Facebook Messenger for Business and the Return of F-Commerce

But rather than try to rebuild the Facebook storefront concept, the world’s largest social network is appealing to merchants by giving shoppers the ability to leverage their Facebook identities on retailers’ own properties.

For the last few years, Facebook hasn’t exactly enjoyed a sterling reputation when it comes to eCommerce. In fact, when news famously broke in 2012 that several major retailers were shuttering their Facebook storefronts just a few short months after launch, Facebook commerce or “F-Commerce” looked like a total flop.

But, while the company took a PR hit and F-Commerce bottomed out with a resounding thud, the company persistently retooled, experimenting with auto-fill features and P2P payments. Those efforts culminated with the launch of Messenger for Business at this year’s F8 Developer Conference, and now retailers have a reason to seriously think about F-Commerce again.

But rather than try to rebuild the Facebook storefront concept, the world’s largest social network is appealing to merchants by giving shoppers the ability to leverage their Facebook identities on retailers’ own properties. It also unifies the post-purchase experience, so that customer support messages appear in a single thread rather than several separate emails.

There’s huge value for retailers in leveraging customer identity, perhaps most apparently due to consumers’ overwhelming desire for personalization based on brands being able to access their data, provided consumers have control over how their information will be used.

Many eCommerce businesses look to customize experiences for consumers based on their tastes, whether those tastes come from identities from Facebook, Google+ or even gleaned from registration forms. Warner Music GroupKLM and the NFL stand out as great examples of how leveraging identity creates more relevant marketing, stickier user experiences and more customer loyalty on eCommerce properties.

Of course, the concept of using Facebook identity on sites isn’t new, nor is the concept of third-party identity in general. Tools like social login have existed for years, and Facebook continues to be the dominant third-party identity provider on the web. But with Messenger, Facebook is implementing the connection to its platform at the end of checkout, a remarkably clever way of creating identity-driven shopping experiences without disrupting the checkout flow.

Online shopping is an incredibly delicate type of interaction that merchants spend remarkable amounts of time, money and effort perfecting. One extra form field in the checkout process, one extra click or five extra seconds for a page to load can cause customers to give up and buy from somewhere else.

The dreaded phenomenon of shopping cart abandonment happens to every eCommerce business to some degree, but those businesses take careful steps and repeatedly test their checkout flows to ensure abandonment rates remain as low as possible.

This is precisely why Facebook didn’t introduce Messenger for Business as a tool to be inserted into the middle of the checkout flow – convincing merchants to implement it would have been an incredibly tough sell. Adding more clicks and more page loads would bog down the checkout flow and deter shoppers who want to make their purchases as quickly as possible.

Instead, Facebook is shrewdly offering Messenger for Business as a bolt-on marketing and service product at the end of the shopping experience by asking users to “log in” (use their Facebook identities) for better customer service and shipping updates post-purchase.

As a result, merchants get a chance to create ongoing relationships with their customers, which can lead to better customer loyalty and future purchases, all without compromising delicate and manicured checkout flows. Basically, because purchases have already been completed, merchants have little to lose and much to gain by seriously thinking about implementing Messenger for Business.

For all the lumps Facebook took during the original rise-and-fall of F-Commerce, the company clearly learned from its mistakes and seems to be following two main principles as a result: 1) Third-party storefronts on Facebook are not tenable, and 2) Facebook users’ identities are the biggest draw for merchants. By following these notions and by staying out of the checkout flow, Facebook might truly be on to something, and Messenger for Business might be the Trojan Horse to finally convince merchants to latch onto F-Commerce 2.0.

Patrick Salyer is CEO of Gigya, a customer identity management platform and Facebook developer with more than 700 customers, including Fox, Forbes and Verizon. When he is not helping brands create identity-driven relationships with their customers, Patrick enjoys captaining the Gigya basketball team against formidable rec-league opponents, playing Settlers of Catan and spending time with his wife and two daughters.

Image courtesy of Yeamake / Shutterstock.com.