Facebook unveiled its latest efforts to strengthen the bridge between its platform and real-world retail Monday, ahead of its keynote at the Shoptalk conference in Las Vegas. The three new tools are geared toward in-store sales optimization, product catalogues and dynamic ads.
According to Facebook, 45 percent of retail journeys include mobile — from research and price comparisons to actual purchases. “Mobile devices have completely changed the way we shop. As a result, we now expect brands to personalize the shopping experience for us, no matter where we are browsing or purchasing — whether online or in store,” said Eva Press, Facebook’s group director of global marketing solutions.
But the company noted most retail purchases still happen in-store.
Store sales optimization, a new machine-learning feature, aims to help retailers target Facebook campaigns toward users who are most likely to shop in stores — regardless of whether the consumer has purchased from them before. Michael Kors tested the tool for a recent Instagram campaign.
For consumers not interested in participating, Facebook offers an escape hatch. On its blog, the company writes, “People will be able to opt out of ads based on information we get from off-line interactions, just like they can for other types of ads targeted based on online activity data.” The attention to privacy is understandable, given recent scrutiny on Facebook and its handling of user data.
Facebook shares were down 5 percent to $175.73 in early trading Monday as investors reacted to revelations that private information from 50 million people on the social network was used by a firm with links to President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The concerns highlight a growing understanding of the power and influence that can be had by mining personal information.
In retail, user profiles and customer data are critical for powering product recommendations and personalization. According to Accenture, 75 percent of consumers say that creating and managing style profiles, so brands could curate experiences and make recommendations, would be valuable. The social media network aims to give retail advertisers greater ability to draw on this trend by helping them personalize efforts.
“With store sales optimization, retailers focused on in-store sales can now benefit from the power of machine learning that’s driven online sales recommendations for years,” said Simon Whitcombe, vice president of global marketing solutions. “Facebook campaigns can now be automatically optimized to reach people who are more likely to make a purchase in-store, taking us one step closer to the holy grail of marketing.”
Another new feature brings product catalogs to mobile devices but with a personalized twist. Tabs for Canvas gives retailers new shopping templates for collection ads, which — upon clicking — open full screen for product pages organized based on the user’s interests. Facebook uses the same product recommendations engine that powers dynamic ads to curate Tabs for Canvas.
“This enables us to show shoppers the parts of a catalog most relevant to them, both within news feed and in the full-screen experience, based on their changing interests and shopping behavior,” the social company said. Sephora used Tabs for Canvas for its mobile holiday catalogue.
“Mobile shopping is important to our customers, and this ad unit allowed us to effectively connect with them in a way that was not only fun, but also innately linked to how they prefer to browse and shop content online,” said Bindu Shah, Sephora’s vice president of digital marketing. The beauty retailer saw a 32 percent higher return on its ad spending.
The tech company also introduced category-level images for dynamic ads, or personalized advertisements that promote catalog products. The new feature essentially zeros in on a person’s general interest in a shopping category, even if the user hasn’t latched onto a particular item. TechStyle Fashion Group was among the first to try the feature, and it noted cost-per-acquisition decreases of 24 to 58 percent across its brand portfolio.
Facebook knows “there’s room to improve the online shopping experience on mobile,” Whitcombe said, “and that’s our goal with both tabs for Canvas and categories for dynamic ads.”