(Pocket-lint) - Facebook is launching a new feature, called Shops, that allows businesses to set up stores on Facebook, Instagram, and eventually, Messenger and WhatsApp. Although they're powered by third parties like Shopify, Shops effectively turns Facebook into a full-on e-commerce platform. 

What are Shops?

The launch of Shops is directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a live stream, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that, over the past few months, Facebook has seen a lot of businesses either start online shops or get online for the first time, likely to endure the pandemic. So, with Shops, it's helping more local businesses come online.  “If you can’t physically open your store or restaurant, you can still take orders online and ship them to people,” he said.

Currently, there are currently more than 160 million businesses using Facebook.

How do Shops work?

At launch, Shops can be found on businesses’ Facebook pages and Instagram profiles. They will also appear in stories or in ads. When creating a Shop, businesses can choose the products they want to feature from their store, and they can customise the look of their shop with a cover image and accent colours. Items that are available for purchase will appear within the shop.

You can browse the full store collection, save products you’re interested in, and place an order - either on the business’ website or the Facebook or Instagram apps. Shops will store your payment credentials, which can be used across Facebook's apps. Shops also lets you message a business through WhatsApp, Messenger, or Instagram Direct to ask questions, get support, and track deliveries.

Soon, you’ll be able to view a business’ shop and make purchases right within a chat in Instagram Direct, WhatsApp, and Messenger. Facebook also plans to enable shopping from live streams, allowing users to tag items from their stores so that they appear in live videos.

Finally, Facebook is working to integrate loyalty programs with shops so you’ll be able to keep track of your points and rewards.

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Are Shops free to create and use?

Shops are free for any business to create (although businesses will have the option to buy ads for their Shops). And anyone can browse and use Shops for free. But, when you use Facebook to checkout, you will reportedly be charged a fee. While some businesses let you make purchases directly on Facebook, others will take you to the business’s website to complete the transaction.

Obviously, Shops open several revenue streams and opportunities for Facebook. 

When will Shops be available?

Facebook is starting to roll out Shops on Facebook from 19 May in the US. The Instagram rollout will start sometime this summer. Later in the year, Instagram plans to add a dedicated shopping tab to the navigation bar. Shops will be more widely available in the coming months. 

Writing by Maggie Tillman.