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Facebook wants to shove Yelp out of the small business market

Facebook's mobile app. Facebook's mobile app.
Facebook's mobile app. Photograph by AP

Facebook has a taste for war. It never declares it, of course. That would be uncouth. But it seems to fire a broadside at its brethren—Snapchat, PayPal, Twitter—with each new product. Now it’s set its sights on Yelp and the Yellow Pages.

On Tuesday, Facebook (FB) unveiled a few design tweaks to its pages for small businesses in the hopes of convincing even more of them—and their customers—that the social network is the destination for mom-and-pop shops and beyond.

“Mobile websites, it’s not clear that they’re a good solution” for small businesses, says Facebook director of global partnerships Benji Shomair. “We can be the mobile solution for businesses.” Facebook says it now has more than 45 million active business pages, up from 40 million in May.

Most notable are the new profile sections that businesses can now opt to add to their page. Facebook is starting with two, Shop and Services. They are essentially product catalogues. The new feature first surfaced in mid-July when Facebook was still testing it; the company is now making it officially available.

Facebook's new Shop section for business pages
Courtesy of Facebook

Given Facebook’s other forays into online commerce, such as the “Buy” button it launched earlier this summer, these new sections aren’t surprising. But these aren’t about generating commerce, at least not yet—they’re more about conveying information, creating advertising opportunities, and enticing users to remain engaged on Facebook. Businesses can showcase their products or services—a restaurant and its menu, for example. When users click or tap on a product in a Shop section, they are either taken to an external link to the business’s website, to Facebook’s Messenger app where they can chat with the business about the item (currently a test in Asia), or get the option to purchase it right from the page (currently a small test in the U.S.). The potential for deeper commercial integration is clear.

Meanwhile the Services pages are launching as static catalogues and have no ability to link to an outside site to book a service. (Shomair says Facebook will consider adding that in the future.) Facebook also plans to add more types of these sections in the future to accommodate more kinds of businesses. (“Menu” for restaurants could be one.)

In addition to the new sub-pages, Facebook is also adding new calls to action buttons (“Call Now,” “Send Message,” and “Contact Us”) and moving them to the top of the screen on mobile devices. The menu bar for a page’s various sections will also be higher up so that users can more easily navigate.

Facebook’s commerce strategy remains somewhat fragmented. It has Messenger, its mobile messaging app which last spring it opened up to businesses so they could reach customers. It’s working on payments and transactions, allowing people to send money to friends through Messenger and to businesses through its “buy” button. It has even built a digital service within Messenger to help users find and purchase goods and services without having to do too much research. Along with this comes a small but helpful update to business pages.

Shomair says the updates align with what users are already doing on Facebook: searching for information. A solid next step may be to make them more searchable. As my colleague Erin Griffith wrote this week, Facebook is on a quest to capture consumer intent with M, the digital assistant. Here, there also seems to be an opportunity.

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