Just a few months ago, you’d have to argue why your business should have a Facebook store, today you’d probably have to justify any decision not to open up shop on Facebook.  So it’s no surprise that new f-commerce stores from major brands and retailers are popping up on an almost daily basis.

In the last few days, we’ve seen the opening of new f-commerce stores (screenshots below) from department store JCPenney, jeweller Swarovski, the Miami Heat basketball team – home to basketball’s three musketeers – Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosch, and the flash sale site Hautelook.  All four are using different social commerce software, all offering different user experiences – and between them showcasing the current state of the f-commerce nation.

Browse through the stores and several things will strike you – first, if you’re new to f-commerce – there’s the wow factor – you can do that on Facebook??? Then you’ll see that f-commerce comes in two basic flavours – storefronts (online catalogues linking to product pages on external e-commerce sites) and full stores (offering shopping cart and checkout facilities to allow transactions to take place entirely within Facebook).

Swarovski Elements and Hautelook have opted to for the storefront solution, the former is a “custom created” store, and the latter powered by Alvenda software.  Storefronts such as these may be well suited to businesses that don’t typically sell direct, but work with (a range of) preferred retailers (e.g. Swarovski crystals used in Victoria’s Secret lingerie).  Idem for specialist ‘event-shopping’ retailers requiring sophisticated site-based e-commerce functionality such as Hautelook.  For others, a full store f-commerce solution may be preferable, such as those adopted by JC Penney and Miami Heat – powered by Usablenet and Milyoni software respectively.

The next thing likely to strike you is that despite ever-improving software, there is an experiential shock when you click the shop tab.  Some may put this down to the fact Facebook is essentially a conversational platform not a commerce platform.  An alternative explanation is that what you see when you click the shop tab tends to reflect the brand or retailer more than Facebook.  Many Facebook stores haven’t been rendered to feel as if they are an integral part of Facebook; rather it can feel as if an external e-commerce site has been shoe-horned into Facebook.  Perhaps this is fine – but part of the appeal of the Facebook walled garden is precisely that it is a walled garden – and everything feels familiar within it. Whatever the case, one commercial opportunity for 2011 is f-commerce usability testing.

Finally, whilst browsing the stores, you may ask yourself “Why?”  What’s the purpose of this store? What does it offer that site-based e-commerce doesn’t?  Convenience, you say… then you try the 60-seconds-to-checkout test.  Hmm.  So is it exclusive merchandise and offers, exclusively for our Facebook fans, and not available elsewhere?  Hmm. Existential dilemma.

In our view, successful f-commerce stores will have a distinct and differentiated raison d’être (such as ‘get-it-first’ VIP store for fans), as well as offering a shopping experience that is faster, cheaper and better that site-based e-commerce. So another opportunity in 2011, in our view, will be f-commerce strategy development.

Smart retailers and smart technology companies are working to make f-commerce happen. The current state of the f-commerce nation is good – but we think it’s going to get a lot better as strategy and user experience testing become better integrated with the nascent area.