Procter & Gamble Co. is taking another plunge into Facebook commerce with a new platform and an effort to bring new retailers on board after scrapping an earlier effort using Amazon as a fulfillment partner.
P&G quietly has added "shop" or "shop now" buttons to Facebook fan pages of several brands in recent weeks, including Tide, Gillette, Olay, Gain, CoverGirl, Luvs and Febreze, with several more expected to come on line in the weeks ahead.
Fulfillment of items purchased within Facebook on the P&G brand pages comes through P&G's own e-store that opened last year (PGestore.com), but the layout leaves room for other retailers to join as alternatives. Walmart.com is considering linking with P&G's Facebook pages as an option, said a spokeswoman for the retailer.
People familiar with the matter said other e-tailers may also eventually join the P&G f-commerce effort as partners, including Amazon re-joining. In an e-mail, P&G spokeswoman Tonia Elrod said, "As we expand the tests across more of our brands, P&G products will also be available for purchase from a variety of qualified retailers," but declined to comment on specific ones.
Through "buy it now" buttons across many of P&G's brand websites, shoppers already can select from a variety of retailers, but the P&G initiative may mark a couple of firsts in Facebook commerce. It appears to be the first time a brand has allowed multiple retail partners for fulfillment of orders on Facebook, and, should Walmart follow through on joining the effort, it would be the first time Walmart.com has sold products entirely within Facebook.
"Social-network selling is an extension of our overall focus on innovation and brand building," Ms. Elrod said. "We expect testing commerce via social networks like Facebook will help us accelerate e-commerce growth as consumers buy more of our categories online." P&G began Facebook e-commerce last year with some fanfare via its Pampers brand fan page, which also offered products from several other P&G brands without leaving Facebook, using Amazon as the sole retailer fulfilling those sales.
But P&G quietly pulled the plug on that effort earlier this year for a couple of reasons, according to people familiar with the matter. The company was concerned about backlash from other retailers, particularly Walmart, being shut out of its Facebook pages, and the Amazon platform had technical issues that made for a poor user experience.
Similar issues appear with Amazon's own brand fan page on Facebook, which does allow people to buy products without leaving the site, but doesn't make it easy to find all the buttons needed to complete a transaction, in a stark contrast to the smooth running of Amazon's mobile apps. Amazon didn't return e-mails for comment.
Disclosures on P&G's Facebook brand sites indicate they use the Distributed Commerce Platform from Columbus, Ohio-based Resource Interactive to complete the transactions. Resource also created the P&G e-store and is the digital shop for one of the brands involved -- Gain. And the agency has used DCP for f-commerce efforts from retailers such as Victoria's Secret and Home Depot and formerly handled digital work for Walmart. But people familiar with the matter said other retailers won't necessarily have to use Resource's platform, provided they use something more compatible with Facebook than Amazon's current offering.
Vitrue handles Facebook management for many of the P&G brands involved, and a variety of digital agencies, including Publcis' Digitas, Omnicom's Proximity, and independents IMC2 and Strawberry Frog, handle digital duties for other brands involved in the Facebook commerce efforts.
While Walmart.com is still undecided on joining the P&G f-commerce effort and doesn't currently sell goods entirely within Facebook, it has boosted its profile within the social network recently, said spokeswoman Amy Lester, by adding Facebook "like" buttons to item listings throughout Walmart.com. That enables one of the key advantages of conducting sales within the social network -- making it easy to tell friends about purchases or suggest gifts.
Speaking at Wal-Mart Stores shareholder meeting last week, CEO Mike Duke said, "In global e-commerce, we will not just be competing, we will play to win."
At this point, however, Walmart.com is well behind Amazon in e-commerce, according to industry watchers, including in packaged goods, where it also lags Walgreens, which agreed to buy Drugstore.com earlier this year. Getting ahead of Amazon on Facebook commerce, where Walmart has 6 million fans to Amazon's 1.2 million, would give it one clear victory in the space, though it's unclear that will hasten a link to P&G's efforts.
Asked at a news conference after his speech last week how long he thinks it will take Walmart to catch Amazon in e-commerce, Mr. Duke said, "Catching Amazon is not the mission." Walmart, he said, wants to leverage its strength as a multi-channel retailer that reaches 150 million weekly shoppers by offering online, offline and site-to-store linkups.
"What we're doing is really being Walmart and investing and creating the e-commerce strategies that allow for continuous shopping the way that the customer wants to do it," he said, "and not restricting them to one way or another."
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