Facebook’s Buy button, which it is currently testing with a select group of brands for desktop and mobile, is a clear sign of where Facebook wants the shift in its platform. Particularly on mobile.
The social network was ahead of the curve when it recognised the importance of mobiles in people’s lives – and it’s paying off for them.
Now, as more and more purchases are made directly on mobiles, Facebook is trying to get ahead of traditional competitors (such as Twitter, which launched its own version of the Buy button via Product cards in April), and expand into a wider role for users on the platform, giving them another reason to stay within the social network's walled garden.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has tried to have a role in ecommerce on platform – does anyone remember the disaster that was Beacon, or the Facebook tab-powered stores? So what will make it more successful than previous attempts?
If it’s going to work on a long-term basis, Facebook needs to be selective about which retailers can use it and how.
Users need to be presented products that are relevant to you and of a premium nature. If they are only being shown goods like weight-loss pills and "custom" clothing based on their names, it will cheapen the product itself and lead to a lack of consumer trust, and thus usage – a key consideration at a time when Facebook is under attack for privacy concerns.
Firstly, a balance needs to be struck between scale (and revenue) and the types of product on offer in order to be credible as a place to purchase quality goods.
Opening this to certain types of advertisers would be a disaster – being presented with buy options for laundry powder, for instance, couldn’t sound less appealing. They need to resist pushing for as much revenue as possible from this, which is a tall task for a public company.
There’s an additional challenge to this. As Facebook continues to reach saturation in markets and in consumers’ lives, it needs to innovate or provide a clear reason for consumers to come back.
My usage of Facebook now is much different than eight years ago (more as storage for contacts than anything else), and even considering it as a place to buy goods directly is a leap, personally.
If Facebook is only going to surface goods to me in my feed, it’s hoping that the algorithm powering it is strong enough to know exactly what I’d want, when I want it – otherwise it just becomes another version of retargeted ads following and annoying me around the web, and that’s not going to move Facebook’s commerce offering.
Zuckerberg’s past two years have clearly been geared around broadening the Facebook brand’s role in people’s lives, and commerce is a potential next step – but does it fit into the social network itself? I’m not so sure.