This year, smart shoppers are harnessing social media to win at gift giving. This fall, Instagram rolled out its new shop feature, and Pinterest has been offering buyable pins since the summer of 2015, transforming the platforms from places for gift inspiration, research, and idea-sharing to fully-fledged retail spaces. This year, even Snapchat is getting in on the action with shoppable gift guides, while newcomer Parcel allows you to organize your potential purchases based on budget and theme. While all of these platforms can sometimes feel a bit like information overload they can also be a great way to gather gift ideas, search for deals, and shop for the holiday in the moments between clicking Like on pictures of your friends’ dogs and children.
This year Pinterest is really seeing their retail potential expand. Searches for “gifts for women” are up over 100 percent this year with “Christmas gifts for friends” up 84 percent according to the company. “What’s great about the buyable pins,” says Annie Ta, Pinterest shopping product manager, “is that if something goes on sale, you will get an alert and you can buy it right there, without ever leaving the app.” But if you aren’t sure what you want to buy yet, Pinterest also helps you “start with inspiration and then work your way down to what the thing actually is,” continues Ta, “and you can save everything and come back to it later to really figure out what you want to get for the people in your life.”
Instagram also allows consumers to be alerted to special deals, often before they have a chance to check their promotional emails. Anahita Moussavian, deputy fashion editor at the New York Post and its lifestyle supplement Alexa, says, “When brands I love announce a sale via Instagram I am more inclined to pop over to their website and see what they have on offer.” Danielle Darden, a program coordinator at the University of Miami, agrees. Since she is already on Instagram “it’s an excellent way to learn about new stuff faster than if I were to open an email about it.”
But beyond staying on top of new products and special offers social media allows you to be aware of what your friends and loved ones are into and the things they might connect with. “Keeping tabs on people, especially on Snapchat where you’re getting those regular, not-so-glossy glimpses into people’s lives, definitely helps give a sense of what someone is all about right this minute,” says Erica Cerulo, cofounder of Of a Kind, a New York–based online retail space. “Look for something that has a story that you can connect with—and that you think the person you’re giving it to will connect with, too. That’s what makes it feel personal, not just like you’re checking something off a list.”
For Darden, this couldn’t be more true. Social media lets her really research her gifts for maximum effect and be aware of small and independent labels that don’t have brick-and-mortar presence in her town. “I have a limited budget, so when I’m able to make a big purchase and give someone that gift that I feel will qualify as like a ‘top ten ever’ gift I want to make sure that’s really what they want. I’ve gotta lurk until I know for sure.” She recently used this strategy when torn between two items of jewelry for a close friend. “When I saw she had pinned this safety pin earring not once, but twice, I was like, ‘Done. SOLD. STAY PUNK.’”