Facebook’s Expanding eCommerce Ambitions

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Facebook’s new Facebook Shop – its latest social commerce expansion – aims to make it easier for customers to shop their preferred brands, find new favorites and complete their purchases, all from within the Facebook app.

“We want to make shopping easier for people and empower anyone, from an entrepreneur to the largest brand, to use our apps to connect with customers and grow their business,” Facebook wrote in announcing the rollout.

Facebook had been testing Facebook Shop alongside the recently launched Instagram Shop earlier this summer. And in May, Facebook rolled out a companion product called “Facebook Shops” for merchants, which allows them to easily set up online stores within the Facebook app. The company plans to release a set of Facebook Shops seller tools to eligible businesses over the next several weeks.

Facebook designed those tools to “give businesses more control over how their digital storefront looks and make creating new collections easier,” the company said. The tools include a variety of design layouts for a digital store, along with beefed-up data to make it easier for merchants to track results.

The latest rollout follows the release last month of Instagram Shop. That product is notable for serving as Facebook’s first big leap forward in social commerce, smoothing out in-app purchases to a much greater degree than what had been available before. The company also planned to team Instagram Shop with the U.S. launch of Facebook Pay, to provide what the social media giant called “a seamless, secure way to shop and make donations across our apps.”

With the new product launches, Facebook is markedly expanding possibilities across its family of apps in commerce terms. Previously, merchants who wanted to display goods on both Facebook and Instagram had to create and manage those listings separately. But with Facebook Shop, merchants can now create a catalog of products viewable through all of Facebook’s apps.

Facebook’s big push into eCommerce isn’t surprising, given that 85 percent of people worldwide are now shopping online, according to the company’s own figures.

“We want to make shopping easier for people and empower anyone, from an entrepreneur to the largest brand, to use our apps to connect with customers and grow their business,” the company said in announcing its moves. “That’s why we’re creating new ways for people to shop on our apps and providing tools to help businesses sell online.”

Apart from large new features like Facebook Shop and Instagram Shop, there are ongoing initiatives to recruit startups to help build out the company’s commerce offerings. Earlier this month, Facebook announced a new Commerce Accelerator that will work with 60 startups picked from a pool of applicants from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

The goal is to expand the reach and ease of use of Facebook’s eCommerce tools, with an eye toward building out the company’s ecosystem as “one unified shopping experience,” Facebook said in a blog post unveiling the Commerce Accelerator program.

“In this critical time, Facebook is doubling down on commerce and accelerating its work to enable every business to sell online and help people gain inspiration and discover and buy the products they love,” the company said. “We can’t achieve this alone, so we are looking for startups to build technology with us.”

And presumably, Facebook is also looking for merchants to sign onto its eCommerce efforts, as well as for consumers who will actually buy things. Those are two things Facebook has historically struggled with as it has attempted to expand into a richer commerce relationship with its millions of active users.

In terms of attracting merchants, Facebook has built a major incentive into Facebook Shop, waiving seller fees through year’s end. It seems likely that Facebook will find it easier than normal to recruit businesses to a free platform at a time when it seems almost anyone selling anything is looking for a better way to do so digitally.

As for the customers? They’ve always been tricky, as their historical preference has been not to shop on Facebook, but to look at pictures of friends’ kids and argue about politics with distant relatives.

But pushed by the pandemic to a truly digital-first lifestyle, it seems that social commerce might have finally gotten the boost it needs to catch a critical mass of U.S. consumers.

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