Instagram Shopping: Is a new era coming?

Instagram Shopping ecommerce Power of Influencer Marketing

An insider’s perspective

by Axelle Lelièvre

Over the years, Instagram moved from a photo-sharing app to one of the most important social media platforms across the world. It is now on a path to become one of the most important social commerce platforms.

Before Instagram shopping, no one has succeeded to crack the code of social commerce, although many have tried. The average online shopper still typically favors retail over social apps to complete purchases. According to ViSenze, a leading artificial intelligence company, as many as 54% of consumers report never making purchases that begin on social media platforms. But this conventional habit could be changing as Instagram has two key advantages: billions of users are already scrolling the app daily and there are many additional factors on the platform that tend to influence a purchase.

The evolution of Instagram into social commerce has been slow and cautious. Instagram introduced its first commercial feature in 2016 with the ‘shopping tags’. The tags enable users to see products’ information in Instagram post with clickable link that leads to the brand’s website where they can then complete the purchase. Two years later, the app took advantage of the broad adoption of stories by users to extend the feature to them with the ‘shoppable stickers’. Today, 130 million people are tapping on product tags in posts and stories each month.

As recently as March 2019, Instagram launched the ‘checkout feature’ with the aim to create a frictionless experience for users shopping on Instagram. This feature shifted Instagram into an immersive storefront for people to explore and buy products without leaving the app. In practice, users can click on ‘shopping tags’ or ‘shoppable stickers’ to be redirected to a product description page with a “Check out” button, which allows them to complete their purchase without leaving Instagram.

For now, the feature is in closed beta, available only in the US to a select group of 23 companies and 50 influential accounts among influencers, designers and media titles. The businesses testing the feature all have a strong social media presence and are always first-movers in terms of social media updates. The group of influential accounts was picked because of their close commercial relationships with the selected brands.

But how exactly will this feature impact brands? It actually already has repercussions on brands and it will impact them even more once users broadly adopt the shopping features. Indeed, the app became a crucial direct-to-consumer channel for businesses, and sometimes the only one for the Instagram native brands. After Facebook’s data privacy policies came under fire in 2018, Instagram installed protective measures for user privacy that made it difficult for brands and third-party apps to track conversion and shopping behavior on the platform. However, Instagram shopping again opens up new valuable insights into consumer data. For example, while purchasing a product, users will decide if they want to share their email address with the brand or Instagram only. Therefore, If Instagram Shopping is embraced by the population, Instagram could become a powerful resource for businesses as it would retain all customers’ information, rather than the sellers.

Additionally, Instagram shopping could push for more diversity in the industries landscape, encourage new brands to launch their business and offer unexpected strong exposure to small companies that could not afford a global marketing campaign. The latest Instagram update of the ‘Search & Explore’ section may nudge it in that direction as it offers shortcuts for Shopping, and IGTV helping people to discover new products and brands.

On the influencer level, Instagram shopping could reinforce the power of influencers as they have a stronger and more authentic voice compared to brands, and a community who trusts them. Also, the feature could enhance the comprehension of brands regarding conversion in influencer marketing campaigns, giving more insights into the sales attributed to the influencer. In order to maintain the genuine relationships between influencers and brands, it is extremely important to use the shopping features in a meaningful way, and not add it to each post featuring products. Indeed, the initial group of influencers testing the ‘checkout feature’ all have long-term relationships with the 23 chosen brands.

Instagram is looking for more ways to drive sales to the platform and is thoroughly implementing new tools to transform the app accordingly while keeping very similar user experience in order to not scare its community. Some industries, such as beauty and fashion, are promising categories for Instagram’s evolution as they are often impulse buys and only require a few good words from influencers to be persuaded. Several brands using the ‘checkout out’ button already received positive feedback from the consumers and saw growth into their online sales that they can attribute to the new feature. Making products exclusively available on Instagram before hitting other channels could be one of the many other opportunities to come for brands to use at full speed the social commercial power of Instagram.