By Ashley Lutz
NEW YORK - Last April, Gamestop Corp. opened a store on Facebook to generate sales among the 3.5 million-plus customers who’d declared themselves “fans” of the video game retailer. Six months later, the store was quietly shuttered.
Gamestop has company. Over the past year, Gap Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Nordstrom Inc. have all opened and closed storefronts on Facebook Inc.’s social networking site.
Facebook, which this month filed for an initial public offering, has sought to be a top shopping destination for its 845 million members. The stores’ quick failure shows that the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social network doesn’t drive commerce and casts doubt on its value for retailers, said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.
“There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop,” Mulpuru said in a telephone interview. “But it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”
A year ago, investors hailed so-called F-commerce as the next big thing, speculating that the company had potential to threaten Amazon.com Inc. and PayPal Inc. Facebook is the most-visited website in the world. Some people thought that persuading visitors to shop would be easy, Mulpuru said.
David Fisch, Facebook’s director of business development, said in June that the site would make shopping online, previously a solitary experience, more social.
“This is where people are hanging out,” Fisch said at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in San Diego.
Facebook planned to profit from retailers buying ads to drive traffic to their on-site stores. Business consultant Booz & Co. predicted in January 2011 that physical goods sold through social commerce would balloon to $30 billion from $5 billion by 2015, with Facebook contributing a majority of sales.
Even as some businesses shut storefronts, many companies continue to devote advertising dollars to the social network. Facebook’s sales surged 55 percent to $1.13 billion in the fourth quarter. The company aims to use e-commerce more as a way of getting users to stay longer than as a way to boost revenue, said Krista Garcia, an analyst at EMarketer Inc. in New York.
Chris Kraeuter, a Facebook spokesman, declined to comment.
Customers had no incentive to shop at Gamestop’s Facebook store rather than the company’s regular website because purchasing online is already convenient, said Ashley Sheetz, who is the Grapevine, Texas-based company’s vice president of marketing and strategy.
“We just didn’t get the return on investment we needed from the Facebook market, so we shut it down pretty quickly,” Sheetz said in a telephone interview. “For us, it’s been a way we communicate with customers on deals, not a place to sell.”
Gap, which has 5.6 million Facebook fans from its namesake, Banana Republic and Old Navy pages, opened and discontinued a storefront last year, said Liz Nunan, a company spokeswoman. The San Francisco-based company also discovered customers preferred shopping on its own sites, she said.
“We will continue to evaluate if this is something we want to bring back in the future,” Nunan said in an emailed statement.
Nordstrom tested ways to make shopping “seamless through Facebook” and decided on a broader social media focus, Colin Johnson, a spokesman, said.
J.C. Penney featured assortments in a Facebook “shop” tab beginning in 2010, and took it down in December 2011, Kate Coultas, a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
Cracks in Model
Wade Gerten, CEO of social media developer 8thBridge, previously known as Alvenda, opened a Facebook store for the florist 1-800-FLOWERS. Minneapolis-based Gerten went on to develop commerce strategies for Delta Air Lines Inc., Diane Von Furstenberg Studio LP and denim-maker Seven for all Mankind.
Cracks in the model showed quickly, Gerten said in a telephone interview. Clients “have taken a different approach,” shutting stores or scaling back their offerings.
“It was basically just another place to shop for all the stuff already available on the retailer websites,” Gerten said. “I give so-called F-commerce an ‘F.’”