Facebook Launching Cross-App Online Stores For Small Businesses

Facebook is launching Shops, a service that lets businesses set up an online store accessible on both Facebook and Instagram, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Tuesday in a blog post.

Facebook, which last year launched limited shopping capabilities on Instagram and the WhatsApp messaging app, is looking to drive new advertising revenue by making the service free to businesses.

“The basic idea is that any small business can easily start a shop to sell things directly across our apps,” Zuckerberg wrote. “If you visit someone’s shop, you'll be able to see that small business’s story, see their featured products, and buy them in our apps.”

Because Shops is particularly relevant now, as small businesses struggle to survive in the wake of the pandemic, Zuckerberg said that he pushed to accelerate its launch.   

If having ecommerce and associated marketing access to Facebook’s massive platforms proves successful, these businesses could find their fates closely tied to their Facebook relationships going forward.

Businesses can host and promote their shops on their Facebook pages and Instagram profiles, or through stories or ads.

Shoppers can browse and save products, and, while businesses can choose to take orders through their sites, Facebook has made it attractive for them to use an integrated checkout feature.

“Shops are native and fast, which means no more app-switching to a slow mobile web browser where you have to re-enter your credit card when you tap on an interesting product you see in feeds,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Users can also message the seller through WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct to ask questions, get support or  track deliveries.

Facebook is promising more features in coming weeks and months.

Shortly, sellers should also be able to feature their Shops on Messenger and WhatsApp.

The company is building a dedicated shopping tab on Instagram; a destination inside Explore where shoppers can find and buy products; and Live shopping features on Instagram and its flagship app to enable shopping in real time. Live videos will be able to integrate product tags for direct shopping.  

Shops will also begin to integrate Facebook’s proprietary AI and augmented reality technology to enhance the shopping experience, according to Zuckerberg.

For instance, “We’ll automatically identify and tag products in feeds so people can easily click-through to purchase when they find things they like,” he said.

Facebook intends to enable sellers’ loyalty programs to connect into Shops.

And it’s partnering with platforms including Shopify and BigCommerce to offer small businesses various ecommerce tools. Additional ecommerce partners include WooCommerce, ChannelAdvisor, CedCommerce, Cafe24, Tienda Nube and Feedonomics.

“The integration of content and commerce is a trend that's been in play for some time but has accelerated during the pandemic,” notes Aaron Goldman, CMO of marketing tech firm 4C. “Facebook Shops is the right play at the right time, especially when you consider that it extends across Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger to the tune of three billion monthly users.”

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