Technology

Facebook Takes a New Step in Commerce

New 'Shops' could aid bounce back for direct-to-consumer sales and ailing small businesses
Photograph courtesy of Facebook

Facebook this week has launched a new service designed to help small merchants quickly set up online shops, continuing a move toward direct-to-consumer retail accelerated by the coronavirus crisis.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based social media giant pitched its new Facebook Shops service as an aid to struggling small merchants, which can now quickly import their catalogs and get them before Facebook’s massive audience. Shoppers can now build a basket and check out in the Facebook app as well as through associated Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp platforms, some of which are still in the building phase.

Facebook already supports some e-commerce through a Marketplace feature, but the new Shops capability keeps the experience in-house and gives merchants the opportunity to customize their page and catalogs with help from existing enablers such as Shopify. In a Facebook Live session introducing the new feature, CEO Mark Zuckerberg called this “the biggest step we’ve taken yet to enable commerce,” and presumably could crowd services such as Amazon or Walmart, which also rely on third-party sellers and provide new opportunities for brands to get in front of shoppers, particularly at a time when many have been prevented from retail sites due to virus mitigation efforts.

Facebook reportedly would take a small percentage of sales from participating merchants, but the company sees bigger opportunities in advertising around the offering, Zuckerberg said.

In a release, the company illustrated the Shops capability in part through artwork of a fresh food market, but closer inspection revealed the Jasper's Market store was created by the company as an example.

The launch comes at a time when direct-to-consumer selling could make a comeback. Pepsi, for example, this month launched two direct-to-consumer websites selling specialty foods, bundled products and snacks.

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