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Why Facebook Marketplace just doesn’t work

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Last week marked the launch of what was intended to be Facebook’s next big leap into the eCommerce sphere. With 20% of the entire world population actively using the social network, it seems to makes sense to allow businesses with an online following to sell through a properly designed platform within Facebook itself.

Unfortunately the launch of Marketplace got off to a poor start. With some of the network’s community standard failsafes out of action due to what was eventually put down to ‘teething issues’, a few slightly unusual products made it onto the listings. From illegal firearms and drugs to babies and even hedgehogs popping up for purchase, it's clear that the unveiling of Facebook Marketplace didn’t go quite to plan.

Of course, Facebook isn’t the only social network trying to cash in on its captive audience. ‘Buy’ buttons have already been launched on collaging/inspiration board site Pinterest with some success. Instagram has also taken small steps toward becoming more commercial with the introduction of business profiles.

Granted, making a purchase over Facebook is not new behaviour. The social network’s focus on commerce is in part an effort to curb and control the millions of informal purchases made on the site through buy and sell pages and lifestyle sellers.

The marketplace isn’t Facebook’s only foray into developing retail features either, with their Chat Bot feature (while somewhat novel) being picked up by some more daring, tech-forward businesses, designed to answer queries from users with product suggestions. But is all this really necessary when consumers already have numerous marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and more to choose from, and for the most part enjoy using them?

Indeed, popular flower delivery site 1-800 flowers told the Guardian newspaper last week that while the business wanted to embrace Facebooks eCommerce tech efforts, the features just haven’t caught on and sales through the platform have been poor.

The company also cited payment through the social network as a barrier to converting customers (after all, this is Facebook, not PayPal). This could be put down to a question of trust. With the Facebooks of the online world already watching our every click and with a history of ambiguous privacy policies, perhaps handing over card details is just a step too far for many discerning users.

Some media outlets and news providers have heralded Facebook Marketplace as a rival to eBay and possible competitor to Amazon, but there’s very little evidence to support this. The main reason is that in order to use the Marketplace, users must first be prized away from the main centre of action: their newsfeed. With funny viral videos, news and views, and updates from friends and family precisely what users are on the site for, what reason do they have to venture onto another tab?

How Marketplace will develop over time remains to be seen - perhaps some tailored product suggestions would be a good place to start? But for now it doesn’t seem as though the major eCommerce players have anything to worry about.

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