March 13, 2012, 12:28 PM

More than half of retail Facebook pages have a shopping element

16% of merchants allow shoppers to buy on Facebook, the E-tailing Group says.

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Shopping on Facebook? There’s scant evidence that’s what consumers want to do while on the social network. “Many retailers are not seeing a strong return on their investment from their efforts selling on Facebook,” says Lauren Freedman, president of consulting firm the E-tailing Group Inc.

But that hasn’t stopped 51% of retailers from enabling consumers to browse their products on Facebook, according to the E-Tailing Group’s 14th Annual Mystery Shopping Study. And 16% enable shoppers to buy directly on Facebook. Most of the rest link back to the retailer’s e-commerce site.

Whether those efforts will continue depends on whether retailers can figure out how to persuade consumers to buy via Facebook, says Freedman. “Retailers will follow the money and should results be forthcoming, you can certainly expect to find their participation to grow,” she says.

The research firm’s Mystery Shopping Study was conducted during the fourth quarter of 2011 and focused on both the retail site and Facebook page features and functions of 100 larger e-commerce web sites across 13 consumer product categories.

The survey found that retailers have also embraced social elements on their e-commerce sites. For instance, 65% of retailers are sorting landing pages by customer reviews, compared with 48% during the same period in 2010. Some retailers, like Moosejaw Mountaineering, No. 281 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, even have a separate tabbed section of the landing page that enables shoppers to view results based on those reviews.

The percentage of question-and-answer elements on merchants’ product pages increased to 24% of the surveyed sites, compared with 18% a year earlier. That’s important because product pages are where shoppers focus when shopping online, says Freedman.

“The product page is the destination for shoppers when they spend time, seek information and buy products,” she says. “This location must be comprehensive. While the social elements might not be as important as information and imagery, it still has a role to play and can feed on the traffic and take advantage of influencers.”

The survey also found that 37% of retailers had a social element, such as the Like button, in their post-order e-mails sent to consumers, compared with 29% in 2010.

Freedman will speak at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012 in a session entitled “What shoppers want: Listening in on the consumer voice.

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