The queues of people waiting to get into their favourite high-street stores on Monday morning last week would have been a welcome site to the retail industry, with non-essential stores now able to open their doors to the public again since the start of lockdown in March. But the well-documented challenges facing the high-street were causing retailers cause for concern well before coronavirus took over our lives – the rise of internet shopping and social-commerce has been an ever-present force in the retail sector for some time now, and with the launch of Facebook Shops last month, the force has become much stronger.

Facebook Shops will enable businesses to set up an online store to advertise and sell products directly to customers via both Facebook and Instagram. Facebook Shops has been positioned as a solution for small and medium sized independent retailers, who have particularly felt the impact of the coronavirus lockdown measures, providing a platform through which they can substantially increase their consumer engagement. With the majority of the population confined to their homes over the past three months, scrolling through social media has changed from being a lunch-break pastime to an all-hours activity, and brands have been quick to maximise on this trend by increasing social-media spend. The launch of Facebook Shops enables retailers to increase their exposure in the same way but, importantly, cuts out the middle-man.

For those smaller retailers, this all might sound too good to be true; increased exposure with no fee attached – who would say no?! Well, like everything, there are other issues for retailers to consider before launching into the social-commerce paradise.

In last month’s The Collective, we published an article on the DTC (direct to consumer) shakeup being led by Gen-Z’s desire for brands with principles and personality, rather than big-name labels and mass production.  For this generation, the brand itself is often more important than the products they sell. If Gen-Z is within your key consumer demographic, this is not something to ignore. To think that by utilising a platform such as Facebook Shops will be enough to attract these shoppers in-and-of itself would be a mistake. This generation is savvy, and brands will need to ensure that they do not sacrifice integrity in the pursuit of increasing consumer exposure.

For some products, the ability to ‘try before you buy’ remains an important part of the consumer experience, and this is something that is hard to replicate online. Co-founder of Shakeup Cosmetics, Jake Xu, commented on this for The Collective last month, highlighting that the ability to try the colour and texture of a product is at the heart of any beauty brand (click here to read the full article). Some brands have tried to bring this element of the shopping experience into the digital age, with virtual dressing rooms and even the ability to virtually try-on makeup, but it remains to be seen if these digital alternatives will be enough to replace the comfort we get from being able to physically check if a product is right for us before handing over our credit cards.

What can’t be ignored is the benefit of the seamless shopping experience that Facebook Shops will provide. The key differentiator between Facebook Shops and competitors such as Amazon is the ability for consumers to digitally window-shop, and being able to purchase without leaving the app will enable Facebook to capitalise on impulsive browsing decisions. As customers are consuming more content than ever before, this really is social-commerce’s party trick.

The fate of the high-street remains to be seen. Perhaps the rise of social commerce sites such as Facebook Shops doesn’t necessarily signal the end of the high-street, but instead another option to help smaller brands reach a level of consumer engagement they might otherwise have only dreamt of. Watch this space.