Several retailers have been attempting to turn their Facebook "fan" pages into sales engines since the strategy first began surfacing last year. For instance, there's 1-800-Flowers.com, which says converting its fans on the social site into customers takes a lot of the same tweaking and prodding seen elsewhere in the advertising world.
Kevin Ranford, director of Web marketing for the floral gifts brand, characterized sales conversion rates on Facebook as a work-in-progress. "We're optimistic," he said. "I wouldn't put it necessarily in our hard-hitting [direct-marketing] channel conversion buckets. But I think directionally we are going to see conversions improve. It's still a fairly new thing."
Since July, 1-800-Flowers.com has been employing an app that it dubs "Shoplet," which allows users to purchase without appearing to leave the brand's Facebook fan page. Once viewers click the page's "Shop" tab, the app emerges in the fan page and lets users browse five floral/gift categories. When viewers mouse over a product, they can add it to their shopping cart after selecting a delivery date. The item can be purchased via the app - without leaving the fan page window - by inputting credit card and shipping info.
1-800-Flowers.com uses an app by Minneapolis-based technology company Alvenda, which provides an encrypted security system that hosts the data involved in the purchases. In other words, the customer data does not sit on Facebook's server. Fans can save their personal information in the Alvenda system to make checkout faster when returning to the 1-800-Flowers.com fan page.
Giving the Social Mom Tools for Mother's Day
In an effort to improve conversions before the upcoming Mother's Day holiday, Ranford and his team recently implemented a wish list feature that lets fans place 1-800-Flowers.com items into their Facebook news feed. Friends who click on the user's wish list will see a pop-up cloud that shows the products selected. For Mother's Day, the idea will be that moms - via the social site - can let their family members know what to buy for her.
"We have been testing it for the last few months," Ranford said. "We're really excited about the feedback. So now we look forward to leveraging it during our biggest holiday of the year."
In addition, the Carle Place, NY-based firm last month implemented a feature allowing Facebook fans to send each other "virtual bouquets." Ranford said the free bouquets are meant to engage existing users while potentially building on the brand's 30,000-plus fans. Viewers must become 1-800-Flowers.com fans before sending the virtual gifts, which arrive in a recipient's news feed with an image of an actual floral arrangement as well as its price. While recipients can then click through to the shopping app, it's interesting that the brand does not direct them specifically to the product's page.
"We are careful of hard-selling too much," Ranford said. "You want to make them feel like they are in the driver's seat."
1-800-Flowers.com will run Facebook ads during the two weeks leading up to Mother's Day, which is on May 9. Ranford said the brand - which has been online for 15 years - also plans to to encourage its sizable number of e-mail subscribers to use the fan page for shopping.
"It's going to be a combination of acquisition tools and then retention levers within our existing channels," he said.
Best Place for Facebook in Purchase Funnel Is Debated
Ranford and his team certainly aren't the only marketers that have aggressively tried to turn their Facebook pages into social sales channels. Other retail entities on this front include women's fashion names like Rachel Roy, Nine West, Living Proof, Charlotte Russe, Avon's teen-oriented "mark" brand, and discount chain Kmart.
Of those examples, mark uses the same e-commerce app as 1-800-Flowers.com. The rest employ the interactive shopping tools offered by either Fluid or Allurent. These technology providers focus on rich media product presentations and shopping bag features that go straight from Facebook to a checkout page hosted on the brand's e-commerce site. For both systems, purchases are completed in a different window - not in an app sitting on top of the social site.
The Cambridge, MA-based Living Proof has been using Allurent's widget-based tool to pitch products on Facebook since February. Rob Robillard, CEO of the hair products brand, said the targeted nature of offering merchandise to consumers who are also fans makes the initiative a no-brainer.
"It's been an awesome way for us to do what many people have been trying to do - get revenue via Facebook," Robillard said. "We have a strong conversion rate on our e-commerce site. And the Facebook page has been comparable to that. To me, in this new environment dealing with new behavior, the conversion rate has been pretty positive."
Would Living Proof's conversions be even better if its fans were given an app like the one used by 1-800-Flowers.com - where the purchase is completed without visually leaving the Facebook page? Victoria Hodgkins, VP of marketing for Allurent Inc., sounded skeptical that doing purchase transactions in Facebook apps would befit every retailer's best interests.
"I think there are pros and cons to actually bringing the checkout and the payment into Facebook," Hodgkins said. "Our conclusion was that consumers like a consistent experience. They are used to checking out in a certain way and used to the security of doing that on the e-commerce site."
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
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