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Facebook says the future of commerce is conversational

Facebook will launch visual search for Instagram

The pandemic was a catalyst for Facebook to accelerate its plans around commerce, specifically launching its Shops service last year. The Drum spoke to Dan Neary, Facebook’s vice-president of APAC, as the social giant launches new products around commerce, committing to its pledge to make online shopping more conversational.

Facebook today announced a round of new products and services linked to its Shops services, including new ads, which includes a feature to send people to where they are most likely to purchase, be that on Facebook or the brand’s website.

Facebook is also extending the Shops service to WhatsApp and teasing future innovation around AR, AI and VR.

The offline experience online

According to Facebook’s Neary, the new tools expand on the company’s mission to better mimic the connection and experience that consumers get from offline shopping in the online, social environment.

“We are looking at how online shopping experiences can more deeply create the same connections people get from in-person shopping experiences. We will continue to invest in ways to connect people and businesses through the commerce journey as it remains a key priority for us,” he explains.

The product launch was first announced by Mark Zuckerberg in the US as a global product launch, but Neary explains that a lot of the innovation around commerce is being driven from the industry in Asia, and specifically South East Asia – meaning that the region is one that global brands are looking at to understand what is next for commerce.

Asia as the e-commerce innovator

“I really think the nerve center for a lot of the innovation around commerce is coming out of Asia, particularly South East Asia. Even internally we look to many of the markets across Asia as the inspiration for how we’re actually developing products. When we think about live shopping, when we think about conversational commerce, when we think about things like collaborative ads, all of this innovation is being led and inspired out of Asia Pacific. The trends are certainly much more pronounced in Asia Pacific than anywhere else,” he adds.

As such, Facebook has been carrying out consumer research into online shopping behaviors in the region to try and predict the major trends for brands and shoppers alike. A key insight was just how quickly the big sales days from the e-commerce platforms have created a new wave of mega sale shoppers.

The influence of mega sales

A huge 75% of APAC shoppers we surveyed said they bought something during a Mega Sales Day event last year, according to the report. As for what this means for brands, Neary says brands need to consider how they stand out with their online shopping experiences.

“We have all moved from ‘going shopping’ to ‘always shopping’. For marketers, this represents a scenario where any given moment is a moment for discovery, inspiration and connection. It fundamentally changes the function of marketing from being a loudspeaker for the benefits of a product or service to a function of meeting people where they are.

“Definitely, the data points to maximizing Mega Sales Days, particularly for our region, while thinking holistically about the new customer journey. Every business needs to ask: when there is so much choice, how can I ensure that my product or service is discovered by the people who are most likely to love it? So they need to go beyond traditional e-commerce experiences and think about how people discover, consider and purchase their products,” he adds.

Commerce is conversational

The second trend to come from the research was the fact that consumer expectations have risen around the need to converse with brands, as some 48% of holiday shoppers are more likely to buy if businesses are contactable through instant messaging. Facebook calls this conversational commerce.

“A good example of conversational commerce is Baanraya, a small business in Thailand that makes healthy baby food. They pivoted their business to online in the last three years and built their entire business on chat. They have almost 200 different products made from natural ingredients that are nutritious for children. They get queries on Messenger from 200 to 300 customers daily – from mothers asking about what might suit a fussy eater to questions on catering for specific allergies. Messenger helps Baanraya reply at scale and provide information on the many products. This kind of utility has made one of our ad solutions – Click-to-Message ads – one of the fastest-growing in this region,” he explains.

Cross-border is the future

Alongside this conversational opportunity, Facebook says the shift to e-commerce creates new opportunities for businesses to sell across borders, with more people buying products from other countries than ever before. Facebook has responded to this by launching a Cross Border Hub to help businesses get ready for this opportunity.

In terms of what’s coming down the line, the theme is around richer experiences for shopping, with Neary adding: “We’re investing in immersive technologies like augmented reality and artificial intelligence that will be the foundation for the way we shop online going forward.”

What’s next? AR, VR and AI

From an AI perspective, visual search will be a major focus. “In the future, we’ll make it possible for people to take photos from their camera to start a visual search. While it’s still early, we think visual search will enhance mobile shopping by making even more pieces of media on Instagram shoppable.”

With AR experiences, Facebook wants to help people visualize items before they buy. “To help shoppers get a better feel for the fit of a product before they purchase, we’ll make it easier for brands to create AR try-on experiences in Shops through new API integrations with Modiface and Perfect Corp.”

Tapping into one of the key trends to come from Asia, Facebook is also investing in livestreaming in a commerce context.

“In APAC, we recently launched a test of our Live Shopping product with a small group of businesses in Taiwan to gather feedback. Live shopping is an established behavior in Taiwan and is a highly engaging shopping experience for both buyers and sellers,” he explains.

With the near future resembling more restrictions for many around the world, the need for more connectivity around online shopping will most likely persevere – and Facebook is certainly pushing to ensure it has its place within this new norm for shopping.

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