Practical Ecommerce

Facebook Encourages Ecommerce; App-Makers Respond

Facebook designates Fan pages for businesses to engage users. And to help these businesses, Facebook now provides a series of resource guides for Fan page development and Facebook Ads development. It has also greatly improved the Fan page analytics component (called Insights), and it has created a series of plugins for businesses to use on their own websites.

Milyoni (pronounced “million eye”), based in Calif., takes this integration of social media and ecommerce very seriously. It has built an all-inclusive, six-part Facebook platform called Conversational Commerce. The platform allows consumers to complete a purchase without leaving Facebook. And for ecommerce merchants, the platform merchandises their products, markets them to Facebook users, completes sale transactions and otherwise manages the entire process in a manner similar to a freestanding ecommerce site. It’s all done within Conversational Commerce’s six components: iFanStore, Social Engagement, Flexible Fulfillment, Opportunity Mapping, Merchant Dashboard, and Instant Showcase.

Conversational Commerce by Milyoni.

Conversational Commerce by Milyoni.

iFanStore

iFanStore is the core component of a larger, six-part platform from Milyoni called Conversational Commerce. Rather than pass users off to another website, it is a shopping cart that operates completely within Facebook. Transactions are processed through PayPal, Authorize.Net, or most any other payment gateway, according to the company.

Aside from the fact it resides inside a Facebook fan page, iFanStore functions just like any other shopping cart. It manages catalog uploads, offers detailed product management, order management, shipping and tax calculations, payment processing and reporting. It also supports digital downloads such as music or video.

Social Engagement

The company clearly understands how social media and ecommerce should be intertwined. “It is not about shopping. People don’t go to Facebook to shop. A conversation begins by engaging your fan base and offering up opportunities to purchase contextually relevant items,” said Dean Alms, Milyoni’s vice president of strategy and marketing. “When your favorite NBA basketball team advances in the finals; it’s great to share your jubilation online with other fans and it might be the right time to buy a new hat or t-shirt to celebrate the win.”

That is where Milyoni’s Social Engagement component comes into play. It allows merchants to engage their Fan base and promote products via Wall posts, which fans can then comment on, Like and share.

Here are two examples of ways these posts appear.

Example 1 of Milyoni's Social Engagement wall post.

Example 1 of Milyoni’s Social Engagement wall post.

Example 2 of Milyoni's Social Engagement wall post.

Example 2 of Milyoni’s Social Engagement wall post.

Flexible Fulfillment

Another Milyoni component, Flexible Fulfillment, is a defined set of interfaces that allow merchants to integrate the iFanStore with their existing backend systems. This ranges from the ability for merchants to manually upload their catalogs and receive email notifications for orders, to complete integration via custom APIs.

Opportunity Mapping

Available in the fourth quarter of 2010, Milyoni’s Opportunity Mapping™ will be a social network application that leverages the power of Facebook’s Open Graph to tap into fan profile data and create relevant, custom offers.

Merchant Dashboard

Merchant Dashboard is Milyoni’s administrative console that provides a comprehensive set of analytics to help merchants acquire Fans, promote products and monitor engagement levels.

Screen capture of Milyoni's iFanStore Manager.

Screen capture of Milyoni’s iFanStore Manager.

Instant Showcase

Another soon to-be-released component, called Instant Showcase, adds a new twist to the Facebook commerce buying experience in that it will allow users to purchase select products directly from the fan page Wall. Merchants will be able to select up to five products from their store catalog and post them to their Walls. Users can flip through the products, select one and submit payment without ever leaving their wall. Milyoni expects to deploy Instant Showcase in September 2010.

Cost

At about $1,000 per year, Milyoni’s platform is affordable for smaller online retailers, and the company has a number of such merchants in its portfolio. The price includes activation, monthly hosting and transaction fees. It will also help with setup and training for new merchant customers.

Better to Upload an Entire Catalog or Just Special Offers?

Not everyone agrees that uploading an entire catalog into Facebook is the wisest course of action. Alex Bernstein, managing partner with NorthSocial, a west-coast company that makes Facebook Fan page apps, is one such person. “Social media presents a great opportunity to sell products, but, as any merchant knows, there is a lot that goes into getting someone to make a purchase,” he says. “Simply moving an ecommerce cart into Facebook is not enough to spike sales.”

Bernstein suggests that making the product shareable is a key factor, as well as is having an entertaining, heart-warming, and engaging fan page where the brand interacts with fans. He also says that not all products are as well suited to a social network environment as others. “Big ticket items like cars, for example, or commodity products. Those don’t fare as well,” he adds.

Bernstein encourages merchants to think about using Facebook as a place to highlight certain products and showcase new ones. That is exactly how one smaller merchant utilizes the Milyoni platform. Cowgirl Creamery, an organic cheese business located north of San Francisco, offers weekly cheese deals to its customers via its iFanStore rather than using it to upload the entire product catalog. They post the offer to the Wall along with a question or comment to get the conversation started.

Cowgirl Creamery's Facebook store.

Cowgirl Creamery’s Facebook store.

“Word of Mouth endorsements have always been our most effective marketing tool. Milyoni brought this advantage to Facebook to open new markets and sell our premium cheeses to new customers,” said Sue Conley, CEO of Cowgirl Creamery.

“Since the Conversational Commerce platform was deployed, Cowgirl Creamery has nearly doubled their fan base and increased their word of mouth marketing impact accordingly,” says Dean Alms. “In a very short period of time, dozens of new customers have bought through their Facebook store and they are reaching customers that they would have never been able to reach otherwise.”

Summary

Facebook members may not be rushing to interact with businesses. But ecommerce merchants should still have a presence there. The sheer immensity of the network mandates it. And as social commerce continues to mature and gain mainstream acceptance, merchants will benefit from it.

Paul Chaney

Paul Chaney

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Comments ( 5 )

  1. swburke August 5, 2010 Reply

    Interesting article, so i checked it out. I went through the "cowgirl creamery" fb store, but when it came time to enter cc info, the only mention or sign of ssl is a logo that says "secured by Digicert". No padlock and no https so i bailed, and i suspect others will too.

    Am i missing something?

  2. Paul Chaney August 5, 2010 Reply

    I’m glad you make that point because it’s something I recognized as well when the company was demoing the platform. And, it’s something I should have addressed in the article itself. In lieu of that, I have asked Dean Alms, Milyoni’s marketing VP, to address it with a comment.

  3. Eugene August 5, 2010 Reply

    When you open the main canvas of their FB store app, the actual content is loaded in iframe.
    So even if the store is loaded via HTTPS, the main app page(e.g. apps.facebook.com/app-name/) is still on HTTP, so browser will not show a padlock.

    Facebook doesn’t use a wildcard SSL certificate, so you cannot link to the secure main app page either.

  4. Jim Lisiak August 5, 2010 Reply

    Thanks Paul in allowing us to address the comment.

    Our quick answer is rest assured you are secure, as you are not only secure with the walls of Facebook but also in the ifanstore. In designing the ifanstore we use the “iframe” mode in a browser under Facebook or any Social Network. The meaning of an “iframe” needs to start with the understanding of a “frame” in your favorite browser. The “frame” allows your browser window to be split into segments, each of which can show a different document, our case we show ifanstore. This allows for lower bandwidth use, as repeating parts of a layout can be used in one frame, while variable content is displayed in another. This allows us to have the Facebook part of the frame to not be refreshed and allows us to serve our pages fast and reliable for ifanstore. Here ifanstore is the “iframe”, which technically is actually called “Inline Frames” are windows cut into your webpage that allow you to view another page on a site or off another site without reloading the entire page. For the ifanstore the parent frame is a Social Networking site like Facebook or MySpace and the iframe is the ifanstore. If you look at any of our stores you will see the browser link is a common HTTP Facebook location, but when you enter checkout, the “iframe” is pointing at our secured HTTPS certificate to begin the transaction of a purchase. Your web browser link shown will stay at the frame level, but the iframe is secured down on the page. When you checkout hover over the ifanstore and a simple right click on your mouse and select properties will highlight you are HTTPS secured. We also place visuals in the buttons and on the screen to tell the customer they are fully secure via DigiCerts, our security partner. I hope this helps!

    You can find more details on this subject at http://milyoni.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/being-secure-in-facebook or in general at our blog at http://milyoni.wordpress.com.

    Jim Lisiak
    CTO of Milyoni, Inc.
    jim@milyoni.com

  5. Eugene August 5, 2010 Reply

    Jim,

    Is your shopping cart PA-DSS validated?