Social Media has revolutionized the way we do any number of things, such as connecting with old friends, sharing ideas, and staying up-to-date on current events. It was only a matter of time before retailers recognized the incredible market available to them by integrating with social media. Beyond advertisements posted on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and great shopping apps created by specific stores, new social media websites and apps are allowing you to see your friends’ purchases and wish lists, the suggestions of aspirational individuals in the fashion world, and influences from your favorite fashion brand names.
However, not all social media shopping platforms are created equally, nor have all of the apps created managed to fit their functionality to the variety of purposes that they should be used for. To compete with classic online shopping (i.e. directly from the retailers website), ideal social media shopping apps should let the user:
- Browse: Users should be able to browse a large array of products across brands, purposes, and cost ranges easily and enjoyably
- Search: Users should be able to quickly and easily find a specific product that they have in mind through targeted searches
- Purchase: Users should be able to to purchase their products easily and safely
- Share: Users should be able to see their real-life and online friends’ purchases, share their own wish lists and purchases, and also have curated feeds of the kind of products that they like.
The three biggest players in online shopping are Pinterest, Wanelo, and Instagram. All three of these apps and websites have taken their own unique approach to the social media shopping experience. Because of this, the strategies that you use to find a great deal or your dream product on each individual app will vary slightly.
Here, we’ve broken down the benefits and limitations of each app, and have also provided some tips for using each as effectively as possible.
Pinterest is unique amongst the apps and websites included on this list because its overall purpose is much larger than just online shopping. However, Pinterest has recently made some adjustments to its user experience that increase the efficacy of shopping through its app or website. If you know how to use Pinterest effectively, it can be an amazing resource for general product browsing. There are options to search for and purchase a wide range of products (including electronics, clothing, artwork, and more). Many large brand names and retailers have their own Pinterest boards, which can help you to curate your home feed to be full of products that you may love.
When it comes to searching for a specific product, Pinterest isn’t too shabby! Using only a few key words (here I searched “brown”, “boots”, “heel”) an incredibly diverse range of purchase options appears. Once I selected my favourite out of the options, I was immediately able to see the store the boot is from, its price, and the fact that it is (sadly) out-of-stock.
Pinterest’s scope is almost too broad for its own good, and so the lack of specificity is what makes it difficult to use effectively as an online shopping app. While I had good luck with my search above, other searches I tried resulted in me finding products that didn’t link back to the manufacturer’s website, that were unavailable in my country, or that didn’t have any information about their brand. Also, there isn’t a good way to search products by price, or to keep track of when “new” products are added.
The social media aspect of Pinterest’s online shopping experience could also use some work. While it is an amazing way to share ideas and images with your friends (both ones you know in real life, as well as individuals whose tastes you share), there is no way to create a feed that only shows images for online shopping. As well, there is no uniform way to see what your friends are purchasing or wishing for – you have to rely on them creating their own boards and updating them accordingly.
- Pin Your Own Images. Pinterest allows you to pin images from anywhere on the web – this is a great way to import products that you love and store them in one central location.
- Be Specific in Your Searches. Pinterest has an amazing search algorithm, so take advantage of it! You should be able to narrow down the millions of pins out there to the individual products you want in the blink of an eye.
- Find Your Shopping Twins. Pinterest is valuable because of how personalized individuals’ boards can be. When you find a pin that you love, take the time to click on the profile of the person who pinned it and consider following some of their boards. In this way, when your home feed doesn’t feature suggestions from Pinterest itself, you will be able to make your own home feed targeted to your specific tastes.
Wanelo (the name is a combination of the words Want-Need-Love) was designed 100% with social media retail in mind, and this focus is incredibly obvious from the app’s design and functionality. Upon starting the app for the first time, you are prompted to make an account and then are guided through a series of yes/no choices about various images that help the app to understand your personal preferences when it comes to various products. These preferences are then utilized in the creation of Wanelo’s “magic” feed, which is an automatically curated feed featuring only products that the app thinks you will like.
The app and browser experiences are slightly different, but are both positive and information syncs well between the two. The general browsing and trending feeds are also very enjoyable with a seemingly endless feed of suggestions, and the search function (while not as good as Pinterest’s) is intuitive and effective.
A large number of established fashion and product brands are using Wanelo, and every product listed on the app is linked to the website where it can be purchased from. This functionality places Wanelo head and shoulders above the other social media shopping apps for ease of purchase… which may be a good thing, but can also be incredibly dangerous financially (as my wallet can attest to!). Wanelo also has a great system in place for saving the products you love (you can create multiple wish lists, with full control over which list each product goes into) and noting the products that you have already purchased.
Wanelo’s functionality is definitely there, but it hasn’t been as widely adopted as the other two apps on this list. This makes it harder to engage with on a social level. While an amazing number of brands are using the app and you can follow individuals whose style matches your own, it can be difficult to find your friends that are already using the app (although it is possible to search for them by linking your phone’s contacts or your Facebook account to the app).
Additionally, while the app is great for finding rare and unique clothing, furniture, and knick-knacks, the scope of the app doesn’t extend effectively to products like electronics or niche interests. A final flaw that I found with Wanelo’s design is that it is difficult (if not impossible) to easily compare product prices across brands – you are only given a single option of a purchase location for an item, even if it is available in multiple online stores.
Lastly, Wanelo has recently added a 5-star rating feature that can applied to each product. While this should eventually become a major benefit to using this app, at the present time it has not been widely adopted (none of a random sample of five products I looked at had received any ratings, despite being saved over 1000 times each).
- Use the Magic Feed. Wanelo’s ability to understand your personal taste in products is actually quite impressive. The Magic feed is a really great way to go “window” shopping and to find products, brands, and other Wanelo users that you love.
- Post Your Own Products. Just like Pinterest, you can easily add products you’ve found elsewhere online to your wish lists.
- Follow Both Brands and People. Wanelo is an amazing way to shop basically the entire inventory of your favourite stores. By following the brands you love, you are sure to see all of their new products. With that being said, it’s also a great idea to follow people that have saved similar products to you, as this can help you to find new favourite brands and products.
Instagram is ubiquitous — almost everyone, from your neighbor down the street, to your favorite fashion icon, to just about any store you can think of has the app and uses it regularly. This is the main major benefit to Instagram as a form of online shopping. As well, all of the images that feature products selected by brands or individuals are generally beautiful or interesting to look at, and you can generally be certain that the products being advertised through an image are legitimate and available for purchase. Retailers often find that it is a great idea to use Instagram for online stores so that products can be shared widely between friends and to scope out the competition in similar markets.
As much as it seems like everyone is trying to make Instagram happen as a social media shopping destination, it isn’t going to happen (at least, not unless there is some serious re-designing of Instagram’s functionality). For starters, no clickable links are allowed to be placed in a photo’s description, which means that in order to actually purchase an item you have to go through Instagram bio links or Google.
Furthermore, searching Instagram is very much like looking for a needle in a haystack. Searching a keyword does not guarantee that images containing your desired product will appear (in fact, my experience would say that they rarely, if ever, do). As well, Instagram is first and foremost designed to be a mobile app. While you can use Google to find Instagram profiles you are interested in, the process is more cumbersome than it should be, and the browser-based version of Instagram is far from intuitive and lacks many of the mobile app’s features.
- Follow Trusted Brands You Love. Both online and off-line stores will use Instagram to post a selection their new arrivals in beautifully designed photographs. Some brands may even use Instagram to advertise sales and discount codes. For this reason, following the brands you already love can be a great addition to your Instagram feed.
- Follow Aspirational Individuals. If you know of a blogger or other inspirational person who has a similar taste in products to you, following them on Instagram is a great way to get inspired. As well, many people on Instagram are happy to answer comments asking about where they purchased any products that are visible in their photographs.
- Find Another App to Do Your Shopping On. In reality, Instagram is wonderful for a lot of reasons, but its ability to be an online shopping destination is not one of them.