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Online Landscape Evolves With S-Commerce

F-commerce is rapidly giving way to social commerce in general as brands look to maximize the Web's potential.

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Early adopters of Facebook commerce, or F-commerce, are dropping it like flies — but so what?

Department stores such as Nordstrom and J.C. Penney recently shuttered F-commerce storefronts and ceased selling on the digital platform, but it doesn’t matter, experts contend, because the landscape has already shifted to social commerce, or s-commerce.

“Facebook fan page stores are only 10 percent of the total shopping activity on Facebook,” said Wade Gerten, co-founder and chief executive officer of technology solution 8thBridge. “Social commerce is so much more than a brand or retailer’s fan page store.”

Experts are priming social commerce to be the next big thing in digital and, going forward, retailers must focus less on F-commerce specifically and more on s-commerce. Although Facebook will play an integral role in this fast-evolving form, it’s hardly limited to the medium. Social commerce can mean consumers engaging on the brand’s own homepage digital flagship or even on its mobile site. The biggest mistake for brands and retailers trying to bolster their digital presences right now is associating the term “social commerce” solely with F-commerce.

“There’s been so much overhyping about it that’s its not surprising that there’s going to be a bit of backlash. There’s social commerce and then there’s selling directly on your Facebook wall. The two are completely different things,” said Maureen Mullen, director of research and advisory at New York University think tank Luxury Lab, or L2.

To Mullen, underwhelming F-commerce sales don’t necessarily mean that social commerce isn’t going to be “huge” in 2012 — it just signifies that getting a firm grasp on the concept is going to be harder than first thought.

“There’s a lot of thinking that has to go into the technology and user development on Facebook as a platform — as well as how the consumer shops in a social environment on your traditional e-commerce site, but I don’t think it signals the end of social commerce,” said Mullen.

In fact, it’s just the beginning of it.

“If you define F-commerce as putting your product catalogue on your fan page — that doesn’t work. Just putting a store on your fan page does not work at all,” Gerten stressed, with the exception of selling exclusive product the consumer can’t get anywhere else or a deep discount is offered (such as the time Diane von Furstenberg partnered with HauteLook on a 50 percent off wrap dress flash sale). But most brands don’t want to do either. “You don’t have to create a watered-down version of your e-commerce store on Facebook. That’s the last thing customers want.”

Companies can either “push” their message out or empower users to “pull” friends into their Facebook networks, becoming brand advocates in the process. Gerten has found that “pull” messaging is really where it’s at and believes brands must home in on converting consumers to become “evangelists” sharing information about a brand and its products with their friends.

“Ninety percent of the shopping activity [on Facebook] is actually pull-based, as it’s customers sharing products and offers and purchases with their friends. That is what drives social commerce. It’s people that drive social commerce,” Gerten said.

As Facebook approaches 1 billion users, he is certain that the platform is where the majority of social commerce opportunities lie. In the near future, the platform will roll out company timeline pages, in effect making it easier for retailers to allow fans to express on their Facebook pages how they feel about products directly from existing e-commerce Web sites.

New “social action” buttons — which were once just a “like” or “share” button — will expand to include additional options for users to select on product pages, such as “love it,” “want it,” or “own it.” The brand will decide what actions are available — and for Gerten, these more customizable social action buttons will change s-commerce as we know it.

“What’s really cool now is that the new open graph and corresponding timeline can help brands drive a lot more advocacy because, on your existing Web sites where you’ve already spent millions optimizing, now you can tie in more ways to share and easier ways for people to express especially how they feel about something,” Gerten said. “With the timeline and open graph technology [on Facebook], it will be even easier for consumers to share how they feel about your product.”

Brands should rapidly embrace the platform’s new functionalities. And they should do it across every digital touch point they have with the consumer — including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest — giving users the tools they need to express themselves.

Beyond the social platforms, brands shouldn’t forget about their own Web sites. For James Gardner, founder and ceo of Createthe Group, this means concentrating on existing digital flagships.

Gardner — who’s worked with clients from Marc Jacobs to Burberry — looks at social commerce in two ways: version 1.0 being “share” tools and users rating or commenting on products, and social commerce 2.0, which he believes is only now being defined by companies and retailers. This will include a more integrated social experience on any platform where the brand has a presence (although this was once thought to be F-commerce). The former is more passive and essentially allows users simply to indicate what they “like.” The latter is what will become more active and interactive, such as the idea of live shopping with a friend in a commerce experience.

“It’s the simple things — wherever people are going to actively shop, that’s where there’s an opportunity for social commerce, whether you’re going to a brand’s Web site or a mobile site,” Gardner said.

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