Shopping within Facebook has so far been a goal rather than an accomplishment. Most of the brands that claim to drive transactions with a Facebook presence actually let Facebook users browse a selected list of their offerings on-network but then force them to click though to a standard ecommerce Web page to complete their buys.
But a few brands are beginning to sell without making users leave Facebook. The latest of these are the Quidsi portfolio of baby-, house- and beauty care products—Diapers.com, Soap.com, and BeautyBar.com—which now let users purchase products from inside their Facebook pages.
To be accurate, Facebook buying is only open to shoppers who have already bought at one of the Quidsi Web sites, which populates the “My Lists” feature automatically; the feature is presented on the Facebook pages for each of the Quidsi brands as an app that operates within the network. So there’s still an outside component to this Facebook commerce. (Are we calling it f-commerce yet?)
Nevertheless, while it may not constitute an actual storefront within the network, the Quidsi app is one of a relatively small handful of examples of brands leading users through the purchase process from inside Facebook. Other brands testing or implementing Facebook shopping include P&G’s diaper brand Pampers (via an Amazon Webstore) and Nine West ( with a Fan Shop built on a platform from social-shopping provider Fluid Social). Retailer JC Penney also runs its own transactional store within the network.
The dearth of real shopping inside Facebook (as opposed to buying Facebook credits, redeemable coupons or virtual goods) is largely due to a perception that network users aren’t really there to shop but to socialize in a “commerce-free zone”, says Quidsi vice president of ecommerce Josh Himwich.
“The reasons that bring people to Facebook, around sharing and everything that social media promises, are almost at odds with what you need to do to sell things successfully,” he says. “Even though there are many shops now on Facebook, very few—if any—are doing well.”
So rather than presenting full-fledged shopping, with all the demand for consumer attention that entails, Quidsi decided to reach for the low-hanging fruit, Himwich says: to go after those people who already knew the services and inventories of its sites, who were on Facebook to connect with their friends, but who might be interested in taking the opportunity to run some digital “errands” and stock up on their regular My Lists purchases from inside the network.
The idea came from strategizing possible low-friction entries to mobile commerce, he says. “Mobile commerce is all about micro-tasks. If someone’s only going to be able to interact with you for two minutes, how do you want them to shop? We took that same philosophy here. Instead of thinking about this as alternative shopping to Soap.com, Diapers.com or BeautyBar.com, Let’s think of it as a task that can be done in under two minutes.”
On the Quidsi Web sites, replenishment buyers play a large part, with many customers buying from the sites 5-8 times a year. The “My Lists” widget was designed to let them keep track of their regular purchases, and also to let them shop all three sites from one converged location with a single login. So extending that feature to a Facebook app seemed almost a no-brainer.
Shopper buys on My Lists within Facebook can be shared with friends, adding a viral element to the service. Quidsi will also promote the service inside the network with targeted pay-per-click Facebook ads. “For anybody who has liked Soap.com, Diapers.com or BeautyBar.com in Facebook, we can target them directly with PPC ads,” says Himwich. “So it’s hyper-efficient to promote the feature that way, and our returns on that kind of investment are astronomically high.” The company also launched on-site and email conversations about its new Facebook buying capacity soon after the mid-January rollout.
Quidsi will also launch mobile commerce for its product sites soon, with an iPhone app in February and an Android version in May. “So [the Facebook app] becomes part of this whole conversation with our customers, so that wherever you are, and whenever you remember that you have an errand to run with us, we’re there for you,” Himwich says. “We’re there at each of the major platforms that you may be interacting with.”
An iPad app is also in the works for Q3 2011, although Himwich says the regular Quidsi Web sites already contain so many interactive elements in the standard browser view that traffic from iPad devices is already “through the roof”.
From Quidsi’s point of view, the expectation is that offering more transaction points will lead to more frequent orders from its registered users. “Let’s face it, what we sell is stuff you need every single week, but you’re not ordering from us every single week,” says Himwich. “Not that we expect to get every single order from you. But if we can get even one or two more orders a year because we’re available where you are, that’s very significant to us.”
All together, the three Quidsi brands currently have about 60,000 fans on Facebook. Quidsi itself was purchased by Amazon last fall for $540 million.