Will Fab Get Social Shopping Right?

Facebook's Beacon was a bomb. Will this e-commerce site figure out the right way to let friends see what friends are buying?

Four and a half years ago, Facebook launched Beacon, a feature that showed users what their friends were buying. The social network thought the idea would be a hit, but it backfired (and quickly folded) after users felt like their privacy was being violated.

Today design e-commerce site Fab is launching a similar feature, but it thinks it's actually going to get the idea right. "Beacon was a good idea horribly implemented," CEO Jason Goldberg tells Fast Company.

Starting today, Fab users will be able to see what items their Facebook friends are buying, favoriting, or sharing. But whereas Facebook immediately turned on Beacon for all users, Fab's service will be opt-in, Goldberg says, so people can choose whether they want to participate or not.

"People have to feel like they can trust the service," Goldberg says. "They have to believe it adds value for them."

And Goldberg thinks they will because, he says, it more closely replicates the serendipitous nature of shopping in real life, where friends introduce each other to great things they've found.

That's because, at its core, Fab isn't about task-based shopping, the way Amazon is (as in "I need a hammer so let me go online to find a hammer that I like"). Rather, it's more about window shopping, or what Goldberg calls "discovery" (as in "I'm not looking for anything in particular, but if I see something I like, I'll get it"). Under that second rubric, a system will do better, the theory goes, if it does a better job of putting things in front of the user that they're likely to like.

In December, the site launched a page called "Live Feed," which shows visitors what all other users on the site are buying, liking, sharing, and tweeting, and Fab saw its conversion rate triple. Fifteen percent of visits to that page result in a sale, compared with 5% for the site as a whole.

So, Goldberg says, "follow the user." If showing them what all users like produces better results, it would seem logical that a friends-only filter would do even better. "We think much more of our traffic is going to go through Live Feed," Goldberg says.

See also: Innovation Agents: Fab's Bradford Shellhammer Embraces Risk, Redefines Design

[Image: Flickr user oxfordian.world]

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter | Google+ | Email

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