With the coronavirus outbreak forcing businesses across the country to close, Facebook has introduced a new feature to help small retailers sell online. On 19 May, Facebook announced the release of Facebook Shops, which allows retailers to create an online store and sell directly from both the Facebook and Instagram apps.

Aside from helping small retailers who are struggling during the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown, the new feature brings us a giant step closer to social commerce on the world’s most popular network. Facebook has been working on this feature for some time now but is rolling it out sooner than initially planned and in a larger number of markets – including the UK – in an attempt to help smaller businesses survive.

Introducing Facebook Shops

With Facebook Shops, you can create a simple online store on Facebook and Instagram for free. You can upload your products to the store, which users can browse and buy within the app, creating a seamless shopping process.

Users can also contact you through Messenger, Instagram Direct and WhatsApp with any questions they have and Facebook says the full shopping experience will roll out in WhatsApp in the near future.

Here’s what Facebook has to say about the new feature:

“Facebook Shops make it easy for businesses to set up a single online store for customers to access on both Facebook and Instagram. Creating a Facebook Shop is free and simple. Businesses can choose the products they want to feature from their catalogue and then customize the look and feel of their shop with a cover image and accent colours that showcase their brand. This means any seller, no matter their size or budget, can bring their business online and connect with customers wherever and whenever it’s convenient for them.”

Initially, Facebook Shops was intended to roll out in the US first and then gradually open in additional markets around the world. However, Facebook has brought the rollout date forward and expanded it to include the UK, in response to the coronavirus outbreak that has caused so many businesses to close their stores.

How do users discover businesses using Facebook Shops?

Users can find Facebook Shops by visiting your Facebook Page or Instagram profile or discover them through Stories or paid ads. So you are going to need a certain level of visibility to get your store seen by users and you’re always going to get the best results by investing in Facebook Ads.

You may be able to get the odd sale with organic strategies although this is especially difficult on Facebook and the organic opportunities on Instagram are getting smaller every year now, too.

So Facebook Shops does make it incredibly easy to create an online store but you’re still going to need a strategy in place to get your products seen by users and, in the vast majority of cases, this is going to require paid advertising.

Luckily, Facebook Ads have some of the lowest CPCs in the industry and a small retailer won’t need to spend a fortune to achieve the kind of sales a small high street shop might expect on a monthly basis.

Integration with eCommerce platforms

Facebook Shops is designed to help smaller businesses create an online store and this will be a huge help to micro businesses that can’t justify having a website. This feature allows them to create a simple store on Facebook and Instagram without the hassle and cost of creating an online store of their own.

However, Facebook also says it is working more closely with major eCommerce platforms, including Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, ChannelAdvisor, CedCommerce, Cafe24, Tienda Nube and Feedonomics. Facebook Shops integrates with all of these platforms and there are a bunch of tools built into them to help small businesses sell more on Facebook and Instagram.

So if you’re already set up on a platform like Shopify, Facebook Shops will make it even easier for you to integrate and sell on the social network.

Facebook has also launched a small business grants programme for covering expenses and you can find additional resources on the Facebook for Business website.