Company Blends E-Commerce With Marketing On Facebook

Few companies so far have tried turning their brand pages on Facebook into online storefronts. Facebook pages been used almost exclusively as marketing tools -- to build brand awareness generally, or to help drive traffic for specific promotions or special deals offline or on their main sites. But not to actually sell stuff directly.

Taking that rare step is Equator Estate Coffees & Teas, which Tuesday announcing launching an online store on its Facebook page allowing fans to buy artisanal coffees without leaving the site.

"Social media is rapidly becoming a critically important vehicle for talking with our customers. Now, with our new iFanStore, we've opened up an entirely new sales channel for our seasonal, specialty blends," said Helen Russell, CEO and co-founder of San Rafael, Calif.-based Equator, in a statement.

The company's iFanStore is powered by San Francisco-based e-commerce technology provider Milyoni and offers a half dozen coffee blends including Columbia La Eternidad and Mocha Java, ranging in price from $12.95 to $14.95. Adding a social flavor, the storefront also lets customers share purchases with friends on Facebook and other social properties including Twitter.

Michael Straus, a spokesman for Equator, said the company had a clunky online store on its own site and was looking to integrate its social media strategy with e-commerce, making a shop on Facebook seem like a good fit. (Equator is now also revamping the store on its own site.)

But most other marketers haven't come to the same conclusion. "People aren't using Facebook right now to buy stuff," said Mike Lazerow, CEO of Buddy Media, which develops applications and brand pages on Facebook. "They use it to talk to friends, see pictures, play games, learn about new products, connect with companies and products that they love. But they are not currently buying stuff directly on Facebook."

He added that mindset will eventually change as Facebook becomes part of the typical Facebook experience. For now, direct selling on the site is limited to a handful of retailers including Limited Brands and 1-800-Flowers. "What's often ignored is whether the commercialization of Facebook will hurt its social feel," said Shiv Singh, vice president and global social media lead at Razorfish.

He suggested that e-commerce activities should be presented in ways that don't intrude on the conversational flow of Facebook. The success of an e-commerce venture via a Facebook page also depends on the product being sold. "I wouldn't buy a car from within Facebook but I might buy a T-shirt," said Singh. Or a pound of coffee?

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4 comments about "Company Blends E-Commerce With Marketing On Facebook ".
  1. Jeff Mendelson , January 13, 2010 at 11:23 a.m.

    Nice implementation, but not quite ecommerce. Here's what they did, which isn't rocket science to any degree:

    1. They created a quick app to show their products. (nice.)
    2. The rest of the shopping cart experience is an iframe from their redesigned shopping cart. While their shopping cart is secure, the page viewing it (i.e. Facebook) isn't. Technically, this isn't that big of a problem because the underlying shopping cart is secure. But to the user, there will be no padlock on the browser showing that the transaction they are about to do is secure.

    This might score them a few brownie points for being on Facebook. But like the article pointed out, I'm skeptical of the profitability of the overall strategy.

    -Jeff
    jeff@lasolastech.com

  2. Gayatri Bhalla from Greenfield Belser , January 13, 2010 at 1:15 p.m.

    The option to be able to buy a product on FB will go a long way towards making this brand seem more real and accessible because it offers consumers a chance to sample the product. So much of the challenge of businesses trying to use/participate in FB has been relevancy to the community. For a consumer-accessible product like coffee, FB may well be a great match (as many of us check FB over our morning cup of joe) as it intercepts consumers at a relevant time. Perhaps Equator can offer users who become Fans a free sample, thus building their database and Fans and paying off a bit on their FB store promise.

  3. Jeff Molander from Molander & Assoc. Inc. , January 13, 2010 at 6:02 p.m.

    Jeff...
    What strategy? Like many marketers (ie. 1800Flowers) this one is intoxicated by excitement over “social media” (a silly term -- what media on the Web isn't social again??) and the supposed revolution it’s creating. But are you, fair reader, willing to bet your marketing dollars on customers *shopping* using Facebook? Why?

    I argue this: For most that do the excitement and expectation around social media is illogical and foolish. This drives the decision. Yes — it’s smart to experiment but yes it DOES cost real money to do so. No — most marketers CANNOT afford to fail using social media in a down economy.

    What gives these people the belief that this is going to work — that people actually WANT to shop from within Facebook? I understand and respect the fact that consumers are busy NOT paying attention to ads and are ENORMOUSLY “engaged” by social media — distracted from buying stuff and only buying what they really NEED these days. Problem. I got it!

    But a pop-up storefront on Facebook is a new idea? Nope, it’s a seriously old one. The only thing that's changed is a sense of urgency -- "we've GOT to be there!"

    ePods, Affinia!, Nexchange, iMediation and a list of about a dozen other failed companies tried this and failed in the early 1990’s. Nearly ever major publisher has tried to set up mini-storefronts using simple (affiliate marketing) to complex (drop-shipping) tech tools that link up sellers and publishers. Fail.

    I know what you're thinking: "There are countless examples of successful companies that have used college interns or inexperienced talent to net REAL results on Twitter and Facebook.”

    Yes but how do many marketers define success? How many times have you heard a marketer re-define a failure? “This campaign didn’t achieve the sales/sales lead goal but it was a BRANDING success.”

    Whoop -- there it is! Social media investments that go nowhere and remain "winning" strategies in the eyes of advertisers (not the CFO!).

  4. Bruce Christensen from PartyWeDo , January 14, 2010 at 10:17 a.m.

    Part of the problem with just setting up a retail outlet on a conversational network like Facebook is finding a way to bring the products into the conversation.
    It is only partially interesting to find out what coffee or T-shirt that one of our friends has purchased.

    The key to building e-commerce sales on social networks is to invite a group of friends into a common purchasing experience. Then let the items that they bought become the topic of discussion.

    A blog post on the "e-commerce within Facebook" issue was sparked by this discussion. http://bit.ly/4BXJiT