With a bn birthdays on file, Facebook adds a gift store

Written by New York Times | San Francisco | Updated: Nov 29 2012, 10:04am hrs
Facebook is already privy to its users e-mail addresses, wedding pictures and political beliefs. Now the company is nudging them to share a bit more: credit card numbers and offline addresses.

The nudge comes from a new Facebook service called Gifts. It allows Facebook users only in the United States for now to buy presents for their friends on the social network. On offer are items as varied as spices from Dean & DeLuca, pajamas from BabyGap and subscriptions to Hulu Plus, the video service. This week Facebook added iTunes gift cards.

The gift service is part of an aggressive moneymaking push aimed at pleasing Facebooks investors after the companys dismal stock market debut. Facebook has stepped up mobile advertising and is starting to customize the marketing messages it shows to users based on their Web browsing outside Facebook.

Those efforts seem to have brought some relief to Wall Street. Analysts issued more bullish projections for the company in recent days, and the stock was up 49 percent from its lowest point, closing Tuesday at $26.15, although that is still well below the initial offering price of $38. The share price has been buoyed in part by the fact that a wave of insider lockup periods expired without a flood of shares hitting the market.

To power the Gifts service, Facebook rented a warehouse in South Dakota and created its own software to track inventory and shipping. It will not say how much it earns from each purchase made through Gifts, though merchants that have a similar arrangement with Amazon.com give it a roughly 15 percent cut of sales.

If it catches on, the service would give Facebook a toehold in the more than $200 billion e-commerce market. Much more important, it would let the company accumulate a new stream of valuable personal data and use it to refine targeted advertisements, its bread and butter. The company said it did not now use data collected through Gifts for advertising purposes, but could not rule it out in the future.

The hard part for Facebook was aggregating a billion users. Now its more about how to monetize those users without scaring them away, said Colin Sebastian, an analyst.