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Internet Retailing 2011 Interview: Gavin Sathianathan, Facebook

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In our final preview of our annual conference, Internet Retailing 2011, we asked Gavin Sathianathan, head of commerce partnerships at Facebook, for a sneak preview of his presentation, taking a look at how retail and social media can work together most effectively.

Commerce, says Gavin Sathianathan of Facebook, has always been a social activity. Thus it should come as no surprise that Facebook, the giant of social media, has been finding a variety of new ways that retailers can use social media to their advantage.

“Retail has always been a social activity from the bazaars and souks of the Middle East to the Tupperware parties of the 1950s, to Top Shop on Oxford Circus where I see groups of girls going to shop together,” he said. “It feels like commerce has always been a social activity.”

Ultimately, those Oxford Street shoppers are talking about what they plan to buy. Today that conversation is also happening on social media – and being broadcast, and amplified, across networks of friends as a result.


Perhaps some of the simplest social media tools that a retailer can use are the social plug ins. By clicking the ‘like’ and ‘send’ buttons, shoppers can tell their friends what purchases they are planning. Their friends, the thinking is, will in turn be persuaded to visit the retail website to see for themselves.

API it

By using Facebook’s API, retailers can develop customized retail sites reflecting a user’s profile, from their likes and interests to those of their friends.


Retailers can develop their own ways of shopping using Facebook, said Sathianathan. “Think what sort of commerce models can be built on a 800m-strong user base with lots of interesting data that can be brought to bear for these new experiences.”

Mobile me

More than half of Facebook’s UK users use the site through their mobile device. Interestingly, said Sathianathan, “They tend to be a lot more engaged in terms of their consumption and content creation. We see mobile as the conduit between the online and offline experience and we’re starting to see retailers developing Facebook-enabled apps.” One example can be found in Diesel’s Madrid store, where the offline store experience is being brought online. Shoppers in the store can scan a QR code on a pair of jeans using their mobile and as a result show on their Facebook page that they like the item of clothing. That generates a news feed story that friends can comment on.

“We’re starting to see retailers think, ‘what if I was to put my customers at the heart of my proposition, not my products?,” said Sathianathan. “It generates all sorts of new and interesting experiences. What does it mean to have friends recommend products to me and for me to recommend products out to friends. I think that’s the future of social commerce.”

Customise it

Facebook recently unveiled a number of new ways that their users can discuss their shopping experiences in the social media world. For retailers, customisation will allow them to develop actions that work for their brands. “Retailers also now have a greater ability to customise actions on their own websites and have these actions published back to Facebook,” said Sathianathan. “Instead of just Like, developers can now use Watch, Listen, or Read to describe the things people are doing on their site. Retailers will also be able to create custom actions to better describe what people are doing on their sites – for example ‘I desire this dress’ or ‘I wish I had this camera’. This creates more authentic ways for people to talk about your business and for people to share it with their friends.”

In addition, said Sathianathan: “TimeLine paves the way for a new class of apps built around what people love – going shopping, cooking, taking photos. The Open Graph makes it possible for any type of app to become social and gain distribution based on quality and engagement. People can add your app to their TimeLine to let their friends know about things they care about, creating a meaningful, persistent connection between you and your users.”

Gavin Sathianathan of Facebook is speaking at Internet Retailing 2011, to be held at the Novotel Hammersmith tomorrow. He will be speaking in the keynote speakers’ session, which runs from 9.30am to 10.50am, alongside Miriam Lahage of eBay and Mark Hodgkinson of HMV.

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