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Facebook Head of Ecommerce Offers Advice to Online Sellers

The crowd that filled up the cavernous meeting space at the IRCE 2016 conference for online merchants in Chicago last week eagerly awaited glimpses of the next new Facebook innovation, the latest way to leverage user-provided personal data and content so sellers can generate new revenue streams. The title of the talk, after all, was “Sneak Peek: What’s Next at Facebook.”

The woman behind me said she was attending a wedding in a few days. “Facebook has probably destroyed as many marriages as it has created,” she remarked to another attendee.

The room filled up quickly. Jeremy Lewis, Head of U.S. E-Commerce for Facebook, had his employer introduced as the “800-lb. Gorilla” on the Internet. But instead of a rousing King Kong speech full of revelations, the talk appeared to be a Mr. Teenyaddress of platitudes about the importance of mobile commerce and integrated advertising campaigns and “disruption.” Nothing new there, I thought at first.

But if you looked behind the slides and slogans and buzzwords, the clues were there. Lewis’s talk did give us an idea of where Facebook is likely to put its energies in the coming year.

Lewis began by describing the present time as the “The Age of Disruption” and by urging the audience to “learn from the disruptors.” But is Facebook a Disruptor anymore? I wondered. Is he saying that Facebook is going to change dramatically and disrupt ecommerce in some way?

His next revelation: “As a marketer, when you’re trying to engage customers, do new things. Don’t do the same things, do them better.”

Then: “Mobile isn’t a thing. It’s the thing.” This brings us to the first indication of what Facebook will be concentrating on in the coming year:

1) Goin’ Mobile 
Lewis displayed a Facebook Internal Data chart showing that, while mobile use among millennials has exploded, it’s still low among old folks in my age range.

When Lewis advised the audience to “Invest heavily in mobile apps and create great mobile experiences for consumers,” I took that to mean: “Facebook will be investing in disruptive new mobile apps and using their technology to create new incentives for mobile users to spend even more time on our site.”

An important part of that mobile use is video. “One hundred million hours of video are watched every day on Facebook,” he said.

In video, marketers (or others) need to grab young viewers in the first three seconds, which are your “audition” period. It’s important to use text overlay or captions for users who don’t have the sound on. “Keep it short and snackable,” he advised.

Then he added that Facebook is working on new forms of video animation to help people communicate with friends and family or to help companies share with consumers. Live video and 360-degree video of the sort common to Snapchat users is a big topic. Translation: “We’re going to jump on the video bandwagon before Snapchat grabs too many of our users.”

One slide titled “Millennials prefer mobile” stated that 83% research products on mobile, 69% buy on mobile, and 61% download retail apps. And 44% of young people prefer shopping through a mobile app.

Lewis’s second conclusion was aimed right at ecommerce marketers:

2) Focus on People, Not Devices 
The phrase “Think People, Not Devices” was, in fact, the title of a Facebook IQ Live presentation given in New York last October.

Lewis pointed out that while 92 percent of all retail sales still happen in brick-and-mortar stores, consumers carry their smartphones with them and use them as shopping tools.

What, exactly, does “People, Not Devices” mean? At first, I took it to mean that merchants should remember to provide consumers with mobile sales information they can look up quickly to do comparison shopping or research on their products.

But this Facebook for Business page is probably closer to Lewis’s message: Merchants should spend more on Facebook ads to target exactly the consumers your business attracts.

Facebook’s Power Editor lets merchants target ads based on gender, age, interests, and even the kinds of activities people pursue outside of Facebook – which Facebook knows about because people post photos and comments about those very activities. (Not to mention Facebook’s open Social Graph. – Ed.)

Lewis said it’s about reaching the right people in the right place at the right time – in the case of ecommerce, signals will allow you to reach the right people along the purchase path.

3) Nonlinear Storytelling 
The path to purchase is not linear, Lewis said, and he referred to Facebook Dynamic Ads such as those used by eBay.

Only last February Facebook introduced Canvas, a tool for introducing brands and products on mobile devices, and Lewis mentioned Burberry’s Canvas ad as one of the most interesting he’s seen. The emphasis, again, is on “short and sweet” messaging. “People spend an average of 20 seconds on canvas ads,” he said.

By linking such ads to pre-filled forms on Facebook, businesses can acquire leads in just two screen taps, said Lewis.

Lewis concluded by passing along one extra tip: Think about Messenger for Business as a way of having one-to-one communication with customers. It’s essential to have “live” people doing the communication rather than automated messages.

An example is in a scaled way. Everlane and Zulily have used it for customer service instead of their usual CRM apps – see this article in TechInsider.io to see how it can work.

My takeaway: In the next 12 months look for Facebook to copy (or acquire) innovative mobile apps that use video, and to push existing business tools that haven’t yet gained traction in order to hike profits for shareholders. Oh yes, and to benefit ecommerce customers, too.

Greg Holden
Greg Holden
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on GregHolden.com, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.