Shopping Features Within Social Media Apps: The Good and the Bad

social media shopping featuresFor several years now people have increasingly shifted their shopping interest to the internet, but with the growing popularity of smartphones, eCommerce is shifting once again. This time it is moving to mobile applications. Several apps are currently available including Wanelo, Polyvore, Instagram, and Pinterest. They are changing the way people shop, but do they have a positive or negative impact on consumer and retailer behaviors with these social media shop features?


Background of Social Media Shopping Features

Social media is expanding its reach into the realm of shopping, and it’s already made an impact on retail. An increasing number of brands are using social media as a platform to interact with consumers and exchange ideas about products. Many sites like Facebook and Instagram allow companies to communicate directly with their consumers and share pictures and information about new products and sales. However, many sites have begun to offer much more than communication between company and consumer; they now provide consumers with an opportunity to shop directly from the site, using their social media as a platform for selling rather than just communicating.

The idea is that consumers are more likely to buy products that they have seen their friends use or endorsed by their favorite influencers.

Since the widespread use of social media, many sites have adopted ‘click-to-buy’ features to encourage purchasing while still on the site. These features allow users to click directly through advertisements for deals and purchase products, without ever having to leave the platform. Amazon has been using this model for years and it’s led them to become the largest online retailer, so many sites have been eager to follow suit. In light of Amazon’s growing dominance, other retailers have begun offering click-to-buy shopping features on their social media pages. For example, Walmart recently allowed customers to purchase items directly through Facebook using shop-by-photo technology that allows users to purchase an item by photographing it with the site’s camera.


List of Social Media Apps That Offer Shopping Features

The following are social media sites that have recently integrated shop-by-photo technology, allowing users to purchase items directly through the site.



Facebook allows you to buy products from companies by directly clicking on advertisements within their Facebook page. This feature provides customers with the ability to browse deals and order products without ever having to leave the platform or wait to get back to their laptop or phone. One way Facebook encourages these transactions is through its ‘Marketplace’ feature, allowing users to buy and sell items within the social media site. This provides an opportunity for increased exposure of products and increased revenue for the company by allowing users to only advertise items that are actually available.



Instagram has created a similar platform for online retailers to sell directly through their site. Users are able to click on advertisements and purchase items without leaving the site, creating an easy shopping experience for consumers. This allows brands to effortlessly reach more people looking for deals and products, all within one convenient platform. Some companies have even begun promoting deals exclusively through the app.



While Facebook and Instagram are primarily focused on person-to-person sales, Twitter has created an opportunity for companies to sell directly through their feed. Similar to Facebook, Twitter allows brands to share pictures of deals and new products, encouraging consumers to purchase them. They also offer an opportunity for direct communication with customers by allowing users to mention companies within tweets that will then be directed back to the original tweet. This is advantageous for businesses because it provides a platform where they can easily interact with their followers and provide exclusive deals and special products.



The birthplace of the popular ‘buy button,’ Pinterest has taken buying products from social media to a whole new level. The newest addition to its ever-evolving platform, the site now allows users to directly purchase items by clicking on a ‘buy button’ next to product pins. Because of its growing popularity within the social media world, many brands have begun promoting their products exclusively on Pinterest.



The eCommerce website specializes in handmade goods, vintage items, and supplies for other small businesses. With the goal of ‘creating a more fulfilling shopping experience,’ Etsy encourages consumers to shop directly through its site by allowing customers to click on products pinned from sellers’ pages and be directed back to their product page. This provides customers with an opportunity to interact directly with sellers while also providing additional revenue for the company.


The Good: Why Shopping Through Social Media is Beneficial to Businesses and the Economy

While the idea of being able to directly purchase items from social media sites like Facebook and Instagram may seem like a luxury for consumers, it actually provides many benefits within the economy. Here are a few of them.


Increased Revenue for Brands and Sellers

One of the primary benefits of shopping through social media platforms is that companies can easily sell products directly to consumers. This provides an opportunity for increased revenue because companies no longer have to pay for ads in newspapers or other third-party distribution channels. By selling products directly to customers, sellers are able to increase their profits. Some social media sites even allow users to tip the brand or individual seller after purchasing an item, which provides another potential source of income. This allows brands and businesses to keep more money and put it back into the economy.


Increased Exposure and Sales for Small Businesses

Small businesses and entrepreneurs benefit from selling their products through social media because they can easily increase their customer base without having to spend additional money on advertisements. Some of these platforms, such as Etsy, allow small businesses and individual sellers to remain anonymous while promoting their products. This increased exposure not only benefits the business, but also helps customers make better purchasing decisions since they have a wide variety of brands and sellers to choose from.


Increased Accessibility for Consumers

One of the reasons social media allows customers to become more invested in a brand or company is because it provides them with immediate access to a business. If a user finds a brand or product they like, all they have to do is follow the seller through their social media page and purchase an item directly from them. This increased accessibility allows consumers to shop at any time of the day while also giving them more purchasing power because many social media platforms allow for free shipping or money off certain products.


The Bad: Problems with Social Media Shopping

While there are many benefits to social media and online shopping, there are also some disadvantages.


Price Variance and Inaccurate Search Results

One of the downsides to shopping through social media is that prices might not be as competitive as those on larger eCommerce sites. Because brands compete with each other to gain more followers, they are more likely to lower their prices in order to attract consumers. This results in a lack of transparency for the customer because they are no longer able to see if products are being sold at fair market values or not. It can also create problems for brands that choose to sell on multiple social media channels since prices might vary based on the site.

Once a product has been found on social media, the customer might have to navigate through several different links in order to reach the original pinned item. This is because products are usually separated into similar categories and then arranged in an alphabetical sequence. Although this makes it easier for brands and sellers to organize their goods, it can make it difficult for customers to search through relevant items. This is because links might not always lead directly to the product page, which decreases the chances of a sale for brands and sellers.


Additional Costs Associated with Shipping

Another downside to shopping on social media sites like Facebook or Instagram is that prices usually do not include shipping. This results in the customer having to pay an additional fee on top of the product cost, which can be either time consuming or expensive for them. Although some social media platforms do put a cap on how much buyers have to spend before they qualify for free delivery, brands are more likely to make their customers incur these costs because it increases the chances of a sale.


User Friendliness

One final problem with social media shopping is that it can be difficult for customers to sort through all of the different products being sold on these channels. This is because each seller designs their own unique page depending on their preferences, which can make it challenging for users to find what they are looking for. On top of this, most social media sites are not optimized to run on desktop computers, which can make it time consuming for customers to complete purchases if they do not have a smart phone or tablet with them.

Although social media has allowed people to interact with brands in new and exciting ways, the ease of shopping through these channels creates some negative consequences for customers and sellers alike. For consumers, increased accessibility can cause problems with search results, price variance, and shipping costs. Brands also face challenges with organizing their products for sale on multiple sites and creating user-friendly interfaces that can be used across different technologies. Because social media shopping is still relatively new, it might be difficult to predict how these problems will shape the future of eCommerce. As more brands begin to sell goods directly through social media, customers might find that prices become more competitive and their searches improve over time.

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