Instagram vs TikTok: Who’s ruling the in-app e-commerce experience?

Two months after TikTok, Instagram shifted into the e-commerce space while intro-ing its TikTok clone, Reels.
29 March 2021

Instagram and TikTok are dueling for social network supremacy, as the introduction of e-commerce features within the apps show. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP)

  • Instagram’s Reels feature is one of the fastest products Facebook has ever monetized, and it could be an important factor in fending off ByteDance’s TikTok
  • ​Instagram Reels and TikTok videos each possess minor differences between the two, with each content style serving a particular purpose
  • But with recent feature updates, which social service has the better in-app purchases and more appealing features for e-commerce?

The last decade has seen Instagram become the most popular network of choice for brands to market their products. With around 32% of internet users on the app and one billion monthly users worldwide, its influence was briefly unparalleled. 

TikTok on the other hand,  in just three years, has gained a staggering one billion users and continues to grow at an exponential rate. However, the ByteDance-owned app made its way into the e-commerce space before Instagram did. What began as a test of new social commerce features, has turned into a go-to for businesses. Retail giant Levi’s was among the first brands to use TikTok’s new “Shop Now” feature to direct users to merchandise.

Even if you are not the sort of person that tends to enjoy using TikTok on a regular basis, you can’t deny that the China-based app has greatly shaken up the industry to the point where most tech companies have had to change their approaches and adapt or otherwise risk falling behind TikTok and its rapid rise.

Instagram Reels is one example of how tech companies are starting to pay attention to the various ways in which TikTok runs its operations and gives users features and services that make them want to keep coming back to the social media platform again and again. Two months after TikTok, Instagram made a shift into the e-commerce space too.

So how does TikTok compare to Instagram when it comes to e-commerce functionality? Is Instagram still holding onto its place above TikTok in the ‘world’s most-used social media platforms’ ranking? 

Instagram’s Reels

It is almost like walking into a store where everything stocked on the shelves suitably matched your personal style, wish list, and price point. And that’s what Instagram is working towards.

Instagram’s new video feature “Reels”. (Photo by Chris DELMAS / AFP)

Given the established Instagram algorithm, users’ home feeds are tailored according to individual likes and dislikes — content the algorithm thinks we’ll like most is surfaced to the top of our Home feed. When the concept is taken to the new Instagram Shop feed, we’re stepping into a curated, personalized, shoppable destination.

The new shopping destination allows users to “browse shops,” “see editors picks,” “explore guides,” and “shop collections,” making finding inspiration and shopping directly in the Instagram app much more streamlined. As you scroll through Instagram Shop, you might be surprised by just how much you want to add to the cart. And that’s not by accident.

Through this new feed, Instagram has found a way to show you more of what you’re highly likely to buy — all based on previous engagement, the posts and brands you follow, and engagement of users similar to you. There’s even a handy “Wishlist” collection, that curates the shoppable products you’ve previously saved.

A brand can assume that if a user stumbles upon a shop-able post in the new Instagram Shop feed, their intent to buy is quite high. So there’s a real opportunity to convert followers into customers, simply by posting shoppable posts to a business account feed.

Instagram’s longer-form video channel, IGTV also features a lot more online shopping functionality where consumers will be able to watch and buy an item via video content. They can complete the purchase via Instagram Checkout or on the seller’s website. 

Instagram vs TikTok: Who’s ruling it with e-commerce?

Proposed Instagram Shops layout. Source: Instagram

Shopping with TikTok

TikTok has tested shopping features in its app in the past, after its Chinese counterpart, Douyin, saw success with e-commerce. Douyin allows creators to make their own custom shops selling items from Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace. The big reason Walmart is trying to buy a stake in TikTok is to emulate Douyin/Taobao’s success with tie-ins to its own marketplace.

To date, TikTok has experimented with allowing users to add e-commerce links to their bios, launched “Shop Now” buttons for brands’ video ads, and introduced the “Hashtag Challenge Plus” e-commerce feature which allows users to shop for products associated with a sponsored hashtag.

But TikTok’s biggest foray into social shopping was its recent partnership with the e-commerce platform, Shopify. Merchants who get access to the program will be able to connect their TikTok for Business account with their Shopify account and sell products on TikTok via in-feed shoppable video ads.

Although businesses have been able to run targeted ad campaigns on TikTok for some time now, the new partnership represents TikTok’s biggest leap towards integrating e-commerce into its platform. The deal aims to make it easier for Shopify’s over one million merchants to reach TikTok’s younger audience and drive sales. The partnership will eventually expand to include other in-app shopping features, as well, the companies said.