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Facebook: “Branding and selling need to come together”

Facebook plays an outsize role in the customer relationship in retail today.

“If a retailer wants to reach the customer, they almost can’t get around Facebook. That’s where people spend their time and discover products,” Martin Barthel, Facebook’s global head of e-commerce and retail strategy, recently told  Internet Retailing.

The social media giant now has four million businesses advertising on its platform, thanks to its anticipation of the shift to mobile and video advertising.

And Facebook continues to position itself for the future of retail, rolling out new ad formats on a regular basis and investing further in messaging and AI capabilities.

So what can online retailers expect from Facebook going forward? Here are some highlights from Internet Retailing’s conversation with Barthel.

Mobile commerce

“I think we are moving into a world where commerce is becoming mobile first. On the one side, you have e-commerce, where a third of conversions are happening on mobile, but on the other side, it’s affecting offline retail too, since 70 per cent of products are discovered on mobile in the US. The smartphone is becoming the new shop window,” Barthel said.

“Retail is about selling products at scale. Ideally retailers do so on a mobile screen in as personalised a way as possible. They can upload their product catalog and our merchandising personalisation engine will select the products with the highest probability of conversion and show them to the customer.”

New ad formats

“We’re permanently launching new solutions and adapting existing ones. One of the most interesting products we launched [recently] is Dynamic Ads for Prospecting. It allows retailers to target people based on their shopping behaviour on other retailers’ websites. We’re starting to understand more and more what products people are looking at,” Barthel said.

“I think branding and selling need to come together more. The time where retailers have one team doing branding and the other team doing direct response marketing is over.  They need to think holistically about how to position the brand but also drive sales. Facebook Collection shows where the future is going.”

Transacting through Facebook

“We’re doing tests with Shopify companies in the US where the transaction is actually happening on Facebook. Small businesses in particular can benefit from this, especially those that don’t have an amazing customer experience,” Barthel said.

“It’s not at the core of our strategy. Retailers in general are quite happy for the transaction to happen on their website. Our main effort is to make it as easy as possible to go from a Facebook ad to the retailer.”

Chatbots

“Messenger is an important part of our offering when it comes to e-commerce and retail. We see it working in three ways: to provide customer support, to replace email in direct marketing activities and to sell things through a bot,” Barthel said.

“A lot of innovation is happening in this space and we are testing around all three elements. To be fair, I haven’t seen any scalable cases [of selling through a bot] yet, but there have been some very promising first steps in that direction.”

“It’s still something very new to have a transaction or search for products in the Messenger app. It’s normal to expect we will fail in some areas and win in others. We’re doing a lot of innovation and testing with Tommy Hilfiger. Ebay just announced the launch of an Ebay bot on Messenger. This is the beauty of the business we’re in. Nobody really knows what the future looks like.”

Innovation

“A lot of retailers try to jump into the innovation space. It’s exciting, sexy and new. But you have to get the basics right first. Don’t start thinking about a Messenger bot, or virtual reality, if you haven’t fixed your omnichannel proposition. I’m always trying to bring the partners I work with back to reality. Only those who have mobile and omnichannel commerce right have the luxury to invest in new technologies,” Barthel said.

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