Marketers are very aware of the potential that social media holds for ecommerce retailers.

In particular, Pinterest and Instagram are proving to be popular with many brands, as the image-based networks enable them to provide engaging content directly to consumer’s devices.

However, what hasn’t always been obvious is how to convert these followers into sales.

Both platforms recently developed new tools to more easily facilitate commerce across the board.

So what are the inherent benefits of services like Pinterest and Instagram, and which provides the best platform for commerce?

Target audiences

It’s no secret that brands looking to target female consumers see the benefits of embracing social media.

Women are 10% more likely than men to show brand support and 17% more likely to access offers on social media, although research found that men are slightly more interested in purchasing directly on social networks by using a social buy button than women (33 % vs. 30%).

All social media networks, bar LinkedIn, have more female users than male, although women’s domination of social media is not equally spread across all networks.

Figures suggest that Pinterest’s users are 70% and Instagram’s users are 55% female.

Buyable Pins

Pinterest launched Buyable Pins earlier this year, allowing consumers to purchase items without leaving the platform, and to pay using Apple Pay or credit cards.

With a user base of 70m made-up largely of consumers who are the most active and engaged, it’s no surprise that Pinterest is often seen as the social network with the highest potential for ecommerce.

Instagram's buy button

However, the truth, as unveiled by research from member-based business intelligence firm L2, is that Instagram actually has the highest browser-to-shopper conversion rate of the social media outlets it tracks.

This is all the more impressive considering that Instagram only allows brands to link to their website from their profile page.

The introduction of the Instagram ‘buy button’ sounded like a shift for the network.

It is not available on regular Instagram posts yet, but limited to the recently-introduced ad platform.

So if consumers see an item on the brand’s Instagram page they would like to purchase, they still have to search for the item on the retailer’s website to be able to buy it.

So, why is Instagram better at converting browsers to shoppers?

The answer is two-fold. What Pinterest promises is a channel through which brands can speak to women in a way that they like being spoken to.

From our experience with clients, marketing messages with gender specific content are five times more successful than unisex messages.

Brands understand the need to target consumers by gender, what seems odd is that brands are excited to segregate their female-targeted messages onto an entirely separate platform. 

Instagram, on the other hand, has a much more level gender split, allowing brands to target both men and women through the same platform by separating their content through gender specific accounts.

Apparel retailers like Nike and ASOS are amongst the pioneers of this approach to Instagram, and it makes total sense. Why would you split your product by gender in-store, but then present it all together online?

It is more difficult for retailers to push their products openly on Instagram, which is the second, counter-intuitive reason why the platform is better for driving commerce.

Brands publish content on Instagram that describes the lifestyle and culture of the company; it is the social network where retailers can forge an emotional connection with consumers.

With our own customers we often see marketing messages with an absence of product promotion bringing in the most revenue.

Messages promoting the culture behind the brand – be it a tie in with another brand or a connection to the local community – have proven to be extremely effective at driving engagement and revenue.

Pinterest has been under pressure to bring commerce to the front of its platform for some time.

Buyable pins move Pinterest towards becoming an aggregator of ecommerce, something akin to a digital shopping centre.

This is by no means a bad thing, either for brands or consumers, but this evolution also moves Pinterest away from its social origins.

Brands looking to tap into Instagram for ecommerce must keep in mind that the logical benefits of a product are often outweighed by a decision based on emotion.

Social media allows brands to share their brand story in a way that retail space and owned websites often cannot offer, and for this reason a targeted Instagram account looks to be the better choice for driving revenue now, and potentially in the future.

Georges Berzgal

Published 10 December, 2015 by Georges Berzgal

Georges is Managing Director Europe at Bronto Software and contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with him via LinkedIn, or follow Bronto on Twitter.

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