Facebook Helps Online SMBs Go Offline with Macy’s Pop-up Stores

As of the most recently disclosed data, Facebook has 6 million advertisers and “more than 80 million small businesses” with active Facebook Pages on a global basis. On the Q3 earnings call last week, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said, “Over 90 million businesses rely on Facebook pages to reach potential customers for free.”

By default most of the 90 million are going to be small businesses. And while Facebook has always been focused on SMBs, at this point the SMB market is a clear “path to redemption” for the company, which has been rocked by “fake news” and data-related scandals.

In an interesting and novel move, Facebook is helping some of its pure-play online SMBs create a presence offline in nine Macy’s locations across the US: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, San Antonio and Las Vegas. Roughly 100 SMBs brands will rotate through pop-up locations inside Macy’s (“The Market”), with approximately15 brands appearing in each store, each month.

The stores will operate through early February 2019.

It’s an interesting branding and commerce experiment for the social media company, which has held numerous offline marketing events for SMBs but never had a retail presence. A Facebook spokesperson told me in email that any brand on Facebook could apply and that Macy’s made the final decisions.

Euclid in-store shopping preference survey data

Source: Euclid, n=1,500 US adults (10/8)

Brands that have an omni-channel presence (online + off) are generally in a stronger position than online only stores. That’s partly why a host of “direct-to-consumer” brands have moved offline. A partial list includes, Away, Warby Parker, Bonobos, Allbirds, Casper and of course Amazon, among numerous others. In many instances, the store is effectively a branding vehicle and the ultimate transaction happens online.

Rather than offline stores declining in importance, which has been the “comScore narrative” for a decade, the opposite is true, as the direct-to-consumer movement indicates. A recent survey by Euclid showed that reasons for shopping offline (chart above) have grown in importance. However consumers are fickle and more demanding than ever so retail business as usual no longer works.

Nothing is guaranteed. Both online and offline experiences must be optimized and work together. But that’s a different discussion. The larger point is that an offline presence will help these Facebook SMB brands build awareness, credibility and drive online sales.

Facebook declined to say whether it would extend the promotion after the holiday pop-up experiment is over. It will have to assess whether the move is a success, but for the present it represents invaluable promotion for the businesses involved.

What do you think of this move? Does it suggest any further offline presence/promotion from Facebook on behalf of its customers or itself? 

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