Unveiled late yesterday (September 27), Gifts allows users to select and send real products to their Facebook friends as gifts. A notification is sent to the person that they have received a gift, and they can then state where they want the product to be sent.
Gifts can be indexed to significant event reminders, such as anniversaries or birthdays, or just sent as a one-off present - and crucially everything happens within the Facebook platform, both on desktop and mobile.
The move opens up a potentially huge new revenue source for Facebook, as its global audience of more than 950 million members represents a massive commercial market for selling products.
Facebook has always resisted overly intrusive commercial initiatives, but it clearly sees the social value of gift-giving as an e-commerce initiative.
AllThingsD notes that this move has been on the cards since Facebook acquired Karma, the social gift-giving application, on the same day that it listed on US stock market Nasdaq in May. Karma's technology apparently underpins the Facebook Gifts service.
Facebook is coming under pressure from investors to unlock new revenue sources beyond its mainstay of online advertising. The firm has seen its share price fall by almost half since it listed due to concerns over its long-term growth prospects.
A key aspect about the new Gifts service is that it not only works on desktops, but also operates on Facebook's mobile apps and mobile website, where more than half the Facebook monthly active users access the service.
"This is truly the heart and soul of Karma, re-imagined inside of Facebook," Lee Linden, head of Facebook Gifts, told AllThingsD in an interview. "And it all works perfectly on the phone."
Gifts can be posted directly onto friends' Timelines via a Gift button placed inside the text box on every profile.
Facebook is launching gifts with over 100 retail partners covering food and drink, fashion, homeware, children's and other categories. Starbucks is currently the largest partner signed up to Gifts, but Facebook no doubt hopes others will get on board as the service broadens.
Alongside stipulating the chosen address for delivery, gift receivers are also able to swap the chosen item for a "different size, flavour or style" before it is sent.
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The retailers handle all the shipping but payments are run through Facebook's own payments platform, the same one used for Facebook Games.
This means that users are required to give Facebook their credit card information. Just like Apple's iTunes, the aim is to make it so easy to make purchases that people will keep coming back again and again.
According to AllThingsD, Facebook Gifts is rolling out on a small scale in select US cities, but will expand in the coming months. It will be available in Android devices, the mobile web and desktop, along with iOS devices.