Facebook has learned an interesting lesson: people don’t like to buy physical things for people in their virtual network.
A year ago, they opened the Facebook Gift Shop where you could purchase actual items to send to your online friends. Birthday reminders came with a small push to gift but in the end less than 20% of users took advantage of the service.
People did use the gifting service to send digital gift cards to friends so Facebook is going to continue that part of the service.
The whole concept was an interesting experiment but this screengrab includes a clue to the future of the service. Digital gifts are listed under the heading “Instant Gratification” and that pretty much says it all.
It seemed like a great idea but there was more to it than just click and send. The gift getter had to find the notification, read it, then reply with a mailing address within two weeks or the order would be canceled. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are people who only check their Facebook account a few times a month.
Another issue is privacy. Both gift giving and gift getting require the release of personal information – address, credit card numbers, etc.
Here’s a note about that from the FAQ:
When you pay for a Facebook Gift, we store your credit card for future use. If you don’t want to have your credit card information stored on your account, you can remove it after making a purchase.
I hear you saying that many online stores save your credit card information but Facebook isn’t a store, it’s a social network and it just feels like a bad place to leave such sensitive information. And since Facebook is NOT an online store, the whole concept of playing middleman for physical gift delivery is absurd.
What does this mean for F-commerce in general? Does this failed experiment suggest that people will never be comfortable buying physical goods on Facebook? Or did the gifting program fail because it wasn’t properly promoted and supported?
What do you think? Was Facebook Gifts a small step in the wrong direction or should Facebook stay out of the commerce business entirely?