October 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

The personal touch

Retailers leverage Facebook to give shoppers a more customized experience on their sites.

There's something inherently social about concerts. Sure they're about the music. But for many people they're also about being in the company of friends. That's why Ticketmaster has woven Facebook into its site to show consumers signed into the social network which of their friends are attending which upcoming shows and where those friends are sitting. Shoppers can then purchase tickets close to their friends, share with their Facebook friends where they're sitting, as well as prod their friends to join them at the concert.

The features aren't just cool, they're also producing quantifiable results. Each time a customer uses the site's Facebook-centric features, Ticketmaster generates up to $9 in additional ticket revenue, says Kip Levin, executive vice president of e-commerce for Ticketmaster. What's more, consumers who come to Ticketmaster.com from a friend's Facebook post score much higher in customer satisfaction rates—on average more than 10 points higher on a 100-point satisfaction scale, Levin says.

Ticketmaster is just one of hundreds of sites leveraging the massive amount of information that Facebook's 955 million monthly active users share on the social network to personalize their sites. And, for many, the personalization tools, which range from simple to complex, are producing significant results.

Adding value

Comparison shopping site TheFind.com aims to help consumers discover new products via its Pinterest-like microsite and Facebook application that it calls Glimpse. The site presents shoppers with a live stream of product images other shoppers have clicked that they Like on the roughly 500,000 e-retail sites that TheFind indexes. The products that a consumer sees are customized to that shopper, based on the stores, brands and products that she and her friends have Liked, as well as those that TheFind's algorithm infers she is likely to Like.

To encourage interaction with Glimpse, TheFind sends e-mails to shoppers whenever products they've Liked on any e-commerce site go on sale. TheFind's crawler that indexes products and prices across the web automatically picks up the price drop, meaning merchants don't have to do anything to generate an alert. The feature, called Universal Price Alert, uses the e-mail address that consumers have associated with their Facebook accounts.

Glimpse had about 120,000 users as of late-September. TheFind's goal is to boost that number to 500,000 by the holidays, a TheFind spokesman says. In order for consumers to receive an alert, they have to be connected to Glimpse and to Like a product that has gone on sale. About 25% of price alert e-mails are opened by consumers and roughly 12% of consumers who receive e-mails click through to the e-commerce site that sells the product. The Price Alerts present an opportunity for e-retailers to generate revenue from the Like button, TheFind says. After all, when a Glimpse user clicks the Like button on a red sweater product page, she's telling TheFind she likes that item, so an e-mail letting her know it is now 20% off just might prompt her to buy it.

"We think the Price Alerts are just scratching the surface," the spokesman says. "We envision the ability to do a lot more with the data we have. Price Alerts are popular with consumers and we see them as a proof of concept. What they show is that we understand consumer preference—that we understand their social network. And we think we now have the building blocks for a pretty compelling way to target ads on Facebook."

For instance, if TheFind knows a consumer likes a specific handbag it can probably make an educated guess based on that Like, and the shopping and social data the company has collected, that the shopper might like a specific pair of shoes that go with it, or that she'd be interested in other items that may have just gone on sale or become available in a limited quantity.

Then, the spokesman says, within the parameters of Facebook, TheFind could serve that same shopper well-targeted and contextual ads for products. That isn't happening yet, but it could in the future.

Travel buddies

Many people are more willing to make a purchase when what they're buying has a friend's endorsement. That's why consumers tend to turn to their friends for tips on hotels and restaurants before they travel.

TripAdvisor LLC, a travel review site that doesn't enable consumers to book but does refer them to online travel sites to complete their bookings, aims to streamline that process. For example, if a consumer is logged into Facebook when she visits the site, she can see all of her friends' activities on the site including their reviews, where they have checked in via Facebook's mobile app, as well as the places, hotels and landmarks they have Liked. Visitors can also see how many countries their friends have traveled to, how many reviews they have posted, how many total Likes they have accumulated and their number of total check-ins.

If a consumer is looking for inspiration as to where to journey to next, he can view a map on the site's homepage that shows everywhere his friends have traveled. When he clicks on a destination, hotel, restaurant or attraction, the first reviews he sees are those that were written by his friends. Travelers only see the advice of their Facebook friends that permit TripAdvisor and Facebook to show their reviews on TripAdvisor. Travelers that do not want access to their friends' travel advice, or don't want their reviews to be seen by their friends, can opt out, TripAdvisor says.

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