Tech companies rushing to enable brands to reach more people online is trending, as retail sales shift to e-commerce.
On Tuesday, Facebook launched Facebook Shops, allowing retailers to create customizable shops that are accessible through both their Facebook and Instagram profile pages. In Shops, select products from their e-commerce catalog are available.
“We launched in alpha to 1 million businesses globally, which speaks to our desire to get these tools in the hands of businesses as quickly as possible, to help them get through this time,” said Layla Amjadi, product lead for Instagram Shopping. “At the same time, this is part of a major, long-term commitment from [Facebook] to commerce.”
A day later, former executives from Stitch Fix, Google and Moda Operandi kicked off The Yes, an AI-powered app that sells brands’ complete product catalogs and aims to provide the utmost personalization, based on active feedback from users in the form of “yeses,” or likes.
“As we’ve watched what’s happened to businesses, our desire to get out there and help the brands has only grown,” said Julie Bornstein, co-founder and CEO of The Yes. “If we can do anything to help the brands, many of which are small businesses, to get more business and find new customers, that would be an amazing outcome.”
That’s not to mention that, last Thursday, the CFDA, Vogue and Amazon announced a partnership in the form of an Amazon-based storefront to “introduce smaller brands to Amazon’s massive customer base,” according to Vogue.
All of these efforts point to helping brands survive as retail sales continue to slump. Of course, businesses always prioritize their own interests, and the success of the companies touting their support depends on their partner brands coming out of this alive. In the end, they’ve timed their commerce ambitions according to a ramped up need among fashion brands for cash flow. And what they’re rolling out, designed to best service brands and the end consumer, speaks more to retail’s direction than tech companies’ crisis efforts.
Comparing the newly launched shopping experiences of 16-year-old tech giant Facebook and The Yes, a startup just out of stealth, isn’t as unfair as it may seem: The former incorporated new functionality into existing technology not made for commerce, while the latter built a shopping platform from scratch, according to a team of retail experts’ specifications.
Each has taken a unique approach to everything from the customer checkout process to the storytelling opportunities they allow brands. Here’s how they stack up.
Facebook Shops can be found by clicking the shopping bag icon on a business’s Facebook page or Instagram profile. In the future, companies will better be able to “meet shoppers where they are,” a key objective of many, by running in-feed ads that link to the Shops. For The Yes, access requires downloading a free app and answering a series of five questions to ensure a level of personalization out of the gate.
The Yes is 100% focused on women’s fashion, selling brands including Saint Laurent, Everlane and Levi’s. Bornstein said additional categories, like men’s fashion and beauty, won’t be added anytime soon until the company perfects fashion for women. In addition to providing “yeses” and “nos,” The Yes users take part in “pop quizzes” regularly, answering questions to further personalize their experience.
Facebook Shops takes a mall, versus store, approach, offering up categories from beauty to greeting cards. Among the brands already using it are Adidas, World Market and the candle brand Boy Smells. Facebook has years under its belt compiling data and fine-tuning its ability to serve up fitting content.
Facilitating additional storytelling by letting brands customize the look and feel of their presence on Shops is top of mind for Facebook. Just like from creators and everyday users, Facebook has heard from brands that they want more ways to tell their story. Shops allow for customization, including incorporating brand voice via added fields for copy, creating collections of products based on a theme and changing the color of the “add to bag” button. Providing brands with additional options is a priority, said Amjadi. Coming soon is a feature allowing brands to tag Facebook Shops products they’ll feature in Instagram Live sessions, so they’ll appear at the bottom of the screen, ready to shop.
Both companies integrate brands’ existing e-commerce imagery into their shopping experiences. Bornstein said, with some brands, The Yes team takes on a consulting role, helping them to optimize their photography and advising them on details such as the best lead image for their storefront.
The Yes offers a single-cart checkout. Facebook Shops, on the other hand, is much like a mall experience, where shoppers check out through each store individually. Users can have dedicated bags for different merchants in their cart at one time. In the future, Facebook users will be able to make purchases while chatting with a retailer without leaving WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct.
A problem with using Instagram Checkout, according to brands that have been on-boarded, is the lack of data Facebook provides them on the shopper. Giving up customer data is dependent on brands enlisting in Checkout, which is optional. Amjadi said, at this point, most brands send shoppers to their own website to check out. But, she noted, customers can sign up to receive brands’ emails at Checkout. In the future, brands’ loyalty programs and points systems will also be integrated.
As for The Yes, Bornstein said it’s providing “relevant data” to brands that is complementary to the data they get from their own websites and stores. That includes what people are buying and searching for, what styles they’re “yes-ing” and “no-ing,” and what fit issues, if any, The Yes shoppers have called out. On brand storefronts within the app, shoppers can sign up to receive a brand’s emails and can link to the brand’s Instagram profile.
Inspiration and discovery
Both companies talked up their ability to facilitate inspiration and opportunities for discovery. Of course, there are more opportunities on Facebook Shops, based on the numbers alone: Facebook Shops emerged with 1 million brands in alpha, while The Yes officially launched with 145. Amjadi said the top priority for Facebook is rolling out Shops to more brands.
When asked why The Yes links brands’ storefronts to their profile on Instagram, a competitor, Bornstein said that Instagram purchases are more like “impulse purchases,” and that Instagram doesn’t work well for when you’re “in shopping mode and want to see all the options available to you.” She said Instagram is complementary to The Yes, as fashion influencers are a way that people are getting style ideas and also brands work hard to create Instagram assets.
Per Amjadi, a Shopping tab in the navigation bar is coming to Instagram this summer, which will act like a personal mall, providing the ability to “browse all the brands you love and discover new ones.” It will feature timely product “collections,” like light loungewear, along with link-outs to Shops of brands users follow. It will also feature category options, allowing users to filter by, for example, home or beauty. Before that, though, she said Facebook Shops will extend the discovery, consideration and intent phases for Instagram shoppers, who are increasingly going to brands’ profile pages to learn more about them before they buy.
For Facebook Shops, customer service inquiries go directly to the brand, and can be sent via WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct. The Yes provides all customer service through on-staff agents using software tool Gladly. Brands selling through The Yes are only responsible for shipping orders.
Cost to brands
Instagram Checkout is still in beta, provided to a limited number of brands. Brands that opt to use Checkout, when available to them, are charged a small fee for each sale made through the app, which covers the transaction and buyer Protection, said Amjadi. Any business can set up a Facebook Shop for free. The Yes, meanwhile, earns a cut of each sale, though is foregoing its commission the first two weeks post-launch. Both companies declined to elaborate on their rates.