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Last week, Buzzfeed broke the news that Facebook users would soon be able to shop within their favourite brand’s Facebook pages.

But the truth is, this isn’t new. Facebook has delved into e-commerce and social shopping many times – without success.

Back in 2011, the social media network introduced Facebook shops, but many brands closed them citing lack of ROI. Next, Facebook tried gifts and cards –  then shut that down to focus on the ‘Buy’ button. Embedded in Facebook posts, this button allows users to buy directly from brands without leaving Facebook. But, we haven’t yet seen evidence of Australian brands using this. (If you have, we’d love to hear about it!)

So why will this time be any different?

As a pioneering digital agency, we see Facebook’s latest choice as an exciting move. But the real opportunity for the social network is not simply extra cash: it’s the ability to make shopping ‘social’.

Giving consumers access to peer reviews and information on friends shopping habits is extremely powerful. It offers something normal online shopfronts cannot: a seamless shopping experience enriched by trusted information from friends. This will allow brands to better connect with their audience and have more control over the decision-making journey. That’s the real value proposition.

If Facebook gets this right, it marks a huge opportunity: the burgeoning e-commerce market is estimated to be worth $1.5 Trillion by the end of 2015.

The challenges

The question most people are asking is: “is social media a place people want to shop?” If you look at the efforts of various social platforms so far, the answer is probably no. There are no clear success stories or overwhelming evidence that consumers do.

Sucharita Mulpuru, VP analyst at Forrester, once compared Facebook’s attempts to integrate e-commerce to ”trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

Despite criticism, we know that if anyone can prove everyone wrong it’s Facebook. They are currently the only social network with the audience, the advertisers and the added kicker of mobile users and social graph to make ‘social shopping’ a success.

Facebook: it’s back to you

So, Facebook, it’s time to step up and prove to everyone why you’re number one. Here’s what you need to do to make Facebook shops work.

  • Nail ‘social’ shopping: Online shopping is successful not solely because it’s convenient but because it allows consumers to research and evaluate products before purchase. Evaluation is a key stage in purchasing, and the modern empowered consumer does their homework before committing to buy. Social shopping offers an element that a simple online shopfront can’t give. Turning shopping into a social activity where shoppers share information with trusted peers is the key to drawing them to the platform and providing value to brands. The added virality of Facebook’s platform will be a key element for brands to tap into as satisfied customers and brand advocates share their products to their network.
  • Make data queen: Facebook’s robust reporting and analytics is why so many brands see value in their advertising services. This information is key to help brands make the right decision, at the right time, to reach the right people. Access to a usable and efficient analytics system for online shops will be crucial to it’s success.
  • Give more brands access: We hope Facebook hears this one! Time and time again social platforms limit new features to certain countries and certain budgets. This practice limits the creativity, innovation and exposure needed to bring these products into the mainstream. With the right strategy brands of all size can make this work – if you let them.
  • Keep test-and-learn the focus: Currently Facebook doesn’t take a cut of products sold on the platform, but it doesn’t mean it will always be the case – especially as they answer to shareholders. Most digital marketers are still fighting for budget to spend on social. So to give more brands access to truly test and learn and get buy-in from management, costs or commissions need to be low.
  • Focus on education: Facebook often forms partnerships with agencies and brands to help them get the best results when using their platform. However small businesses, NFP’s and start-ups are often left in the dark. If Facebook believes in making this feature work for all, they need to equip all brands with the skills to execute. Facebook recently released new user friendly tutorials to help customers create great video adverts. They should continue to do this for their new features to ensure their success.

What do you think? Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or the comments below.

@sallyherrod is a @ntegrityagency digital strategist living and working in New York.