Target and Toys R Us posted overall sales declines during the holidays.
French retailers view Facebook as a marketing tool rather than a sales channel.
Although 93% of French e-retailers have a Facebook page—up from 86% last year—French merchants are tepid on selling via Facebook, and consumers on buying via the platform, according to the French association of e-commerce and mail order retail Fevad.
While most online retailers say that social networks such as Facebook are valuable marketing channels, they don’t plan to sell items directly through such sites—at least not yet. And only 2% of the country’s Facebook users say they are ready to buy through Facebook, Marc Lolivier, general director of Fevad, said at a recent e-commerce conference in Monaco.
Social commerce dominated the agenda at the second annual E-Commerce One-to-One Conference, organized by Comexposium, a subsidiary of the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The 550 conference participants—including attendees from such retailers as 3 Suisses, La Redoute, Vente-privee.com, Rue du Commerce and the FNAC—comprise nearly 50% of the French e-commerce market, Comexposium says.
While French e-retailers are starting to invest more in social media, it is still a new territory for many players, Lolivier said. He says French retailers should leverage the network to tap into the some 25 million active Facebook users in the country.
“Social shopping and community is a very important direction for future development for all industry players,” he said.
While online retailers in the country see social media as an important sales tool, many use it for promotions and communications rather than for direct selling. “I don’t believe much in social commerce,” says Jean Emile Rosenblum, co-founder of Pixmania.com, referring to selling directly through Facebook, “but I believe strongly in the benefits of social networks for the brand image and look.”
Though he sees little future for selling via social networks like Facebook, he says Facebook is a vital platform for his business. Pixmania sells music, DVDs, electronics and apparel.
“We must really take care of our brand, animate our community on Facebook and create a community of fans—not for transactions, but to build relationships,” he says.
Pixmania, part of Dixons Stores Group, No. 12 in the Internet Retailer Top 400 Europe Guide, has tested various commerce apps through the network and is continuing to develop its social media marketing strategy.
“In 2010, we launched our first application of joint purchasing on Facebook, in partnership with Leetchi.com, a company specializing in group buying online.” The app allows a group of consumers on Facebook to pool money together to buy gifts for friends or family via Pixmania’s site.
At Christmas, the retailer offered clients ‘Giftmania’, a Facebook app consumers could use to analyze friends’ tastes when selecting a gift.
Mail-order fashion retailer La Redoute, which says it was the first to try its hand with a Facebook shop, believes there is retail potential in social networks.
But Anne-Véronique Baylac, La Redoute’s director of e-commerce, says Facebook does not take the place of a full retail site.
"Nothing takes the place of store web sites, and it does not really make sense to launch a full Facebook shop with our whole catalogue,” she told attendees at the Comexposium conference. La Redoute is No. 5 in the Internet Retailer Top 400 Europe Guide.
Other e-retailers in France have made small steps into social commerce. The French national railway’s online booking site, Voyages-sncf.com, markets group travel with a Facebook app, ‘Small journeys with friends’, which links back into its reservation system.
Patrick Robin, founder and CEO of e-commerce and social marketing agency 24h00.fr, says Facebook is a great tool to get the word about new products or offerings.
“Facebook commerce is not about opening a shop (on Facebook) and dumping your catalogue, shopping cart and payment system on it—it’s not a new distribution channel or cash register,” he says, adding that Facebook’s biggest benefit to e-retailers is as an amplifier of word-of-mouth recommendations.
One way Robin recommends retailers leverage Facebook is by incorporating Facebook’s Open Graph in their sites. Open Graph is the Facebook technology that lets actions consumers take on outside web sites or in mobile apps to flow into Facebook.
Web sites should use this asset and make their sites Facebook-friendly, just as they made their sites Google-friendly, Robin says.
Robin says leveraging social networks, building a community of followers and incorporating features like Open Graph can introduce retailers to many new potential consumers. “It’s a new point of contact with the consumer,” Robin says, “a new channel in the decision to buy.”