Facebook is rolling out a feature that will let users give presents from their network profiles, marking the company’s first big step into offering physical goods.
The new service goes way beyond the network’s old gift feature, which let you send virtual puppies and hearts. It’s more of a riff on the company’s ill-fated Deals service — which the company shuttered after four months — but with a twist.
Facebook is already letting some users choose from a list of goods or services from company partners and send them to their friends.
Once a recipient gets word that you’ve sent them a little something, they’ll get a virtual card and the option to fill in their own shipping information and make size or other modifications to the present.
With that done, a gift-wrapped present will then show up at your friend’s chosen location.
You can choose whether you want to share that you gave someone a gift. You also have the option to pay Facebook immediately or once your friend has put in shipping information. If someone doesn’t accept a gift within two weeks, payment will be refunded.
In a promotional video on Facebook’s site, the company shows people using the feature for new job or baby announcements — and, of course, birthdays.
This could be a lucrative venture for Facebook, particularly given the increased iPhone integration in iOS 6 that puts the network and its birthday calendar in easy reach.
Of course, the success of Facebook’s new venture depends on a couple of things:
For one, the quality of the gifts. Facebook is already showing a partnership with Starbucks in its promotional images, along with a range of bakery and kid-focused goods. Facebook didn’t say in its release how the revenue from goods gets split between it and its partners, but its built-in audience of 945 million users is already a draw for many companies. If the company can convince its prominent, existing ad partners to offer goods on the site, they stand a good chance of carving off a piece of the online shopping market.
Second, users will need to trust Facebook. Asking people to hand over their credit card numbers and addresses is no small thing, even with strong privacy and security assurances. Given how quick Facebook’s users are to raise the alarm about the privacy implications of changes to the site — real or perceived — that puts even more pressure on Facebook to offer appealing merchandise.
(Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Don Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)