Facebook launches shopping platform as e-commerce surges amid Covid-19 and Libra falters

The company started Shops with a global test of 1 million businesses and expects to launch it in the UAE next month

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 15, 2012, a woman shoots video of the sign at the entrance to the Facebook main campus in Menlo Park, California, May 15, 2012.   Google and Facebook have told most employees to keep working from home for the rest of 2020 as part of a response by the tech giants to the deadly coronavirus pandemic. / AFP / Robyn BECK
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Social media giant Facebook has launched Shops, a e-commerce platform that is likely to compete with industry giants such as Amazon, Alibaba and eBay, as more people transact digitally in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The service will allow businesses - irrespective of size and budget - to list and sell products directly to consumers across Facebook’s apps for free. They can get online and connect with customers wherever and whenever it’s convenient for them, the company said.

“As people are being told to stay home, physical storefronts are having a hard time staying open and millions of people are losing their jobs,” Facebook’s founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said.

“I have been personally working with our teams on Facebook Shops every day for the last couple of months so we could accelerate launching it to small businesses who could use tools like this now.”

Shops can also gain more traction on Facebook-owned platforms and add to its overall business as e-commerce channels are attracting more customers amid the coronavirus-related lockdowns.

Users can find Shops on Facebook Page or Instagram profile, as well as through stories and ads. From there, they can browse the full collection, save products and place an order.

Customers will be able to message a business through WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct to ask questions, get support and track deliveries.

The California-headquartered company is not new to this business as it is already supporting some degree of e-commerce on its channels.

In 2016, Facebook launched Marketplace where users can arrange to buy, sell and trade items with other people in their area. Its subsidiary Instagram also allows users to buy goods featured in ads and posts. But now businesses can create a full-fledged dedicated shop on Facebook.

Facebook Shops. Courrtesy Facebook

However, businesses in the Middle East have to wait a little longer before they start using this new feature.

Facebook, which has more than 2.6 billion users globally, did not disclose the geographies outside the US, where Shops will be launched.

The company said it will be more widely available in the coming months and it is starting with a global test of almost 1 million businesses before a broader release.

"We have started testing Facebook Shops with a subset of the businesses on our platform globally and expect to start testing with businesses in the UAE in June," a Facebook spokesperson told The National in an emailed statement.

There are more than 180 million people using Facebook in the Middle East, according to figures released in April, last year.

Moving further, the company is also building a bunch of features across its apps where consumers can find and buy products they might be interested in.

“We are building a dedicated shopping tab on Instagram and a destination inside Explore where you can find and buy products … soon, we will also be launching new Live shopping features across Facebook and Instagram, which will allow you to shop in real-time," Mr Zuckerberg said.

To create better shopping experiences, Shops will start using artificial intelligence and augmented reality technologies in the coming days. It will automatically identify and tag products in feeds so that people can easily click-through to purchase when they find things they like.

“Small businesses will also be able to personalise their storefronts to first show products that are most relevant to you … and let you virtually try on things like sunglasses or makeup,” Mr Zuckerberg said.

Facebook Shops. Courrtesy Facebook

Facebook is working with partners like Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Channel Advisor, CedCommerce, Cafe24, Tienda Nube and Feedonomics in the US to give small businesses the support they need.

Privacy is also a major concern for Facebook, which is already under fire for not protecting users’ personal data.

“Your activity in Facebook Shops will not be shared with your friends or to your profile or feed, unless you choose to share it,” said Kara Sutton, the company’s privacy policy manager.

However, the company said it will collect users’ data, including payment details, transaction date, billing, shipping and contact information, to complete the purchase process.

“We will securely store and encrypt your payment card numbers ... and they will not be used to personalise your experience or inform the ads you see,” added Ms Sutton.