December 22, 2010, 2:35 PM

The future of social commerce isn’t on Facebook

The social network wants retailers to integrate its features into their sites.

I’ve never felt the need to buy a pair of jeans, a shirt, or really anything else on Facebook. From nearly everyone I regularly talk to about social media and e-commerce, that’s the norm.

Few, if any, retailers who have opened Facebook storefronts where consumers can make purchases on the social network have reported sales, suggesting that the number of consumers who have bought on the social network are few and far between.

But that hasn’t stopped a slew of retailers large and small—from multichannel department store chain J.C. Penney to online clothing seller StyleQ—from launching Facebook storefronts in the past few months. And they’re not even the early adopters.

Those storefronts essentially duplicate the retailer’s web site within Facebook. But those storefronts often offer an inferior experience to a retailer’s e-commerce site because of the natural constraints of building a store within Facebook’s confines.

That’s why Facebook storefronts are not what the social network is after, says Ethan Beard, director of the Facebook Developer Network, who oversees a team that works to build partnerships with merchants and other businesses.

“We’re not trying to recreate Internet on Facebook.com,” he says. “In fact, I spend most of time working with people to socialize the web outside of our site.”

What’s that mean? That the social network knows that consumers like myself don’t care to visit J.C. Penney’s Facebook page, dig through their catalog to find a pair of jeans in my size and complete a purchase on the site.

Facebook understands that consumers like me are conditioned to visiting a retailer’s web site when they want to make a purchase. We’re similarly conditioned to visit Facebook.com to boast about the bargain we scored or the bad customer service experience we had. That’s why Facebook is looking to leverage each destination’s strengths via the Open Graph, which allows the social network to gather information about Facebook users both on the social network and from other sites, as well social plug-ins that allow retailers to add features such as the Like button to their sites.

The Facebook Like button is just one example of the many ways that Facebook is seeking to develop a more nuanced view of social commerce. By making it simple for a consumer to click that she Likes a pair of jeans, Facebook hopes that she does clicks the button so that that information is shared with everyone she’s connected with.

I’m sure Facebook will continue developing more plug-ins and features like the Like button that retailers can add to their sites to encourage consumers to share. That’s because it only makes sense for Facebook to do so. It wants consumers to share more information because more information translates into more content on its site. That, in turn, could lead consumers to spend more time on Facebook. And, with more consumers spending more time on the site, Facebook can generate higher advertising sales.

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