Apart from marketing, Facebook is now being leveraged as a point of sale.
A few months back, Ashish Hemrajani, founder and CEO of Bigtree Entertainment, which owns BookMyShow, realised if he invited his Facebook buddies for a movie or booked movie tickets for a big group of friends, there was no way he could confirm their attendance. “I had to call each one of them to confirm availability and a suitable day for a trip to the theatre,” he says.
It was then that the entrepreneur came up with the idea of a Facebook application that could allow users of the social networking website to share details of movies playing in the neighborhood and allow each of them to pay for his own ticket, without even leaving the site’s page. Now, BookMyShow is about to release its Facebook ticketing application in the next few weeks.
The online ticketing company has already launched another Facebook app, ‘Ticket Buddy’, which allows users to pre-book movie tickets without making any payment. “All the user has to do is select the preferred film and his region. He gets to select three cinema theatres, three preferred dates for viewing the film, and a convenient time and price range. We call the user as the film releases and let him book the tickets,” says Hemrajani.
Meenal Balar, Facebook’s international marketing manager, notes people turn to their friends for recommendations on a number of activities — from where they eat to what movies they watch, and, of course, where they choose to go on vacation. “Since more and more of these conversations take place on Facebook, companies have realised the importance of tapping into a network where they can listen, learn and harness the power of personal recommendations,” Balar adds.
It is not only BookMyShow that is looking to tap social media users. PVR Cinemas, too, has a Facebook app to book tickets, discuss movies and invite friends to watch movies. “We developed this application almost a year back and the idea was to tap the huge potential that social networking sites have,” says Rahul Singh, senior vice-president (operations), PVR Cinemas. The app, Singh informs, was judged the second-best innovative application by Facebook last year.
He says it is difficult to quantify the exact number of bookings that take place through Facebook, but he acknowledges it has helped the brand connect with its customers. “Online bookings constitute 25 per cent of our sales in some of the cities. We receive about 1.5 million hits on Facebook apps every month,” Singh says.
At present, users can use their credit cards, debit cards or even net banking facility to book tickets through the Facebook app. PVR Cinemas also plans to come with gift cards and loyalty card for users. Singh’s future efforts, as he underlines, is to increase the percentage of bookings and activities on Facebook. PVR Cinemas has also gone a step ahead and started engaging customers on micro-blogging site Twitter.
Facebook in transition
It was early this year when Facebook allowed developers to create shopping apps directly on merchants’ fan pages, which were once mainly marketing channels. These fan pages are now being used as points of sale, if merchants are willing to pay developers to implement the apps. The gradual transition of Facebook to a social media marketplace dealing in physical goods bodes well for merchants looking to market and sell to consumers on the same channel, typically using fan pages.
According to research analyst firm, Forrester Research, “more and more companies are embracing social media networking under their marketing strategy to boost e-commerce”. It’s fast becoming a reality for India. Kedar Gavane of comScore says: “A lot of companies are making Facebook applications for brands and also making independent applications to get a user base. As the user base grows, there will be more applications catering to local markets.”
Over the years, Facebook has grown into much more than a social networking site, more so with its recent transformation into a place to shop.
The future of social shopping
“As online shopping continues to gain in popularity, social networking sites will increasingly be brought into the fold,” believes Mahesh Murthy, founder and CEO of search marketing firm Pinstorm. “This integration, then, is definitely something that is going to change how e-tailers do business,” he says.
Retailers like clothing company Nine West have created well-designed apps that allow users to shop for clothes from virtual shelves. Even backpack manufacturer JanSport has a shopping app. “These apps can turn the uniform look of a fan page into a much more engaging shopping experience and keep all the navigation on one page,” notes Murthy.
Cutting down on the number of clicks required to complete a transaction leads to lower cart abandonment. Adding this capability to the marketing potential of social media makes it much easier for merchants to reach their customers, build friend-based networks with them for sharing pictures, videos and announcements, and sell products all at one place.
Ajay Kaul, CEO, Domino’s Pizza India, understands the rise of sites like Facebook. He says: “So far, the Facebook page is more of a fan club for us. But we do provide our link on the page from where people can order online. We do hope that at some stage we would use our Facebook presence for online ordering.” He says online orders are 20-25 per cent of the total orders in most developed markets and believes that Domino’s can recreate the same in India.
However, getting Facebookers to engage with an e-commerce application still remains one of the biggest challenges for Indian brands. With people complaining of annoying invites to applications from their friends, many users would argue that Facebook really is a social network that connects them with friends not with purchases.
So what’s it going to be?
E-STORE APPS ON YOUR FACEBOOK
Whether you are a small business user or an aspiring entrepreneur or anyone who has a fan page on Facebook, try these e-commerce apps that will help you create custom shopping carts in order to directly sell on the social website.
This app lets you create your own custom store to sell your products directly from Facebook. One particularly cool feature of this app is its ability to synchronise shopping cart with your own website. There’s also a feature called ‘Fan pricing’ that lets you incentivise users to become fans. As a reward for doing this, fans are given special discount rates on products.
My Merch Store
This app allows you to post your products (handmade handicrafts, apparel etc) right on your Facebook profile page. Through the app, you can also share products that you like (from stores of other app users), and also find other artists selling their work. It’s a great tool to discover artisans located across the globe.
This storefront application on Facebook lets you add a tab to your Facebook fan page or profile to display your own Etsy shop. (Etsy is an online marketplace, where merchants and consumers can buy and sell handmade items). To access your shop, users need to add the Etsy Shop application and once added they can share favourite items with friends on Facebook.