I was really excited to see that JC Penney launched a Facebook store this week, a move that will be replicated by many merchants in 2011, as they clamour to increase sales as a result of the social networking sites huge popularity.
I only had time to take a quick glance, and I can’t say that I bothered to go too far through the buying process, but a few things jumped out at me immediately, both good and bad. On the whole though, I think this type of Facebook application is a sure sign of things to come – so fair play to JC Penney being the first major US retailer to offer proper online shopping on Facebook as opposed to a simple fan page with links.
(Click on images to enlarge)
I’ll start with the negative stuff. As an embedded application, the navigation is slightly ‘awkward’ feeling compared to a conventional eCommerce website. That’s fairly understandable, plus I believe that as applications like this grow in popularity, users will learn that this is the way apps ‘work’ inside facebook on a desktop. But the app also felt very ‘mobile-like’ and I wasn’t so keen on this. I assume it’s this way because of the way the application needs to be served, plus the fact that Facebook is assessed so readily on mobile and smart phones already (so it’s been optimised for these users first and foremost). But the downside is that content is pretty minimal and simple, and I have to be honest it feels a little strange when I’m on a beefy laptop as opposed to my Smart phone.
The JC Penney Facebook store claims to be ‘fully integrated’. I am not sure what that means other than the application is fully ‘enclosed’, i.e. you don’t leave Facebook to browse, register, purchase or recommend or review items. This is great – and not to be underestimated as an approach – as personally I am not so keen on the hand-off to another domain part way through a transaction and I’d guess I am not alone.
I did spot a few glitches (again possibly understandable given this is very new?) that suggest the ‘integration’ isn’t as complete as many customers might desire. For instance, a few items I browsed and selected to purchase were not available to buy, although I wasn’t made aware of this when browsing. That’s frustrating and doesn’t happen on decent conventional eCommerce stores. And a few images are missing here and there, which combined with the skinny, ‘mobile-feel’ means that the experience isn’t amazing. Plus I also noticed that with Google Chrome, a few of the alert messages appeared over the application navigation which was a little bit annoying.
But to be fair that’s all sour grapes. On a positive note what I liked was the proposition consistency – ‘free shipping’ on overs over $69, ‘free shipping to store’, and ‘store returns’ supported. This is a great confidence booster and possibly hints at further multi-channel integration to follow. And I also liked the search capability and the faceted / filtered navigation facilities provided. This gave me confidence and felt natural – a useful combination of a standard eCommerce site and a proper mobile website. And the way you skip through pages was simple and pretty usable in my opinion (I’d much rather this approach than a page a mile long). And furthermore a simple, but effective, solution for customer’s on the move is that it’s easy to find a traditional store with the ‘find a store’ facility.
All in all I liked what I saw. I’ve been waiting for Facebook to be more than a fan-page festival in terms of eCommerce – and here it is. There is no doubt that M&S, ASOS, Arcadia Group and the like, will be following with their own facebook stores in the very near future simply because there are more than 550M facebookers out there.
Facebook is a channel that won’t be ignored. And JC Penney is there at the forefront of it all. Already with 1.3 million fans, they should be about to truly benefit from social commerce in the way that makes most businesses sit up and take notice. Dollars in the cash register. All hail f-Commerce!