When I started my soapmaking business, one of the things I wanted to know was how could I sell my soap to customers without having to have long complicated interactions. I was part of a local crafting and makers’ group on Facebook, and I was very surprised that the majority of small business owners were using Facebook pages to sell products!
Basically, you set it up like this. You start a Facebook page for your business and put some information in the page. Then customers have to send you a Facebook message to order your product or service, before they head over to Paypal to send payment for the order.
It’s so detached and so time-consuming for everyone involved. After going through this purchasing process a handful of times I gave up. I managed to buy a grand total of one thing this way, and all the other attempts I made were unsuccessful. Here are the key points in the sales process where this setup isn’t working for customers or sellers:
- Customers have to send you a message to find out your product range, prices and shipping options.
- You have to see that message and respond to it before you lose the customer. In my experience, sellers ranged from replying within minutes (best case) to replying two days later, to never replying at all. On a normal sales website, the customer has all this information straight away without any interaction.
- When I did get replies from sellers about products I wanted to buy, I often received incomplete replies, or replies where the seller had misread what I wanted to know and gave me the wrong info. This takes more time to unpick. A straightforward website completely avoids all of this and is less stressful and time consuming.
- In one case, because of the way Facebook notifications (don’t) work, the seller was replying to my messages at a rate of 1 message every 8-20 hours. It shouldn’t take a customer several days to order a birthday cake with plain white icing and “happy birthday baby” written on in blue icing. I gave up on this order by the third day because I still hadn’t received answers to basic questions like what area they delivered to. This information should be on your website which should be prominently linked from your Facebook page.
- In one case, I didn’t get any reply from another handmade cake company. I don’t know if that seller is no longer in business, or if they missed my message, or if they are even aware they have a Facebook page inbox separate to their regular one.
- In another case, the seller of some handmade candles seemed profoundly lonely and was trying to have really long conversations with me via Facebook message and I’m sorry to say I wasn’t interested, I wanted to buy a product. I kept replying to be polite but eventually I had to just stop to end the deluge of messages. Developing a relationship with a seller could come over time once the buying experience had wowed me, and in this case, it didn’t.
Overall, Facebook pages have their place in the customer experience, but that role absolutely is NOT to be used as a substitute for a website with product listings that handles the payment process automatically. Customers don’t need to interact with you individually.
If a customer has searched in Google for a product, even if your Facebook page comes up (which isn’t likely, since Facebook pages have terrible SEO), a customer on their phone has to log into Facebook and that means they have to remember their Facebook password to even see your Facebook page, as search engine results don’t take customers to the Facebook phone app where they would already be logged in.
Add to this, if they’re using Maps to find a local business, your Facebook page is the last thing they should be taken to because then they’re using the browser in their Google Maps app, and you’ve also suddenly lost half your map searching customers (because they use Apple Maps or Bing Maps, neither of which work the same way as Google maps, especially on phones and tablets).
Facebook pages are not structured like an online store at all. They’re a place for microblogging with photos. Showcase new items and build buzz with them. Put website links to where people can buy your products. Facebook pages don’t display key information to customers, and navigating them isn’t intuitive, making the whole buying process over-complicated.
The buying process should be as easy and quick as possible for your customers.
Selling via Facebook messages is not a productive or scaleable method and I absolutely hate it as a buyer. I don’t like approaching total strangers to find out if they sell what I’m trying to buy then having to extricate myself from an awkward situation if their product is not right for me.
Some sellers might think that selling via a Facebook page means they can give a “personal touch” but there’s a huge difference between trying to socialize with your customers while they are trying to buy something, and building a strong customer relationship. And when the buying process has missing links because it hasn’t been designed efficiently, you are losing customers and money.
If you’re still not convinced, let’s look to marketing psychology. When customers are in a buying mindset, the very last thing you should do is derail them into a protracted transaction that takes hours or days.
Chances are, by the time you hit message three or four, they’ve lost interest in your product, forgotten what they were waiting for, or gotten bored with trying to buy your product and bought one elsewhere.
In the case of the birthday cake, I bought one from Tesco instead. I spent £4 instead of the price of a handmade cake. It was more important to me to have any cake at all for my child’s birthday than to waste hours getting any specific cake.
And because two different sellers had let me down so badly with their badly thought out setup, I was left feeling annoyed and very unlikely to try to buy a handmade cake in the future, even if I wanted to make an occasion feel very special.
Amazon patented “one-click” technology for a reason: Minimizing the amount of effort a customer needs to make to buy something means they’ll buy from you again and again. It also means you won’t lose them part-way through the transaction.
Since one-click is patented, most business advisors suggest the optimum number of clicks it should take for a customer to buy a product is two clicks. Two clicks from “Look at this product” to “Order confirmed.” Two clicks is not even close to two Facebook messages, especially when you factor in making your customers go to Paypal to pay you!
In the real world, three or four clicks is more likely, unless you have splashed out for a really high-tech site. Customers shouldn’t even have to fill in unnecessary fields in the “customer details” part of the order process, never mind typing reams and reams of messages to you to find out what you actually sell and where you deliver it to!
As for making people send money via Paypal then message you to tell you they’ve paid, you’re effectively sending people away from your shopping experience for several minutes while they wrestle with Paypal, type the right amount in, add your email address and choose “paying for an item”.
An integrated Paypal payment system (or other payment system such as Stripe) solves this by keeping them on your website through the payment process, and is the go-to system for all professional sellers.
If you are struggling to set up your own website, consider asking a family friend to help you, or paying a web designer. WordPress or Shopify are the easiest ways to make a custom website for ecommerce. Your website is the single most important asset you have when you’re selling craft products (next comes your mailing list). Your Facebook page is not your shopfront, nor is it the place for working with transactions.
Running a business this way makes customers think you’re unprofessional and like you’re not committed to your business. Of course, you’re committed to your business, so show them! Put the effort into getting a real website, or if you absolutely can’t handle the idea of that, open an Etsy store, Ebay shop or Amazon storefront, for the love of your customers!