July 6, 2010, 10:24 AM

Social selling or simply annoying?

Nearly every day I get a new announcement about a service that helps e-retailers set up stores on Facebook. I’m not talking about a fan page, I’m talking about putting products, descriptions and even a shopping cart on a Facebook page.

Nearly every day I get a new announcement about a service that helps e-retailers set up stores on Facebook. I’m not talking about a fan page, I’m talking about putting products, descriptions and even a shopping cart on a Facebook page. This made me wonder: Do people really want to shop on Facebook? I certainly don’t. 

When I want to shop, I go to an e-commerce site. When I want to connect with friends and family, I go to Facebook. I like it that way. Maybe it’s because I’ve always liked clear distinctions. I always keep my peas and mashed potatoes separate on my plate and I cannot a random summer day in the middle of winter.

My point: E-retailers shouldn’t be pushing products in an online arena designed for socializing.

It’s a bit like putting a big Macy’s store in the middle of a bar. I don’t want to shop when I’m having a beer with a friend—and a big storefront would just get in the way when I’m trying to grab the next round of Miller Lites.

One of my trusted analyst sources, Nikki Baird of Retail Systems Research, captured my thoughts exactly on this topic exactly recently:

“I’m not certain yet how much commerce needs to be available when people are in community mode,” she said. “If retailers aren’t careful, they could undermine the enthusiast nature of their fans by trying too hard to sell to them.  They’re already fans.”

Well said.

I want to be clear that I don’t shun social marketing. I use Facebook—a lot. (Ok, I’m slightly a closet addict). And I shop online frequently (does nearly every day count as frequent?).  Social marketing, if done with finesse, can actually be a solid vehicle for building brand loyalty. Offering coupons, discussing new products and answering questions on a social network are great ways to keep customers in the loop and encourage them to shop. But that extra step, putting products and prices and a shopping cart on a social network page and turning it into an e-commerce site, to me, is crossing the very fine line between friendly and frustrating. Shoppers are smart. They know the ultimate goal of a brand on Facebook is to sell product. If a company offers great information and advice, consumers will remember. And when they want to buy, they will go to you.

Many e-retailers today feel they need to be everywhere. And, I can see their argument: Offering products in more places creates more opportunities for a sale. However, merchants should realize they don’t need to sell everywhere just because they can. E-commerce is available everywhere. On mobile devices, netbooks and PCs—when consumers are in shopping mode, they will come. After all, it’s just a click away.

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