SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook on Tuesday (May 19) reached out to businesses struggling to survive the pandemic with free tools for creating online "Shops" at the social network and Instagram.
Merchants can easily set up shops on Facebook and Instagram, customise looks and display products, according to the California-based internet giant.
"The primary focus is to ensure small and medium size businesses have presences online and survive the current situation," Facebook director of product management George Lee said during a press briefing on the new product.
Retail has been crushed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has closed real-world shops, disrupted supply chains, and left more than 36 million Americans jobless.
"We really hope that our commerce solutions help businesses not only survive but thrive during coming months, and adapt to new consumer behaviour," said Instagram Shopping product lead Layla Amjadi.
Facebook is already involved in e-commerce, with a Marketplace for selling goods and as a venue where businesses court customers through pages at the social network or Instagram.
Businesses have an option to buy Facebook ads to direct customers to their online shops. Sales can be consummated at websites off the social network.
Merchants in the US can use a Facebook checkout service to handle transactions, paying a nominal fee, according to Lee.
"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," Facebook said in a blog post.
Shops will roll out in coming months to some 160 million businesses that already use the social network.
Being in the midst of e-commerce comes with potential for money-making features in the future, and keeps people engaged with a Facebook platform that earns money from online ads.
Facebook plans to eventually weave Shops into its Messenger and WhatsApp communication platforms.
Facebook is also working on ways to sell products hawked during live video broadcasts, a popular form of content at the social network.
"People have been using live video on our apps to showcase products for years, from shoe stores announcing new sneakers to beauty influencers trying on different lipsticks," Facebook said.
"Now, we're making it easier to shop for products in real time."
Facebook has seen a jump in usage as people hunkered down at home turn to the social network to stay connected while keeping their distance from one another.
Meanwhile, the economic hit from the pandemic has eroded budgets for advertising on which Facebook relies to make money.