Facebook announced this week they were going to start a new competitor to Shopify. Now you can buy things directly on Facebook.
If you’ve known me for more than a minute you know I am skeptical of Facebook. Their privacy implications are ludicrous and of immense cost to individuals. Having conquered the attention economy, they now see fit to conquer the physical goods economy.
They already have Marketplace, and they already have a bunch of ads that no one clicks on and don’t convert. But with their hyper-targeting and the 1-4% increase in sales that supposedly brings with it, you can now give your credit card to Facebook to buy a toilet brush or whatever.
I can’t think of a place I’d less rather put my credit card. Maybe a gas pump with a card skimmer on it.
The fundamental point so many business owners willingly ignore is how critical it is to own your own stuff. Never put someone else between you and your money or your business. Shopify and Etsy exist this way as a useful means for people to start up, just as Wix and other DIY builders exist for people that want to merely exist on the Internet. But no one dreams of only ever relying on them forever.
Retailers may argue placing products in Facebook isn’t much different than putting them in a retail store or Amazon. History is full of companies who regret having lost control of their placement. Music labels and iTunes comes to mind from the early 2000s. Shop owners relying on malls for traffic is another apt analogy.
Businesses that put their entire storefronts on Facebook will be more value for Facebook than you. Retailers don’t have that. When you put your widget in a Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart gives you value and you give value to Wal-Mart. Facebook doesn’t need you the way Wal-Mart needs you (for consuming or selling).
To put this in perspective, look at YouTubers. The name of their entire livelihood is literally in the name: YouTube. They live and breathe by the whims of a secret algorithm. They’re censored from saying things (the current issue they can’t say “COVID-19” or “Coronavirus”). They always have to produce what the algorithm wants, not what they may creatively want to produce. The beast must be fed constantly and unsustainably.
This is no way to live. It’s fine if people publish a video and share it in multiple places. But relying on just one? And building a business entirely on the followers of just one platform? If everyone suddenly left YouTube tomorrow, their business goes with it. Facebook is no different, no matter how big it seems. Microsoft in the ’90s felt that way, and they’re still big, but things change.
You don’t have ownership problems with email lists and self-hosted websites. You own your own stuff. So long as your contract is established with a developer or other partners, you know you have rights to your stuff.
With Facebook, digital doodads can now be uploaded there. People will feel the draw of relying only on that at the expense of their own brands, websites, and customer lists. How many restaurants and businesses did the same thing with MySpace when it seemed unstoppable? Can you extract the names of all the people who “like” your page right now? No, you can’t, and you never will because you don’t own it. You’re the product being sold.