About the “Baked In” series: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likes to say that social dynamics are going to work their way into every industry, and the companies of the future will be the ones that bake them in from the beginning, rather than slapping them on as an afterthought. This series takes a look at companies that are discovering new opportunities by using social components in the foundations of their businesses.
Anna Wintour might not want to hear this, but pushing through throngs of frenzied fashionistas during Fashion’s Night Out is becoming as outré as last fall’s cargo pants. For those not in participating cities, multiple social media channels streamed live feeds of the retail chaos unfolding on the streets and in the store aisles of New York, LA, and Chicago. For once, those at home had the advantage. Not only could they get a front-row seat (sans pushing) to some events on Facebook, but they could shop there too, thanks to F-commerce boutiques powered by Payvment.
You might not have heard of it yet, but the two-year old Palo Alto-based company is a force in F-commerce. Payvment’s platform enables brands and merchants to create their own storefronts and get discovered by Facebook’s 750 million users. Currently powering over 60,000 active sellers offering more than two million searchable products, it’s a paradise for shopaholics with a penchant for discovering new trends and indie brands.
“It’s like having a one-on-one conversation with someone. There’s no anonymity and you get to know your shopkeeper. That builds trust and loyalty,” says Payvment’s chief brand officer, Joelle Musante.
Unlike other solutions that have popped up from major retail chains, Payvment’s tools are truly social. Musante tells Fast Company that Payvment understood from the beginning that Facebook was not the place to mimic e-commerce sites. “People go to Facebook with intention,” to connect with friends and family Musante says, “But we see [retailers] who say rebuild my store.”
Musante says Payvment saw the Facebook platform as an opportunity to reinvent shopping. Payvment powers individual shops on FB but also pulls them together on an aggregate site –a “mall” if you will– that both allows for discovery and recommendations, as well as provide an intro to small boutiques, like Amazon’s network of sellers on steriods.
For instance, if you’re looking for a Gibson guitar, a Vivienne Westwood dress or even bling-encrusted purple stripper pumps, look no further. The bonus: you can actually see who likes them (not just how many do) and you can also click through to the seller’s wall and chat with the merchant about sizes or other merchandise, see their ratings, etc.
As the first U.S. department store to turn its fan page shoppable, JCPenney allows its Facebook fans to click through a few pretty landing pages to get to piles of product shots which don’t look any different from their online storefront. The effort falls short of the social mark because the only interactive element is the Like button. Other retailers simply redirect to an online shopping site. That’s not really social commerce Musante maintains, “It’s just a really fancy gallery.”
CEO and founder Christian Taylor says that staying true to the Facebook model has meant the application has been free since its initial launch in late 2009 and through the debut of its “Shopping Mall” eight months ago. “The true value is not the store but the opportunity for discovery,” Taylor explains. Participating stores can set up shop with no fees and Payvment doesn’t take a cut of the sales revenue.
So far, the lack of monetization hasn’t been a sticking point. The company’s been well funded, raising a total of $8 million from BlueRun Ventures, Sierra Ventures, and 500 Startups. However, Taylor says the intent to monetize has always been there and this week Payvment launched a new version that plays to all sizes of retailers.
For $29.99 a month, Payvment Premium offers subscribing sellers a host of features including the oh-so-social dashboard that aggregates advanced analytics beyond simple sales and traffic data. Payvment’s tools show all social interactions including likes, comments and Tweets on a product-by-product basis, enabling sellers to evaluate the impact of promotions and understand which products are trending or driving viral reach.
Sellers can also schedule posts to their wall and Twitter feeds and run promotions on individual products using product-specific coupon codes.
For large sellers with more sophisticated needs, or an agency handling a large number of clients, Payvment will also offer Payvment Platinum, a custom version that comes with a corresponding price tag. Taylor says the promote button in particular, allows brands to seem much more social. “”There is a 900 percent increase in conversation about that product. If you automate that a bit and set up a week’s worth of promotion you can generate the world’s perfect promotion,” he says.
Musante is more sanguine. She points to an indie California brand recently taking preorders for T-shirts via its Facebook storefront. In this way, the company is building buzz, revenue, and its fan base who can share their find and drive even more traffic, not to mention mitigating the risk of producing too many shirts. Of this example Musante says, “It’s an education. [Selling] is a living thing, like a fire. You can be the bellows and make it happen.”