Businesses big and very small can now set up an online store to sell their products on Facebook and Instagram, and with no fee.

The idea is to turn the platforms into shopping destinations and places to discover products serendipitously, just as consumers might do in a bricks and mortar store.

The timing of the launch of Facebook Shops coincides with many businesses of all sizes finding it necessary to ramp up their online presence because the COVID-19 crisis. Even as lockdowns are eased, it’s widely thought the huge rise in online shopping will be permanent.

The online shops will appear on Facebook business pages, in Instagram profiles and in Facebook Marketplace.

As with advertising in Facebook Marketplace, the new service is free, unless businesses use Facebook’s Checkout feature to take payments in which case they’ll pay 5%; that, as noted, is more than a typical processing fee, but less than Amazon and eBay charge.

Shoppers can interact with stores to ask questions, access customer support, or arrange and track deliveries through WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct.

The plan is to also include the Shops feature on WhatsApp and include live streams, the company says.

“We want to make sure we’re moving quickly to get these tools in the hands of as many businesses wherever they are, big or small, to help them survive during this time,” Facebook’s Layla Amjadi told the BBC.

Product manager George Lee said the new service had been planned for at least 6 months.

“Obviously, given the current situation, we have accelerated a lot of our efforts,” he said. “We’re in a unique position to be able to contribute to the survival of a bunch of these businesses,” he added.

Meanwhile, a word of warning for brands using social media comes in a new report from Forrester, the US market research company. It cautions that “Companies are overzealous in using social media at every possible entry point” and are “the party crashers that social users never invited and are often clueless about what consumers want on social networks”.

Certainly, in the US, Forrester finds, brands don’t appear to be getting their content right – only 24% of online adults agree it’s cool to be associated with a company/brand on social media, researchers found. And 68% of people don’t agree that brands/companies share interesting content on social media.

Sourced from Facebook, Vox, BBC, Forrester; additional content by WARC staff