The hosted e-commerce service lets Web stores plug into Facebook pages or apps.
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E-commerce website operator MarketLive now lets store owners sell on Facebook, managing their social storefronts the same way they manage their websites.
"This will provide the ability for our merchants to launch an e-commerce store where they can sell their product offering directly within the Facebook site," allowing customers to make a purchase and "never leave the Facebook experience," CEO Mark Pierce said in an interview.
MarketLive provides hosted e-commerce software and also assists its customers with Web store design and customization. The Social Store for Facebook is available now at no additional cost to MarketLive customers, although the company cannot yet point to any live examples. MarketLive will begin beta implementations for its customers over the next few months, Pierce said. One of the first will be Ulla Popken, a retailer of plus size women's clothing that plans to launch its social store in July or August.
"We do have a shopping feature on our Facebook page now, but it's really just a data feed," Michelle Richenderfer, director of marketing at Ulla Popken, said in an interview. Visitors to the page can browse promoted items and share ones they like with their friends, but if they try to make a purchase "it takes them out of Facebook and brings them to back to our current website." For someone immersed in the Facebook experience, that's "a real disconnect," she said.
Sam Hogin, vice president of product management at MarketLive, said store operators will be able to display their storefront as one of the tabs within a Facebook business page, or even as multiple tabs representing different retail departments. The same content can be made available in the form of a stand-alone Facebook app. In either case, customers will be able to browse a product catalog, add multiple items to a cart, and check out without ever leaving Facebook. In a future release, MarketLive hopes to find a way of embedding product listings within the Facebook Wall and allowing customers to make a purchase right there, rather than clicking through to another page, he said.
Pierce said MarketLive is approaching Facebook commerce the same way it supports mobile commerce--as an alternate user interface that works with the same back end systems for administration and order management. That will be better for storeowners than having to integrate with another specialized product for Facebook commerce, he said.
Richenderfer said that as a subsidiary of a German retailer that sells through catalogs and online in the U.S., Ulla Popkin relies on MarketLive to run its entire website, including its own U.P. Life social community. Her firm's social media strategy is just getting started, and she admitted she can only guess how customers will react to the forthcoming Facebook store. But after investing the effort into creating an effective web store, she said she looks forward to "bringing that whole experience into Facebook."
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