Interview: Facebook on reacting to the changing consumer

Since joining Facebook more than nine years ago, Beth Horn, head of industry retail at Facebook, believes the platform has changed dramatically for both users and business customers. 

“In 2011 when I started, we were not a mobile company and didn’t have any mobile ad products.”

Fast forward nine years and it’s “remade and reshaped our company,” she tells Essential Retail following a talk at at the RetailEXPO virtual conference.

Indeed, the company went on to purchase Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014 and most recently Giphy for a reported $400 million – which it plans to integrate into its Instagram platform. “It’s a cliche to say mobile has been a big trend, but it genuinely has!”

Horn works with some of the largest retail brands, with a particular focus on department stores, beauty, sports and electronics. And during the pandemic, she says many of these are looking for innovative ways to engage their community.

Community in crisis

One such retailer is Charlotte Tilbury’s eponymous makeup brand. “They are really taking this moment to be thoughtful about the kind of conversations they are having, after launching a beauty happy hour series on Instagram Live, where Charlotte interviews some of her celebrity friends.” 

“It’s a window into Charlotte’s world and it’s also about building community and providing a spark of joy in what is an otherwise really stressful time.” Her interview with Joan Collins clocked up 150,000 views in first week after it went live “so there is clearly an appetite in the community for experiences like that”.

Boots has also been quick to respond to the crisis in an innovative way, with its chief pharmacist posting videos onto the platform to share health information. “And when you are functionally the nation’s pharmacy, the way that Boots is, that is an incredibly important moment to rise to that and bring that information to people.”

Horn believes the current crisis has accelerated “the tale of two retails,” which separates companies that are set up for digital transformation and those who aren’t. “And that can be down to something as prosaic as having your IT set up so your teams have the right tools to work from home. “

Agile success

But that does not necessarily mean the death of the high street. “I think stores are always going to be a critically important part of the mix, but we are seeing a shift right now in consumer behaviour and habit,” she says. “It takes about two months of a new behaviour done consistently to solidify into a habit and we are just about at two months of what this new world looks like. 

“So I think it behoves retailers to think: what are the new ways people are interacting and shopping that are temporary and what are the things that are here to stay? And therefore what changes should they make?” That might be something as simple as ensuring their websites load quickly and are reactive. 

“I swear, if I could get every retailer on the planet to change their mobiles sites to bring up the numeric keypad when I enter my credit card that could fix a lot! 

“It’s thinking about all those little moments” that are becoming even more important “not just to consumer behaviours, but habits,” she says.

Reacting to market trends is more important than ever, she concludes. A strategy Facebook is also no stranger to.