February 15, 2012, 4:51 PM

Facebook’s Timeline applications are proving valuable for retailers

The social network is enabling marketers to leverage consumers’ actions with the apps.

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Since Facebook Inc. last month launched Timeline Apps, which aim to make it easier for shoppers to share personal information, which products they own and what items they want to buy, a number of retailers are finding that consumers are increasingly clicking from the social network to e-commerce sites.

The Timeline is an opt-in tool on Facebook that replaces a consumer’s wall and profile with a virtual scrapbook that features a graphical and chronological timeline of events of his life on the social network, and other interests that he chooses to share, such as the bands whose concerts he has attended and the clothes he has bought. Once a consumer adds an application, he can update his Timeline with activities as they happen, while also controlling who can see those updates and what appears.

Even before the launch of the applications, the number of shoppers clicking from Facebook to retailer web sites surged, says a spokeswoman for the social network. Last year the top 200 retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide saw their upstream traffic from Facebook grow 203%, according to Facebook.

But since the Timeline Apps launched, retailers’ Facebook bounce is even more pronounced. Take GiantNerd.com. The outdoor gear and apparel retailer’s Facebook Timeline application enables shoppers to click that they Love, Want or Own a product. Since the application launched Jan. 18, GiantNerd has seen Facebook drive 19.2% more new visitors to its site than other channels and those visitors have a 13.1% lower bounce rate than other consumers, says the company’s president, Randall Weidberg, whose official title is nerd in charge.

“We view Facebook Timeline Apps as a viable place to drive e-commerce growth,” he says. The number of first-time buyers who clicked from Facebook to GiantNerd.com is up nearly 69%. 

Online gift card retailer GiftRocket Inc. has seen similar results. Comparing the two weeks before the launch of Timeline Apps with the two weeks after, the retailer’s upstream traffic from Facebook rose 41% and the number of consumers signing into its site using Facebook Connect, which enables them to sign in using their Facebook log-in, rose 95%. Shoppers using Facebook Connect are nine times more likely to make a purchase from the retailer’s home page, the retailer says.

Every time a consumer interacts with a Timeline App, or anything else on the social network, he is providing data that marketers can increasingly leverage to target that consumer with an ad. The social network recently began enabling advertisers to target shoppers based on their actions—even if the marketer didn’t create the application.

That means that a record label, for instance, could target a shopper with an ad for an recording artist’s new album based on the consumer interacting with digital music service Spotify on the social network. Previously, only the developer who created a custom Open Graph application could target users who interacted with the application.

The move adds even more ways that marketers can leverage the wealth of information shoppers share on the social network to target consumers with ads via Facebook’s rapidly evolving ad formats. The social network in November added to its Ticker a format called Sponsored Stories. Launched in January 2011, Sponsored Stories enables companies to pay to highlight posts or actions that a consumer’s Facebook friend has made that relate to the advertiser. The Ticker features updates on what a Facebook user’s friends are doing at that moment.

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