Facebook Storefronts: Right For SMBs?

Facebook apps like TabJuice make it easy to conduct e-ecommerce on the social network, but they don't guarantee the cash register will ring.
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When Francine Ballard opened an e-commerce storefront on Facebook, she did so because "rather than following the pack, I wanted to be ahead of what's going on."

The DesignerSocial Facebook store lets her explore the potential of what she likes to call "me commerce," but to date it drives marketing more than sales. DesignerSocial is taking advantage of TabJuice, one of several Facebook shopping apps (of which the leader is probably Payvment) that are making social commerce accessible to small retailers without the resources to create a custom solution.

DesignerSocial, which has three full-time employees and a stable of freelancers, sells products from a community of fashion designers and attracts traffic with its fashion blog. Ballard is a former fashion industry publishing executive who learned the industry at InStyle and Lucky. By adding the TabJuice app to her Facebook business page, Ballard is allowing customers to add products to a cart and check out directly within Facebook. Yet that is not what they are doing, Ballard said. "The Facebook page is driving a lot of people to our site, but I haven't yet had a sale. I think it's just that people don't use Facebook yet for e-commerce--it's one of those things that takes a while for people to get comfortable with."

Customers will browse the catalog on Facebook, but when they're ready to buy they tend to click through to the DesignerSocial website. That's contrary to the logic of Facebook-based sales and marketing, which is based on the idea that Facebook users will be happier if they can do business with a company without leaving the comfortable social media framework. On the other hand, encountering a credit card checkout screen within Facebook is still not something users have grown to expect.

Large retailers like J.C. Penney and Express have embedded their full e-commerce catalogs within Facebook. TabJuice, which was released in early June by Flank Digital, functions as a stand-alone e-commerce system for small businesses that might not have any other online sales capability, or it can be a parallel system specifically customized for Facebook.

TabJuice also provides an application programming interface for synchronizing pricing, catalog, and inventory data with Web commerce systems and has developed a plug-in for Magento Commerce. TabJuice founder Dylan Whitman said he has been talking to other e-commerce companies about providing a Facebook front end for their products.

"The feedback we've gotten is that we've done one of the best jobs with the administration panel," Whitman said. TabJuice is designed so non-technical users can customize the layout and color choices, offering more design freedom than its rivals, he said.

Another early TabJuice customer, Jedidah Clothing, saw strong sales in June that might have something to do with adding a social store, said Woodbury Roland, the retailer's public relations coordinator. But at the same time, she added, "To be honest, we haven't seen a huge reaction from our customers."

Ballard said she is managing her Facebook store separately for now but is in the progress of redesigning her website to incorporate Magneto, partly so DesignerSocial will be able to take advantage of the integration with TabJuice. While the Facebook store may not be driving a lot of revenue today, she said, "I'm a huge believer in just getting there first." She hopes to build her Facebook page fan base, which is so far fairly modest at about 4,500 people, by posting products to the Facebook page first "so we incentivize people to go there and get them in the habit of seeing it there first."

Ballard sees big players in her industry, such as Asos making big investments in Facebook commerce, she said. "That tells me something about this is where you need to be. Eventually, e-commerce will happen on Facebook. It's just not happening now."

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