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Facebook’s integration of TheFind could boost outlook for social shopping

Facebook’s integration of TheFind’s discovery shopping search engine could give social shopping the wider availability for which marketers are hoping, if the big social networking site’s plan is to focus more intently on selling products from its site.

Although Facebook would not elaborate on its announced acquisition of TheFind, whose search engine targets apparel, home and garden, health and beauty and other lifestyle products, TheFind said on its Web site that the deal would let it scale its expertise in product sourcing to Facebook’s more than 1 billion users. The move follows Facebook’s test last year of a buy button that would enable users on the Facebook News Feed and in brands’ Facebook Pages to complete a purchase without having to leave the social network.

“This is an interesting move because it clearly shows Facebook is becoming more interested in selling products via their platform,” said Ken Wisnefski, founder/CEO of WebiMax, Camden, NJ. “Which is a bit of a deviation from where they positioned themselves in the past.

“The fact mobile purchasing is on such a growth curve, integrating features such as this in to Facebook give the platform even more mobile purchasing prominence,” he said.

“Buy” button
The move also follows Twitter’s acquisition last year of CardSpring, helping it to build in-tweet card-linked offers and commerce, and Twitter’s own announcement that it was testing a “Buy” button.

The acquisition of TheFind will help Facebook make the ads that users see become more relevant to products they have been browsing and buying online.

TheFind’s mobile app.

“They can tie in what they searched for and display a wide range of those potential products,” Mr. Wisnefski said. “It’s an interesting angle.”

A note posted on the Web site of TheFind said key members of its team were joining Facebook and would work to integrate its technology to make the ads consumers see on Facebook every day better and more relevant to the user.

“Unfortunately, this means we will be taking our search engine offline in the next few weeks,” the note concluded.

In its statement, Facebook said the acquisition would make the Facebook ad experience even more relevant and better for consumers.

“Our business is about connecting people with the topics, companies, brands, and increasingly products they care about and we look forward to doing that with TheFind on board,” Facebook said.

The acquisition may be more about applying or expanding TheFind’s algorithms to Facebook’s mobile traffic than about an interest in selling products from its site.

“It demonstrates that Facebook is serious about providing a viable competitive advertising product to the Google Shopping product listing ad program,” said Jonathan Opdkye, CEO of HookLogic. “While the acquired companies had different business models, Facebook’s purchase of TheFind has some similarities to Google’s purchase of Channel Intelligence in how it improves their respective products.

“Facebook’s chief competitor, Google Shopping product listings ads, is focused primarily on contextual ad placements with more deterministic matching of relevant products, whereas Facebook has to work a bit harder to predict relevant products out of immediate context,” he said.

The Find team adds strength to Facebook’s ability to make better decisions, for example understanding product affinities to better target alternative products and broader cross-sells based on recent shopping behavior.

“I think it’s about optimizing ads, enabling product and brand discovery beyond specified audience segments a marketer may specify and improving Facebook’s other revenue streams,” said Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, vice-president and principal analyst with Forrester Research, Boston.

“Maybe this gives them some of the technology for taking in datafeeds and mapping products,” she said. “So maybe we will see a Facebook Product Search feature in the months to come, that was built on this.”

Although Facebook, a model for a successful mobile enterprise, possesses an edge in understanding how consumers access social networks, it could be at a disadvantage against retailers and brands.

For one thing, social networks have to deal with consumers who may not trust how their personal information is being safe-guarded and, therefore, may not be willing to complete a purchase on those sites and apps.

If Facebook’s aim is to get more physical goods advertised on its site, that would be a good avenue for the social networking pioneer.

Shopper convenience
“In our last consumer survey, Strategy Analytics found that 65 percent of smartphone owners are already using their devices for shopping, engaging in activities such as finding product information, reviews, and price comparison,” said David MacQueen, executive director for apps and media in the global wireless practice of Strategy Analytics, Newton, MA.

TheFind’s resources could boost Facebook ad revenue.

“It’s something consumers are doing already,” he said. “And of course Facebook will hope that if the consumer can do it without leaving Facebook’s app and Web site, then that makes life easier for consumers, if well implemented, and should provide a boost to Facebook’s ad revenues.”

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York