Facebook gift-giving moves from virtual to actual goodies

It's only September, but Facebook is already getting into the gift-giving spirit with a new feature that lets you send physical items such as cupcakes, gift cards, stuffed animals, and magazine subscriptions to your Facebook friends. The new feature, dubbed Facebook Gifts, recently started rolling out to profiles and is available only in the U.S. for now.

This is the second time Facebook has launched a Gifts feature, but it's the first time the social network is getting involved in sending physical items. The previous iteration of Facebook Gifts let you send virtual tokens such as digital birthday cakes, mugs, balloons, and team jerseys that friends could display on their profiles.

Third parties have also sold gifts via the social network including RealGifts, American Greetings, and Lala.com (before the Apple acquisition). Some retailers, including Walmart, have also offered Facebook apps that help you come up with gift-giving ideas based on data mined from your friends' Facebook profiles.

How Facebook Gifts Work

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Let's say that Bob is missing his girlfriend Sally ever since she left Ohio to attend college at UCLA, and Bob wants to send her a small token.

The first thing Bob would do to send her a Facebook Gift is visit Sally's Timeline and click the gift icon in the post entry box. If it was Sally's birthday, Bob would have received a notification on his Facebook home page and could have sent a gift directly from the birthday notification.

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After clicking the gift icon, Bob is then prompted to select a gift from a number of Facebook gift vendors such as 1-800-Flowers, Gund, Starbucks, and New York City-based Magnolia Bakery.  He can also send a personalized card to include with the gift. Once Bob is ready to pay for the item (plus a shipping charge) he can use his American Express, Discover, MasterCard, or Visa--Facebook credits cannot be used to purchase a gift.

Sally will then get an e-mail, a Facebook notification, and even see a story on her timeline notifying her that Bob sent her a gift. If Sally clicks on the Facebook notification she will be able to preview the gift, make changes to it such as choose a different color, size, or style, or even swap the gift for something similarly priced if she doesn't like Bob's taste.

Sally will never see the price of the object so Bob can rest easy that he won't have to explain why he choose the $25 bouquet over the $100 one.  After Sally has customized the gift to her liking, she has to enter an address where the gift can be sent, such as her dorm room or office internship.

Once the gift has shipped, Sally has 30 days to return it, but only in the event that the item is damaged or, if it's clothing, the item doesn't fit.  Sally also has to enter an address to receive the item, if she didn't enter an address within two weeks, the gift would be canceled, and Bob's poor heart would be broken.

Gifting and Privacy

If you decide to send a gift, by default a story will be posted to the recipient's timeline. You can change this, however, and choose not to have a story posted to your friend's timeline. After you pay for a gift, Facebook will automatically store your credit card details for future use. To remove your credit card you have to go to Account Settings>Payments>Payment Methods and remove the card.

You would also think that once your someone chooses to receive a gift their mailing address would be stored for future use or, even worse, included in their profile. But a Facebook spokesperson told PCWorld this is not the case and mailing addresses are not stored.

You can only use Facebook Gifts to send presents to your other Facebook friends, the system does not allow you to send gifts to non-Facebook users.

Check out Facebook's help pages for a list of standard shipping charges for gifts.

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