The company will be working with partners to allow Facebook users to send cookies, chocolate, socks, and other types of gifts to other Facebook users, simply by clicking a small “gift” icon.
The service will keep track of special dates, like birthdays, and ask a user’s friends whether they want to send something. The gift will consist of a coupon or physical item: Your friends will be prompted to enter the address to which they want the gift shipped, and then you’ll be asked for a credit or debit card to pay for it. According to Facebook, you can pay with a Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover branded credit or debit card.
Facebook has tried other eCommerce features before, but they’ve mostly failed. People go to Facebook to hang out and share things with friends, not to shop. One merchant recently said that trying to sell things on Facebook was like trying to sell things in a bar–namely, futile.
That said, this feature takes advantage of what Facebook is best at, which is relationships between friends. Assuming the gift service is convenient and easy to use, it might well work.
Of course, no sooner had the idea of a Facebook commerce service hit the wires than people began worrying about the risk of sharing credit-card and shipping information with Facebook. Many privacy advocates say Facebook already has way too much information about its users, and the addition of credit cards and addresses could compound that concern.
That said, although some people do tend to be freaked out about privacy concerns, most people aren’t. If Facebook’s gift service is simple, convenient, and helpful, most people will likely get over any privacy fears, the same way they have long since gotten over them with eCommerce companies like Amazon (AMZN).
According to Facebook’s website, “when you pay for a Facebook Gift, we store your credit card for future use. If you don’t want to have your credit card information stored on your account, you can remove it after making a purchase.”
(Believe it or not, back in the 1990s, there were briefly similar concerns about Amazon.)
The true test for Facebook’s gift service will merely be whether people have an interest in using it. If it’s easy and helpful, they probably will. If it isn’t–or if Facebook users simply can’t be bothered to send gifts–they won’t.