How statistically significant is the recent growth in social commerce on Facebook? So glad you asked.

Facebook v. Website: Where's the Traffic?

This week, Adgregate Markets and Webtrends partnered to publish a white paper that examined the impact of social networks and mobile sites on website traffic, and the correlating rise of Facebook commerce by leading retailers.

The report, The Effect of Social Networks and the Mobile Web on Website Traffic and the Inevitable Rise of Facebook Commerce (PDF) analyzes the unique visits to the websites of the Fortune 100 as well as to their Facebook fan pages. What they found highlighted an interesting trend.

By comparing unique visits to a brand’s website with unique visits to its Facebook page over a three- to five-month period, a sample of 44 companies showed that 40% exhibited higher traffic to their Facebook page compared to their website. When split into two categories -- e-commerce and non-e-commerce -- the report also found that, while these top companies have lost almost one quarter of their unique visits, Facebook fan pages have grown in size, with a clear distinction between companies that engaged in e-commerce and those that didn't.

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In other words, non-e-commerce brands (65%) have more Facebook traffic than website traffic, compared with e-commerce brands (40%). Webtrends says that this could be because there is a common misconception that Facebook marketing has remained relatively unproven for e-commerce brands and, as a result, some brands have yet to invest as strongly as non-e-commerce brands have. If that's true, companies may want to add the white paper to their reading list.

Is Facebook a Viable Platform for E-commerce Integration?

Webtrends and Adgregate believe Facebook is becoming a viable destination for fans to connect with brands online, and is increasingly chosen over the websites of certain companies. While e-commerce sites are still able to attract visitors to their sites, the report suggest that it’s only a matter of time until both Facebook and the mobile web catch up. To prepare, companies are encouraged to start measuring and improving performance across social, mobile and web platforms.

Yet, it may be hard to convince companies that are seeing gains among unique visitors to their websites. After all, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. And while e-commerce may be one of the factors protecting websites from the influence of Facebook, the white paper sought to discover what would happen if Facebook decided to provide a seamless e-commerce experience.

They turned to Delta Airlines to provide some insight. Delta Airlines recently started to let customers book tickets right on its Facebook page. On a year-over-year basis, Delta is experiencing a 9.53% drop in unique visitors to its website. While Delta’s website lost more than a million unique visitors over a three-month period, its Facebook page gained more than 1,000 new fans.

Obviously, this is just one company and not nearly enough evidence to persuade companies of the merits of integrating purchases through Facebook, but it’s important to highlight nonetheless, as it demonstrates that some companies are paying attention to where their customers are and what their needs are.

Lots of Evidence, Limited Proof

Overall, the white paper doesn’t prove definitively that Facebook is a magic bullet for online businesses. Instead, it offers more evidence that companies can’t ignore its presence. Is it significant? It depends on the type of company, its customers and where they engage with others online. But it is a significant step for those who understand that there is a whole world outside your website.