Online Retailers: Time is Now To Connect With Customers Through Facebook

A recent study conducted by Sociable Labs revealed that shoppers prompted to share their Facebook data with online retailers opt in 56% of the time.

Darby Williams, vice president of marketing for Sociable Labs, says the biggest surprise was that more than 50% of shoppers were willing to share their Facebook data.

“Many retailers we talk to expect most consumers will choose not to share their Facebook information with retailers because of privacy concerns, but this study proves the opposite,” he says. “Most consumers do as long as there’s a compelling reason, like sharing their shopping experiences with their friends or asking advice from their friends.”

Advice for online retailers?

“Don’t wait for consumers to be ready – they are,” Williams says. “It’s all about the experience you create and the motivation you provide them, like allowing them to share a great discount offer on ski boots to all their friends who love to ski.”

The important thing is to start, Williams says. “Test different social applications in several areas on your ecommerce site, and optimize their design to drive the greatest consumer participation and, as a result, sales uplift.”

Williams says there are many ways retailers can leverage Facebook now, both directly on Facebook (advertising, fan pages, contests and games) and by integrating Facebook-driven features onto their ecommerce sites (sharing purchases, seeking advice, social proofing and targeted referrals).

“The ecommerce industry is in the very early stages of social trial and usage, and with agile experimentation, testing and optimization, savvy retailers will achieve dramatic sales increases by fully leveraging Facebook in the next 2-3 years,” Williams adds.

The Facebook Permissions request is rather daunting and the assumption had been that it asks for information users are not willing to share, that users are put off due to privacy concerns, and would opt-in at lower rates. As a result, Sociable Labs conducted it study to find out for itself.

The methodology of the study comprised Facebook Permissions accept/decline rates for 1.2 million unique ecommerce site visitors who were served 42 different social applications from March to November 2011.

For the 42 applications, the Facebook Permissions authorization rate was 56% on average.

The study found that higher opt-in rates for Facebook Permissions were generated when the social applications had any of the following characteristics:

Great Value to the User. The more perceived value to the user of the social application, the higher the likelihood he or she was willing to share Facebook data.

High Brand Trust. Higher user trust in a brand results in higher opt-in rates. Users with pre-existing relationships with an ecommerce brand opted-in at greater rates. Sites where traffic is largely driven via SEO and SEM efforts tended to have lower opt-in rates.

Lower Number of Permissions. The more permissions asked for in the request dialog, the lower the opt-in rate. The best practice in driving permission acceptance is to only serve permissions that are necessary to the application.

Chris Smith, vice president of ecommerce and catalog for Jockey International, says his company’s Facebook fan base has grown nicely and “has been a great vehicle for attracting new consumers to the brand.”

Smith says Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow – probably the most talked about player in the NFL this season – is the company’s spokesperson with a $1 Million Super Challenge and new products such as Jockey Staycool – with which the company is running a Facebook sweepstakes for a Winter Getaway.

Lauren Freedman, president of consultancy The E-Tailing Group, says the more time her company spends monitoring social and talking with retailers about their efforts, “it’s clear that there is consumer interest in social tools.”

In the same way customers came to embrace ecommerce, Freedman says, “they too are using social means and sharing information. These social customers are passionate and interested in receiving customizing information, love incentives and offers and likely will be some of our most important future customers. It may be early in terms of social’s contribution to the bottom line, but its influence can’t be underestimated.”

Jim Tierney (jim.tierney@penton.com) is a senior writer for Multichannel Merchant. You can connect with him on Twitter (TierneyMCM) and LinkedIn, or call him at 203-358-4265.

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