The list of merchants who’ve opened and quietly closed stores on the social networking site includes such big names as GameStop, Gap, J. C. Penney and Nordstrom.
While some 845 million people have embraced Facebook as a way to connect with friends and family, they apparently don’t view the site as a shopping destination. At least not yet. What isn’t clear is whether Facebook or the retailers themselves are to blame for the failure.
The chains all operate their own e-commerce sites, which are faster and may be more secure and offer a broader selection of merchandise, so why not shop there? Indeed, the storefronts may have flopped because their owners lacked imagination or failed to make sufficient effort to insure their success. Clearly, persuading people to shop while they’re socializing isn’t easy. Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru put it nicely observing that selling to Facebook users is “like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”
Advertisers and marketers have had more success engaging visitors to Facebook. Indeed, creating value for them on its site is a key element of Facebook’s strategy as discussed in some detail in the S-1 it filed this month. However, I combed the IPO filing for any mention of f-commerce and came up empty.
So it appears that retailers, who have enough on their plates without cracking the social commerce puzzle, are on their own as Facebook has more immediate concerns. But the day will come when the company, in its quest to monetize its vast social network and justify its $100 billion valuation, will revisit f-commerce. That’s if some savvy retailer doesn’t figure it out first.