When Pampers recently offered its new line of Pampers Cruisers through a storefront on its Facebook Fan page, the limited supply of 1,000 packages for $9.99 each sold out in less than an hour.

For eager would-be diaper-purchasers who missed out, the company offered the chance to pre-order the Cruisers with Dry Max from online retailers Amazon.com and BabiesRUs.com. Also listed were outlets where the diapers would be sold once they hit shelves.

That Pampers can create buzz for a diaper is indeed testimony to the power of Facebook and social media as business marketing tools. But that's not news to most businesses, which recognize Facebook Fan pages as inexpensive yet highly effective means to boost business. What's telling about the Cruisers is the use of Facebook as a retail outlet.

How you can sell on Facebook

"E-commerce on Facebook is something we're watching rather closely,'' says Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, which helps its clients sell online through multiple channels.

The idea of actually selling on Facebook is in its frontier days. However, what Wingo and others see are retailers both large and small working to create a social selling experience more than a transaction.

"A lot of what people do is try to get people engaged, talking about the brand,'' says Andy Lloyd, CEO of Fluid, Inc., whose Facebook social shopping platform yielded eye-opening results for Rachel Roy, a division of Jones Apparel. A three-day pop-up store with Facebook-only merchandise sold out in the first six hours, the brand added 1.5 new fans a minute and the company's fan base increased 35 percent, according to Fluid.

"The challenge with shopping on Facebook is you're training users to do something different than they've done in the past,'' Lloyd says. "People really haven't shopped within Facebook.

A number of avenues are emerging to turn Facebook Fan pages into retail outlets. Lloyd recommends a cautious approach for small to mid-size businesses embracing Facebook retailing. "Start out and do something basic,'' he says, advising that you utilize existing technology and ecommerce systems.

Among the options:

  • Fluid Fan Shop and shopping tabs. To implement a Fluid Fan Shop shopping setup like Rachel Roy used could cost $20,000 to $25,000, estimates Lloyd. However, he anticipates costs dropping with the needed technology in place. These fan shops allow consumers to shop and choose products on the Facebook page, then the completion of the transaction is moved seamlessly to the retailer's traditional website. The consumer has some security in completing the transaction in the traditional online manner, Lloyd says. "Whether the checkout process is within Facebook or within the retail site, they're focused on the checkout at that point,'' he says. "By the time they get to the cart, they're pretty well committed to the idea of performing the transaction. Heather Logrippo, who owns a Boston-area public relations firm is working with an author to build a shopping cart tab within his Facebook fan page. "You click on the tab that says order his book, and you order right from his website,'' she says. "At the end of the day, I don't know whether it's a big deal whether you send someone to another site to order something or you have them do something on Facebook. They both allow you to capture the audience on Facebook."
  • Payvment. For retailers, Payvment offers a relatively simple way to add a free shopping cart application to your Facebook fan page. The company allows payment through PayPal. Payvment tries to address the issue of shopping cart abandonment with its universal cart. Leave an item in a Payvment cart with one retailer, and it will show up as you shop with another Payvment retailer. Consumers must click to allow the application access before shopping. The basic setup looks fairly rudimentary, with rows of items on the page.
  • Alvenda. Wingo, the ChannelAdvisor CEO, thinks -ecommerce within wall posts is where Facebook shopping is headed. "We think 2.0 is on the way. It's going to be wall-oriented and very interactive,'' he says. Alvenda made headlines with its launch of the 1-800-Flowers store within Facebook last summer, and next up are newsfeed stores. Shop on the 1-800-Flowers site, and you never leave Facebook. Shop on a newsfeed post, and you shop within the newsfeed. Facebook created something of a furor with its failed Beacon experiment, which was designed to share information about users' purchases elsewhere online. Sharing information about purchases in the newsfeed will raise similar questions.
  • CartFly. This shopping widget collects three percent of each transaction, and transactions must utilize Amazon Payments.


What you should consider about Facebook shopping

Understanding the inherently social nature of Facebook is critical to successful sales ventures, says Lloyd. Consider a "curated product set" such as special Mother's Day sales items. "Present it in a way that's more compelling, more interactive,'' he advises.

Allow consumers a way to express themselves, such as creating like buttons for items. "Subsequent shoppers can say, 'Oh, 45 people liked this product,''' Lloyd says. Find a way for people to share opinions or the shopping experience.  Offer incentives to Fans, such as limited product lines, one-time deals, promotions, and contests.

"What you don't want to be doing is basically pick up your online store and dump it into a tab on your Facebook page,'' Lloyd says. "You're using Facebook as a mechanism to engage with them as people as opposed to just credit cards."