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The pandemic is pushing Facebook to try turning itself into a virtual shopping mall for your favorite stores. 

Facebook Shops, introduced Tuesday, will let businesses sell their products directly to users on Facebook and Instagram. For users, this means you’ll be able to browse and buy products within those apps instead of being re-directed to a third-party store. 

“This is the biggest step we have taken yet to enable commerce across our apps,”  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a live stream. “The basic idea here is that any small business can easily start a shop across our apps to sell things directly.”

How Facebook Shops appears in the Facebook app. (Credit: Facebook)

To find applicable shops, you’ll have to visit a business’s Facebook Page, and see if it has a “Shop Now” button activated. On Instagram, you can go to a business’s profile page and look for the “View Shop” button. 

Facebook is betting that many businesses will want to create virtual storefronts on the social network, especially in light of COVID-19, which is keeping consumers away from brick-and-mortar shops. “We’re seeing a lot of small businesses that never had online presences get online for the first time,” Zuckerberg said. “This isn’t going to make up for all of the lost business, but it can help.”

Setting up a shop is free, but Facebook’s Merchant agreements note that the company will take a 5 percent transaction fee on the sale of goods processed over its services. Ideally, businesses getting a sales boost from their virtual storefronts will also entice them to buy more ads. “The vast majority of our advertisers are small businesses, and they also make up the biggest part of our revenue,” Zuckerberg added. 

How Facebook Shops appears in the Instagram app. (Credit: Facebook)How Facebook Shops appears in the Instagram app (Credit: Facebook)

Ads are also another way businesses will be able to sell products directly to users within Facebook’s apps. Users will be able to click on the ads and be taken to the merchant’s Facebook Shop. 

“Shops are native and fast, which means no more app-switching to a slow mobile web browser where you have to reenter your credit card when you tap on an interesting product you see in feeds,” Zuckerberg said in a separate post

On the backend, the company is making Facebook Shops easy to integrate with existing e-commerce platforms including Shopify, BigCommerce, and ChannelAdvisor, which are already helping small businesses sell online. 

Although Facebook Shops may provide some much-needed relief for struggling businesses, what does this all mean for user privacy? During the live stream, Zuckerberg said: “We’re not going to share what you buy with friends or anyone else and our services without your permission.”

However, the company itself will use your activity on Facebook Shops “to personalize your experience on our apps and show you more relevant content, including ads,” the social network explained in an FAQ. “This means your activity across our apps may influence what you see in Shops, and your activity in Shops may influence what you see elsewhere on Facebook and Instagram. For example, if you look through collections of bicycles in Shops, you might see more content, including ads, about bicycles in feed, stories, Explore, and other places across our apps.”

The company is rolling out Facebook Shops today, with plans to make it more widely available in the coming months. This summer in the US, Facebook is also set on introducing Instagram Shop, which promises to help users easily discover new products to buy directly over the app. That builds on Instagram’s experiment last year to begin letting select brands buy products directly in the app

“You can get inspired by collections from @shop, browse selections from your favorite brands and creators, filter by categories like beauty and home, and purchase the looks you love all in one place,” the company said. “And later this year, we’re adding a new shop tab in the navigation bar, so you can get to Instagram Shop in just one tap.” 

In time, you’ll also be able to make purchases directly from businesses on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram’s direct messaging function.

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