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Facebook not a virtual shopping mall after all?

A Bloomberg story examines the openings and closings of Facebook storefronts during the past year. It seems GameStop, the Gap, and others have had second thoughts about Facebook shops.

Despite retailer GameStop's initial enthusiasm about opening a storefront in Facebook, it looks like it's Game Over for the effort--and perhaps for such Facebook stores in general.

Bloomberg published a story this week that chronicles the closings, during the past year, of Facebook stores opened by GameStop, the Gap, Nordstrom, and others.

When GameStop cut the virtual ribbon on its Facebook storefront last April, the company's vice president of e-commerce seemed to think the move was a no-brainer.

"Social commerce on Facebook is a natural complement to our trusted store and online networks," Kelly Mulroney said in a statement at the time. "We have millions of customers already engaging with us on Facebook, and [the technology behind the Facebook store] gives those loyal fans more reasons than ever to shop GameStop across multiple channels."

Others agreed, says Bloomberg, with some investors guessing that Facebook--thanks to its hordes of users--had the mojo to strike fear into the heart of Amazon and PayPal, and one business consultancy predicting, in January 2011, that sales of physical goods through Facebook and other social networks would jump from $5 billion to $30 billion by 2015.

Facebook, of course, did its best to contribute to the buzz. According to Bloomberg, the company's director of business development, David Fisch, said that since Facebook is such a social experience, it would be a natural shopping mall. "This is where people are hanging out," Bloomberg quotes Fisch as having said at a retailer's conference in June.

But the Bloomberg piece suggests there are different kinds of hanging out, and that not all of them may be conducive to shopping:

"There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop," Bloomberg quotes Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru as saying. "But it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they're hanging out with their friends at the bar."

Another factor may have been that despite GameStop's philosophy of providing shoppers with "multiple channels" for acquiring goods, a Facebook storefront may have been a channel that was simply unnecessary.

Bloomberg offers up GameStop Vice President of Marketing and Strategy Ashley Sheetz' comment that shopping on the GameStop site itself was already easy enough--customers had no real reason to shop via Facebook. The Gap, too, told Bloomberg that its customers preferred shopping at the company's own sites.

Bloomberg says retailers continue to send ad dollars Facebook's way, that they continue to maintain Facebook pages ("For us, it's been a way we communicate with customers on deals, not a place to sell," GameStop's Sheetz said), and that the Gap, at least, is keeping its options open as far as trying Facebook storefronts again somewhere down the line.

And one of the sources quoted in the Bloomberg piece, Wade Gerten, whose company has developed commerce strategies for Delta Airlines, Ticketmaster, and others, published a piece in Forbes that says that though the Facebook storefronts might have been misguided, creatively leveraging social networks to reach customers isn't.

Bloomberg said Facebook declined to comment on its report.

GameStop's Facebook storefront shut down late last year, Bloomberg reports.