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How Online Retailers Should Be Thinking About Facebook Connect

February 15, 2011

Facebook and it’s 500 million + users represents a large potential market for any company who sells online.  The question for retailers is how to best reach this audience, and perhaps more importantly, how to use the vast amount of user social data in Facebook to enrichen the shopping experience on your site. Facebook Connect helps do both for retailers.

Facebook Connect is the evolution of the Facebook platform that allows websites– including online ecommerce sites– to connect with a user’s Facebook identity, profile, friends, and overall social graph.

Online retailers should be thinking about Facebook Connect in several different ways:

Site Registration and User Authentication

One of the main objectives of online retailers is to get a shopper to voluntarily share their contact information and create an identity on the site and with the brand.  This not only shows a higher committment level from that shopper to the retailer, but also gives the retailer an opportunity to actively reach out to the user in the future.

Facebook Connect allows retailers to simplify this process by making it easy for the shopper to join the site via one click using their Facebook credentials.  A shopper who is a Facebook user (and chances are they probably are among the 500 million users) who visits your site is more likely to register on your site than if they were not a Facebook user.  In fact,  according to Facebook, sites that use Facebook Connect have seen increases of 30% to 200% in site registrations. In addition, when they return to your site, they’ll be able to authenticate using their Facebook credentials without having to remember a separate, site-specific credentials.

Demandware (a client of mine) prototyped Facebook Connect site registration, where a user’s info is auto-populated on site registration page when logging in with Facebook:

Contextual Social Sharing

Another important goal of retailers is to increase the amount of time users spend on site, as well as how much they share about the company’s products and brand off-site.  When shoppers use Facebook Connect on a retailers site, they grant permissions for the site to post to their wall on Facebook, including easily share products, reviews of products and purchases made.  Facebook says sites that use Facebook Connect have seen a 15% to 100% increase in the number of reviews and other user-generated content on the site.

An example of contextual social sharing in action can be seen with Demandware Mobile, where users who have logged into the retailer’s site with Facebook can share products and comments on the product directly from the product details page to their wall on Facebook:

Also, the “Like” button lends itself to social sharing, where shoppers can see directly on a retailer’s site who else in their network also liked a particular item.  The Levi’s Friends Store demonstrates a good example of this, as well as how products can be merchandised based on Facebook likes:

Personalization

Creating a more personalized, “virtual word of mouth” shopping experience is another important goal of retailers.  Since Facebook Connect accesses a shopper’s profile data, retailer’s are better able to personalize the shopping experience. Birthday information, shopping list, interests, and preferences of both the shopper and his or her social graph can be used to serve up products that better match the shopper’s preferences.

Perhaps the best example out there is Amazon, which let’s you see what’s popular amongst your friends who’ve shopped on Facebook, and suggests gift and birthday ideas for friends in your Facebook social graph.  Amazon also serves up product suggestions (music, books) based on your interests in Facebook.

One of the main challenges with personalization with Facebook Connect is that you need a large number of people in your Facebook network to take action on the sites you shop in order to gain the benefits of Facebook Connect.  If none of your friends take action, then the social intelligence Facebook Connect provides is rendered useless.

Facebook Connect as part of your strategy

While Facebook Connect represents a means for retailers to reach a the large Facebook user base, retailers should approach it as one option among existing capabilities around site registration and authentication, contextual social sharing and personalization.  Connect should work in-line with the investment you’ve made in these areas, and not be viewed as an alternative.  As Facebook activity across the web grows, particularly on ecommerce sites, Connect will increase in value to both shoppers and retailers.  Until that time, pursue Connect as part of your strategy, and invest more as consumer adoption and activity increases.

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