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Facebook makes a major e-commerce move

October 12, 2015, 8:36 AM

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The social network is testing a shopping-oriented section of its app, as well as a new type of ad that makes it easier to browse.

Facebook Inc. wants to be more than just a place where you connect with your friends. It also wants to be an online shopping destination.The social network today announced that is adding a Shopping section to its app, as well as testing a new ad system geared toward helping consumers browse retailers’ products.

Facebook’s goal is to make it easier for consumers to discover products that interest them on mobile devices, while also driving results in terms of traffic or sales, says Emma Rodgers, Facebook’s product marketing lead, mobile app ads and commerce.

“We know that people are coming to the platform to discover and engage with new products,” she says, noting a recent study conducted by the social network found that half of U.S. users say they’ve done just that. “That behavior is already happening on Facebook, but we think we can provide users with a better experience.”

That starts with a test the social network is running in which a small number of U.S. users will see a new Shopping section within the app’s Favorites section. There, it will aggregate a personalized mix of products a user is likely to be interested in based on his likes and interests, as well as his connections on the platform. The section will bring together the products that consumers and brands are already sharing in the news feed, on pages and in groups.

That Shopping section adds a social component to the consumer’s interactions on the social network, and in that respect it’s similar to shopping-oriented social networks like Wanelo.

The test involves a limited set of U.S.-based small retailers who are also testing the Shop section on Pages; Facebook last month announced that it is running a test that lets brands make their pages more shopping-friendly by making products more prominent and enabling retailers to add a Shop Now button on the page. Within that test, some merchants are letting consumers buy directly on Facebook while others require a shopper to click to the merchant’s e-commerce site. The test also includes those merchants testing out a Buy button that lets a shopper buy from a retailer within the Facebook ecosystem.

Facebook is also looking to produce a better experience for consumers who click on ads within their news feed.

“When people click on products from ads in their news feeds, the mobile website they’re directed to often takes a while to load, increasing the chance that people will drop off. This is bad for people and bad for marketers,” Facebook writes in a blog post.

To fix that issue, Facebook is testing a new ad format. When a shopper clicks on an ad he will see a full-screen array of images, allowing her to browse through a variety of products. When he clicks to buy, he is then taken to the retailer’s site. Facebook claims preliminary testing shows that the product images load up to eight times faster than some merchants’ mobile sites.

The new ad unit can be used in concert with Facebook ad formats such asdynamic product ads, which let retailers and other advertisers serve ads to consumers who visited their site or app.

While the ads will initially take consumers off Facebook to buy, that could change in the future, Rodgers says.

“At the end of the day we’re looking to build solutions to help marketers drive conversions wherever consumers will have the best experience,” she says. “For now, we’re focused on creating a seamless browsing experience. But we view the Buy button as a feature that we could test in any ad format if that’s what retailers are looking for.”

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