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Instagram Offers Big Data, but Pinterest Has Purchase Intent

Marketers weigh in on e-commerce upgrades

The social platforms have ramped up their e-commerce capabilities.

Social media platforms don't often roll out retail-based features or rush them to the forefront, because getting people to shop while they digitally interact with friends can be tricky. So, it was interesting to see Instagram and Pinterest release back-to-back offerings Tuesday—within a couple hours of each other—that are clearly designed for merchants.

Instagram launched ads with "Shop Now" buttons and other messages that link outside the app so users can quickly purchase items. Pinterest took the wraps off its long-anticipated "Buyable Pins" with buy buttons, and users can search the site based on what products interest them and in what price range.

Now that both platforms have become a whole lot more shoppable, we asked a few agencies and marketers to weigh in on their potential strengths and weaknesses. While both are highly visual digital destinations, Instagram and Pinterest do diverge.

"I think there is a distinct difference between Pinterest Buyable Pins and Instagram Shoppable Ads," said Bill Tancer, an online behavioral analyst. "The images pinned by users in the Pinterest [environment] are, in most cases, well positioned in the transition between viewable image and desire to purchase—given prevalence of apparel, design and recipe pins. Instagram, by contrast, hosts images that are more social in nature with a more tenuous connection between photos and e-commerce than Pinterest pins."

Check out several other takes we picked up from industry players:

Why Instagram could become an e-commerce juggernaut
"Facebook and Instagram have so much data on their users that they will be able to serve shoppable ads that are very relevant and, as a result, will have a higher e-commerce conversion rate," said Mike Purzycki, chief business officer at fitness platform Fitmoo. "The algorithms behind the ads that are being served will determine the success of their e-commerce efforts."

Jeremy Rosenberg, svp and head of digital at Allison and Partners, thinks brands can get folks to buy merchandise and services on Instagram if they  

create dedicated content rather than regurgitating creative from other campaigns.

"I suspect [the shopping ad unit] will be very successful," Rosenberg said. "It lends itself to fashion and other lifestyle products. I think it lends itself to travel, as well, since a lot of Instagram is around destination and where people are."

Why Instagram ads might not drive sales
"Instagram will be a harder sell [than Pinterest] because its users are generally in a place of inspiration and discovery," said Jill Sherman, svp, social & content strategy, DigitasLBi. "My guess is that purchase behavior will likely be impulsive, so scarcity—like limited time and quantity—will be necessary to capitalize on this audience at first. That said, I believe that cross-platform opportunities—like seeding on Facebook then selling on Instagram—could be interesting for brands and put Facebook in a unique place to move people through the consumer journey. But it's something they'll need to aggressively test and prove out."

Purzycki added, "The weakness is that they can't serve too many ads without jeopardizing user experience. Accordingly, their opportunities to convert a sale are limited, and if the algorithms serve ads that are irrelevant to the user, then the e-commerce conversion rate will suffer."

Why Pinterest could make for great e-retail
"Pinterest has users' mindset on their side, which is a huge selling point to brands," Sherman said. "People using the platform are generally in planning mode, so they're likely closer to place of [purchase] consideration. They're searching for things like 'how to decorate a modern nursery' or 'best camping gear for humid weather' to create their inspiration boards, so adding a buy button simply creates one less step in the path to purchase."

Scott Fogel, senior strategist at digital agency Firstborn, offered, "With shoppable pins, we're now nearing a complete reversal of the traditional  

 purchasing process. Stores and brands used to be the first filter of the shopping experience. You'd start by saying, 'I need new shoes, and I like Macy's, so I'll go to the store or Web shop, assess what they have, and then apply my tastes to find something I like.' Now, the process has completely flipped. A curated discovery engine like Pinterest starts with your aesthetics and taste, and from there filters products that fit you."

Why it may not become a significant seller
Retailers have to apply the buy buttons to their pages themselves, which—if they don't add the feature en masse in the coming weeks or months—could lead to confusing expectations for consumers, Purzycki said.

"Users might find it disappointing when they discover an item that they like but they are unable to purchase," he said. "Traditionally, finding something you like on Pinterest triggers a positive emotion and is punctuated with a positive user experience. If the discovery process is punctuated with the inability to purchase, then users' experience might suffer."

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