October 9, 2012, 1:39 PM

Facebook’s e-commerce push continues

The social network lets shoppers curate product images.

Lead Photo

A shot of Collections involving products from Pottery Barn.

Facebook Inc. is testing a new e-commerce-focused feature called Collections that offers a new way for retailers to present their products to Facebook users. Consumers can then click a Want, Collect or Like button to organize those items on the social network.

The social network is testing the new feature with seven large e-commerce players, including Pottery Barn, Victoria’s Secret and Neiman Marcus. Pottery Barn is owned by Williams-Sonoma Inc., No. 24 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, Victoria’s Secret is owned by Limited Brands, No. 19, and The Neiman Marcus Group Inc. is No. 41.

When a retailer posts a Collection featuring a handful of products on its page, Facebook shares that information via a note, such as “Neiman Marcus created a new collection: Borrowed From The Boys,” with many of the brand’s fans in their news feed. The news feed is the first page a consumer sees when logging on to the social network.

When a consumer clicks on that post to view the Collection, he sees an image of a single product that takes up nearly his entire screen. He can click on the image to scroll through other products within the collection.

With each product, the item’s name, such as “Rachel Zoe velvet blazer,” is in a box in the right-hand corner of the pop-up image. Below that is the retailer’s name and a hotlink to buy the product. When the shopper clicks on the Buy link it takes her to the retailer’s web site. Facebook is not currently charging a referral fee for that traffic, says a Facebook spokeswoman.

Facebook is testing three permutations of Collections. The left-hand corner of each photo in a Collection features either a Want, Collect or Like button. Regardless of the button that appears, when a shopper clicks the button, a pop-up opens with the question, “Why are you collecting this?” She can then enter an answer, such as “This would look great in my living room,” and then is prompted to place the item in a particular section of her Collections, which appears on her timeline. Facebook offers suggestions such as “wishlist,” “fashion,” or “for the home,” or she can click to create a new section. The timeline is a virtual scrapbook that features a graphical and chronological timeline of a consumer’s life events and other information or posts that she chooses to share, such as photos.  

Facebook says that for now it is not charging retailers to post Collections and is not taking a share of the money made through the feature.

Collections is similar to Pinterest. On Pinterest.com consumers can share or “pin” items, such as a particular vase from Fab.com. Those pins are often accompanied by a brief description or caption that appears below an image of the pinned item, such as “This would look great in my living room.” Those pins are gathered together on a board, which brands and users can organize around a particular theme, say, “For the home,” and share with friends.

Collections is the latest move by Facebook to dive deeper into e-commerce. For instance, the social network late last month launched Gifts, which enables U.S. shoppers to buy their friends presents such as a Starbucks gift card. However, unlike Gifts, where transactions occur on the social network, with Collections transactions occur on the retailer’s web site.

Facebook’s increased focus on e-commerce was inevitable, says Lou Kerner, a social media analyst and investor at The Social Internet Fund. “People spend a lot of time on Facebook and getting them to engage in e-commerce is a natural move,” he says. “Facebook just has to figure out the best way to introduce that activity on Facebook.”

As Facebook rolls out more e-commerce-related offerings, marketers need to test and optimize to figure out what will capture their fan bases’ interests, says Matt Wurst, director of digital communities at online advertising agency 360i. “Facebook is a huge platform where seemingly everyone is,” he says. “But not everyone is our target audience. So we have to figure out how to use these tools, like Collections, to better connect with our audience.”

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