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Monday, 20 February 2012

Facebook stores - retail future or retail failure

An interesting story on Bloomberg about Gamestop Corp closing their Facebook store. Gamestop are a big computer games retailer with over 200 stores worldwide. Apparently a few other retailers have also closed their Facebook stores recently including The Gap. Facebook was widely touted as the next big thing for retailers for no other reason than the fact that millions of people were using it, so surely there had to be a way to make money out of them. This matters not just to struggling retailers but also to Facebook if they are going to justify their huge valuation. In the end the evidence seems to show people prefer to just use the existing retailer websites. To be honest this is not a complete surprise. Facebook is after all a social network where people go to chat and engage with friends. Inserting shopping into that equation is not easy unless it is done extremely well, offering something that regular sites cannot offer. Computer games might seem a better choice for a Facebook store; a young tech savvy demographic, always new games to discuss and review, and above all online gaming is in itself social (the Gamestop Facebook page has 3.6 million likes). All this should make Facebook a better bet for buying Gears of War rather than a pair of Gap chinos but it seems not.

The reason this is interesting is because theatre ticketing is making inroads into this area. I'd love to see our customers booking tickets via Facebook and I think this idea does have potential. It does at least follow a golden rule by recognising one of the main reasons people use Facebook; as a way of organising their social life. Theatregoing is a social activity and if I want to go to the theatre what better way is there to invite friends than Facebook? And if we can all go online independently and pay for our reserved tickets even better (then at least I don't have to pay out a huge sum which I then have to ask for back, especially as I always get saddled with the booking fee).

In 2010 Disney were the first to do ticketing for cinema via Facebook for Toy Story 3 and it will be interesting to see how that rolls out. For some reason I think that theatre and in particular non-commercial theatre could do well with this. The key lesson to remember, and I suspect some of the retailers forgot, is that people use Facebook for their convenience not yours. If you assume customers are just there for the taking you will be disappointed.

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