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Can retail make Facebook pay?

The jury is still out over whether the social networking site can be used as a successful retailing platform.

I’ve attended a number of etail events in the past month, and one question that keeps cropping up is whether or not Facebook can be used as a selling platform. Speaking to retailers, many still feel the answer is no. However, none were willing to say this on record. So what’s making retailers so indecisive about the social website?

A number of retailers, including womenswear chain Oasis, have ventured into the F-commerce world with the launch of a Facebook store but have yet to measure the metrics to determine its success. The recent news that US retailer JC Penney has closed its Facebook store shows it’s not as easy as many retailers first thought.

However, by planning carefully and building a strong strategy, retailers can still take advantage of the mass audience on this social site – but it’s not all about Facebook stores. Martin Newman, chief executive of etail consultancy Practicology, believes Facebook should be used as a retention driver.

He says: “Add value to existing customers and they talk about you, they like you etc, and that then drives acquisition of new customers. Burberry does this particularly well. When it launched its ‘Body’ fragrance, it offered a free sample to existing customers.

In two weeks, 250,000 signed up to receive it. Clearly lots would then go on to buy.”

Dan Lumb, ecommerce director at premium chain Reiss, thinks it should be about engaging the customer. “If you use Facebook to showcase product, show brand authority plus engage opinions and discussion, the fallout will be informed customers having more knowledge and confidence in making a purchase.”

It seems many retailers use Facebook as a brand-awareness platform rather than a direct sales tool. As Caroline Rolfe, head of online at jewellery retailer Links of London, says: “Facebook can generate sales but it shouldn’t be measured on sales targets and it will rarely be the only contributing channel to the sale. It is involved in the sales process but [is used by most shoppers] at the beginning [during the] consideration stage.”

With such a large audience, all retailers should be looking at including Facebook in their online strategy. The success of Facebook stores is still questionable and getting a direct sale seems to be a challenge. However, using Facebook to create some excitement about a brand or retailer certainly has an effect.

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