Facebook To Become Better For Selling Products

Chris CrumeCommerce

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Facebook is making quite a few moves, which point to the social network becoming a better place for people, businesses, and websites to sell products. The latest piece of news involves an acquisition, which should lead to better personalization of product ads, but that's only one piece of the puzzle. The race for getting social commerce right is on, and Facebook is no longer holding back.

Do you see Facebook as a good place to get people to buy products right now? Do you expect it to become a better tool for commerce? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Facebook has acquired shopping search engine TheFind. It will be shutting down the product and utilizing its talent for its own purposes, which include making its ads better. By "better," we're talking in terms of personalization. Facebook has already gotten significantly better at targeting over the years, as it has offered advertisers more and more features. We recently took a look back at a number of changes they've made in recent months on their way to two million active advertisers, so you can take a look at that for some examples.

We don't know exactly what specific features the folks from TheFind are going to work on, but TheFind itself has allowed users to get personalized recommendations while they search, and it sounds like they're implementing their existing technology into Facebook's ad ecosystem. Facebook has also been working on improving its search features, so having some people with plenty of experience in shopping search might come in handy there too.

A message on The Find's website says:

For the last nine years, we've worked hard to bring you a shopping experience that's easy, efficient and fun - searching all the stores on the web to find just the right products you're looking to buy.

We are now starting our next chapter by combining forces with Facebook to do even more for consumers. Facebook's resources and platform give us the opportunity to scale our expertise in product sourcing to the over 1 billion people that use the platform.

Key members of our team are joining the company and will be working hard to integrate our technology to make the ads you see on Facebook every day better and more relevant to you.

Unfortunately, this means we will be taking our search engine offline in the next few weeks.

Thank you for your loyalty and for making this a fun journey for all of us!

Last month, Facebook announced new product ads designed to help businesses promote multiple products or their whole product catalogs. These ads are shown across devices. Combined with TheFind's technology, these particular ads could become a great deal more effective.

“Product ads offer businesses a number of ways to highlight different products on Facebook,” the company says. “Marketers can upload their product catalog and create campaigns targeting certain products to specific audiences, or let Facebook automatically deliver the most relevant products to people. Products can be shown in single- or multi-product ad units.”

It's likely the "let Facebook automatically deliver the most relevant products" part that will go well with TheFind's technology.

“Product ads can be customized for use throughout the customer journey, from discovery/awareness through purchase,” Facebook says. “Here are some options: Advertisers can automatically reach people who visited their website/app (via Custom Audiences), or reach people based on specific interests, locations, etc. Advertisers can curate ads as they see fit. For instance, they can highlight products that were viewed on their website/mobile app or showcase best selling products. Or they can create a multi-product ad that highlights the different benefits of a single product.”

John Boris, CMO of Shutterfly, which had early access to the ad unit, had this to say about it: “The multi-product ad unit allowed us to display a variety of products we offer at Shutterfly in a clean, engaging way. The ability to control product order placement offered gifting inspiration for our current customers and created a natural introduction of products for our new customers, resulting in a 20%+ increase in click through rate.”

TechCrunch shares a statement from Facebook about the acquisition: “We’re excited to welcome TheFind to Facebook. TheFind’s talented team has built a successful search engine that connects people to products. Together, we believe we can make the Facebook ads experience even more relevant and better for consumers. Our business is about connecting people with the topics, companies, brands, and increasingly products they care about and we look forward to doing that with TheFind on board.”

Neither company is really saying anything about implementing TheFind's technology into the Facebook search experience, but it would be surprising if this didn't come to fruition somewhere down the road. There is a lot of potential for Facebook to offer a solid product search tool that could rival Pinterest's, not to mention highly targeted search ads. It recently added the ability to search by keywords, and adding the sponsored search result element seems like a no-brainer. In fact, they've experimented with this in the past before pulling the plug in 2013.

As Facebook becomes more of an ecommerce tool, sponsored search results would make a lot more sense, however. The biggest challenge Facebook faces is getting users to see its potential in this area. That goes for both shopping and searching. Most people probably don't even realize that Facebook has been getting better for search.

"Facebook’s search has a long way to go," Mari Smith, author co-author of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day, recently told us in an interview. "It will be interesting to see just how widely users have taken to the new tabbed design of the search results page. It’s not that obvious, at first. And, it’s not even that obvious how to search and surface items such as friends’ photos, places, events, etc. My guess is most users simply use the search bar for looking up other users’ profiles. Facebook would do well to provide further education/tutorials on how to optimize search.”

Asked if he thinks recent changes to Facebook's search functionality are having a significant impact on how people find information, Moz's Rand Fishkin said no, and that the answer will probably continue to be no for the next few years.

"But, long term, I think there’s a possibility," he told us. "If their early efforts show promise and a direction, I think we can extrapolate from there. For now, I’m not sold.”

During Facebook's Q4 and full year earnings call in January, Mark Zuckerberg said, "Search at Facebook is another important effort that we expect to create a lot of value over the next few years. In this quarter, we launched updates to Facebook search to make it easier to find content and posts on mobile and desktop. We’re going to continue listening the feedback from our community and commit time to build really valuable products here. We’re optimistic about our ability to deliver value that only Facebook is able to provide."

"We’re seeing that people immediately understand how they can use this and find content that they’ve seen in News Feed before or that they’ve posted with just a few keywords," he said later in the call. "And we’re excited about that, but there is a lot more to do. So we’re not really thinking about advertising in it yet on the scale that our community operates, a billion searches per day is actually not that big compared to what we think the opportunity here should be. And we’re just continuing to keep on working on it because there is just a lot of unique value that people should be able to get [from] their friends on Facebook search."

It sounds like search ads will be back eventually, and by then, they should be significantly better for all parties involved.

Facebook, as you know, also has a Buy button, which will contribute to the increased success of selling products. Facebook announced the testing of the feature last summer, and has yet to roll it out broadly, though it did give advertisers call-to-action buttons in December, which include a "shop now" option.

Facebook killed off its Gifts offering to seemingly turn its ecommerce focus to the Buy button. The announcement came within two weeks of the Buy button announcement.

"While we’re ending Facebook Gifts, we’re constantly exploring new ways for businesses to sell products on Facebook," it said at the time.

Since then, Facebook has also added new buying and selling features to Groups.

“Now, For Sale Group members can choose the ‘Sell’ feature when creating a post,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. “Members can add a description to what they’re selling, including a price and set a pick-up/delivery location. Sellers can also mark posts as ‘Available’ or ‘Sold’ and easily view their catalog of previous items sold.”

Facebook gave a couple of examples of users who regularly use Facebook’s For Sale Groups:

Lisa Duncan-Thayer from Florida created Made By Mama Buy/Sell/Trade to sell her crochet work and give other local artisans a place to sell their handmade items. Now with more than 4,500 members in or near Pinellas County, Florida, the group has helped many women turn their hobbies into businesses.

Professional guitarist Kadu Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro created a Facebook Group to help musicians in Brazil buy and sell instruments. In nearly three years, the group has grown to more than 34,000 members. Not only has the group enabled Kadu to personally buy, sell and trade musical instruments, it’s raised his profile and awareness for his band, Swell.

This week, Facebook announced peer-to-peer payments for Messenger. While you can't use the feature just yet, it will be rolling out to iOS, Android, and Desktop sometime in the coming months. It will require a Mastercard or Visa from a U.S. bank (at least at first), but you and your Facebook friends will be able o transfer funds, and there won't be any extra fees attached.

Send Money to Friends in Messenger from Facebook on Vimeo.

Want to sell your buddy your old TV? Did your friend ask you to make some art? This should be a pretty quick and easy way to get paid.

The feature will come in the form of a dollar sign icon in the Messenger interface. You'll tap that and type the amount you wish to send, and then "pay".

As you’re probably aware, Facebook recently forced users to download the standalone Messenger app if they wanted to use the messaging feature on their mobile devices. Zuckerberg gave the lame reason that tapping a tab from the main Facebook app was too hard. In November, Facebook boasted that it had over 500 million people using Messenger each month.

In addition to peer-to-peer payments, Facebook is clearly making it easier for people and businesses to sell things to other people in a variety of ways. While rivals like Pinterest, Twitter, and Google, each have their own strategies for doing this, Facebook will continue to benefit from the one major advantage it has always had in other areas of competition. The data.

Have you found Facebook effective for selling products so far? Are you looking forward to additional features that will make it better for doing so? Tell us what you think.

Note: This article was originally written before Facebook announced the new Messenger payment feature, and has been updated to reflect that news.

Chris Crum

Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.