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Can Facebook Go the Distance with Mobile Commerce?

Completely addressing the mobile commerce issue is a tall order — and Facebook appears to be committed to creating the solution. The latest signal came last week when Facebook announced it is testing two ad formats — a new Facebook shopping feed and a new version of its Canvas ad unit.

Both capabilities appear squarely focused on addressing some of the biggest mobile commerce challenges, namely: Page load times on mobile tend to be slow compared to desktop. Mobile checkout is usually cumbersome. Consumers have to tap too many times to get where they want to go. (By the way, these are just some of the reasons why three-quarters of online sales still occur on desktops.)

With its resources and data, Facebook might just be big enough to tackle the challenge of fully supporting mobile commerce.

Potential Benefits of Facebook’s Canvas Ad and Shopping Feed

One of the biggest potential benefits of Canvas is that it could eliminate friction between the discovery and consideration phases of the mobile buying cycle. When consumers tap a Canvas ad, it expands to show details on that product as well as several other products. It also includes a button to jump over to the retailer’s mobile site to buy.

Consumers go from an ad immediately into a shopping environment, all within the Facebook app. Canvas puts consumers into shopping mode without any of the worries that come with mobile browsers (i.e., slow load times), while also letting retailers maintain consumers’ interest by showcasing multiple products.

Facebook’s shopping feed could take this experience one step further by providing a place dedicated for browsing and buying products. Some consumers might not be interested in shopping when they’re scrolling through their News Feed. But with a dedicated shopping feed, retailers could avoid disturbing that segment of users, and instead target consumers who are more primed to buy.

Retailers could also use the shopping feed to learn about consumers’ shopping preferences and behavior, enriching the data they might want to use in their marketing programs.

How Facebook Mobile Commerce Could Evolve

If Facebook is serious about taking on mobile commerce, these ideas could just be the start of what retailers could accomplish through its platform. Facebook could go as far as to support every stage of the purchase journey.

  • Discovery: Facebook could add search functionality to its shopping feed. Retailers could potentially bid on which products appear for certain queries, while relying on Facebook’s platform to provide a positive mobile browsing experience.
  • Consideration: Within its shopping feed, Facebook could suggest similar options to the products that consumers are browsing. Suggestions could be products that fit consumers’ interests, that they have previously browsed, or that their friends have bought — including products from that same retailer or other retailers.
  • Purchase: Media have reported tests of a Facebook buy button. If Facebook can establish users’ trust with a buy button or partner with an existing payment platform, consumers could check out with a couple taps.
  • Advocacy: Customers can easily jump from shopping feed to News Feed to tout a product they love, or go to a retailer’s page to like it, post comments, etc.

Facebook is in a position to provide a mobile commerce platform that benefits retailers and consumers. If Facebook succeeds — if it is able to reduce friction in the mobile shopping experience, speed browsing and product discovery, and remove checkout steps — Facebook could become the dominant player in mobile commerce.

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