Finding a New Home

What Facebook's new app launcher for mobile devices means for retailers

Social media giant Facebook is generating lots of buzz with the debut of its app launcher, Facebook Home, which turns existing Android smartphones into a Facebook-centric mobile device. (App launchers are applications that allow users to customize the home screen on their personal devices and add various other functionalities to it.)

When consumers with the downloaded software log onto their phones, they see their friends and interests first — instead of apps. Analysts say the social integration and full-screen imagery of Facebook Home will make it easier than ever for brands to engage with customers on the go.

"Facebook doesn't get a lot of attention from shopping right now, particularly on the mobile side," Anil Kaul, CEO of research and analytics firm AbsolutData. "However, if it takes over the home screen, all of a sudden it's the first thing consumers see. Instead of having to launch a new mobile app or go to an external site to buy a product, there's one central platform that will allow for purchases."

There's no denying that if Facebook Home takes off, it could have major implications for brands. When a person logs onto a mobile device to make a purchase, a brand will be able to step in before they have the chance to navigate elsewhere.

"Consumers always have their cell phones with them, and if they're looking to make a purchase decision, they can use their home screen to search for a surrounding store," Kaul explained. "What they will find are brands on Facebook that are nearby, and it will more likely drive them to purchase."

Although many retailers already have a Facebook presence, among the biggest issues is figuring out how to take control — rather than sitting and waiting — of that follower base and making an impression.

"As the real estate of the actual website becomes more complex and popular, it's going to be harder for the late-adopters to be as successful," Kaul added. "If you think of the site in terms of shelf space, there is a limited capacity: If you're late, it's less likely they will be seen because they will be buried under brands with more seniority on the site."

It's no secret that it's been hard for companies to measure the success of Facebook initiatives to date, but Facebook Home could take some of the mystery out of the equation.

"Right now, the biggest challenge with any kind of communication with consumers is how to measure the impact," Kaul said. "Facebook Home could defeat that. There would be one place for which the majority of interaction is happening. It could aggregate the data retailers and other companies are looking for."

It's too early to say how consumers will take to Facebook Home, but if the rapid successes of platforms, such as Pinterest, are any indication, it has huge potential.

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