7 tips for retailers: How to make your mark in F-commerce

[Doron Simovitch is co-founder and CEO of shopping search engine and Facebook e-commerce solutions provider SortPrice.com.]

Some say Facebook commerce is just a passing fad.

Don’t believe it for a second.

Three years ago, the concept of shopping on Facebook was still in its infancy. Since then, merchants and F-commerce solutions providers have navigated through uncharted territory and created what is essentially a new industry. How big has F-commerce become in that short period of time? The 1,500-plus merchants using my company’s Store Application alone listed nearly $3.8 billion in merchandise on their Facebook stores last year, and that number is expected to at least double this year.

Make no mistake: With a user base approaching 800 million people worldwide, Facebook offers enormous potential to retailers and they know it. Merchants are no longer asking, “Should we be on Facebook?” What they’re asking now is, “How can we enhance our Facebook presence to separate ourselves from the pack?”

Retail success on Facebook comes down to two simple things: engagement and incentives. They have been the cornerstones of F-commerce strategy from the beginning, and they are even more important now in light of a crowded social shopping landscape, where more players come into the fold on a daily basis.

Here are a few ways retailers on Facebook can incorporate those two critical concepts as part of a strategy to stay ahead of the curve:

1. Engage users creatively (and consistently). Attention spans are short and users’ news feeds get crowded awfully fast. So don’t limit wall postings to sale announcements and the like. Running items such as riddles and jokes, or simply posing open-ended questions to your Facebook fans about current events or pop culture on a daily basis ensures you stay on their mental radar.

2. Provide exclusivity. We’ve found that the biggest reason people Like a retail brand on Facebook is the hope they’ll get a good deal out of it. So oblige them! Offer promotions, discounts and sales that are exclusive to your Facebook fans and they’ll keep coming back for more.

3. Attract new fans with added incentives. Maintaining relationships with existing Facebook fans is important, but bringing more on board is how you’ll grow. Give a one-time promo code, coupon or something like discounted shipping to anyone who Likes your page. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly word of such specials spreads to others.

4. Solicit input. F-commerce relationships are a two-way street, and your fans provide a great resource in helping shape your Facebook presence. Ask them directly how you can improve that presence and employ the best ideas, if they’re feasible. This can only add to the quality of your relationships with fans.

5. Make Facebook a PR tool. Use your wall to post news articles about your company or to announce charitable and community service initiatives you’re involved with. Given the rather skeptical view most consumers have of business in general these days, positive public relations items go a long way towards solidifying your status as a quality company.

6. Incorporate Facebook into Customer Service. Several companies outside the e-commerce industry are already experimenting with this concept to varying degrees. The idea is not to replace your existing customer service options but supplement them through Facebook. Allow customer product reviews on your wall.  Encourage fans to share their shopping experience with you. If the experience is a good one, thank them. If not, publicly address the problem on your wall and offer a solution. By providing full transparency, you’re signaling to current and potential customers your commitment to their satisfaction. A first-time visitor to your Facebook store and fan page who sees you properly addressing a customer complaint will feel much better about doing business with you.

7. Keep an eye out for new features and tools. As new components like flash sales and contests become available on F-commerce platforms, take a look at each and figure out how best to use them. These are designed, in part, to make the F-commerce experience more social and fun, which is the whole point anyway!

It’s safe to say that F-commerce is now in a second phase of development and that its basic strategies and resources are already well established. As a result, simply opening a Facebook store, even if you have fantastic merchandise and great prices, is no longer enough. Retailers who make a commitment to both engagement and customer incentives from here on out will be the ones that attract the most potential customers and reap the benefits.

You can follow Doron Simovitch on Twitter at @doronsi.

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