Facebook has introduced Shops, a tool to help small businesses set up free online store-fronts. The social media company said it would help the small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic and thrive in a retail space, which is going through a digital makeover.
Any seller can list their business on the online platform and connect with customers. They can customise the look and feel of their Shop with a cover image and showcase their brand on this new tool, Facebook said.
“I am hopeful that it is going to play some role in helping small businesses get through this period and thrive longer term,” Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, said. “They are not going to undo all of the economic damage that has been caused by COVID but I hope that we can at least help build some of the infrastructure that businesses need not only in this moment but going forward as well,” he added.
Once the business owners set up their Shop, it will be available on both their Facebook page and Instagram profiles. Facebook will launch Shops on Messenger and WhatsApp soon.
Buyers can move across the family of apps once it is completely rolled out. For example, if buyers access Instagram to add a product to their cart, they can check out through Facebook, the company said. The customers and Shop owners can use WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct to communicate. Facebook has hinted that in the future, it may bring shopping to within the chat apps themselves.
Zuckerberg said in a video that Facebook Shops are free and easy to create and that even a small business start-up in a living room can access the same tools to build and operate an online store-front which the global brands have used to connect to their customers. The platform can set up a store automatically even if the user had put up only the product catalogue, he added.
Shops will be able to use Artificial Intelligence to provide better personalised shopping experiences once the tool is completely rolled out. The AI systems can automatically tag and identify products in photos, without the businesses tagging on their own.
Facebook is also building augmented reality technology. Buyers of beauty products such as lipstick or make-up and home décor for example, can have a preview of how those products will look like on them or their homes.
The small businesses will also be able to create and manage loyalty programmes on these shops as the social media company is trying to connect the loyalty programmes of local stores to Facebook accounts.
Facebook also said it will not share the transaction details on its services without the buyer’s consent.
More than 800 million people engage in live videos daily on Facebook and Instagram that include product tutorials and product launches. Hence, the company is also testing real-time shopping through live videos.
Thirty-one per cent of small businesses have stopped operating due to the pandemic, according to a Facebook survey. This new tool can provide some impetus to those struggling ones to stay afloat, Zuckerberg said.
Businesses have already used the social channel to market their products and build brands, but now Shops will help them to sell directly, challenging commerce rivals like Amazon.