This month, Instagram rolled out a new feature that is sure to be a game changer in the near and distant future. Instagram Shoppable photos are the next natural step in Instagram’s progression toward being a more business-friendly social platform. With more than half a billion monthly active users and over half a million advertisers, it was only a matter of time before users could start buying products right from the app.
Summary: 5 Things you should know about Instagram’s Shoppable Posts
- #1 Instagram Shoppable Photo Tags are a reality for a tiny portion of the brands on Instagram
- #2 Instagram Shoppable Posts are only available on iOS, and only within the US
- #3 Your Instagram feed won’t become spam central
- #4 Product tags can only be implemented by Instagram internally
- #5 Instagram isn’t making any money off this...yet
Essentially, shoppable photos allow companies to tag their posts with products, much like you or I would tag our friends. Tap on the tags, and you’re taken to a full product description with a “Buy Now” button, all within the IG app itself. Tap that button if you want to purchase and you’ll be taken to the company’s website to purchase; if you don’t want to buy, it’s a single tap back to your feed because you haven’t left the app. It all works exactly like Instagram does now, so there’s no learning curve for users. There are no fees on either side—the buyer pays what the seller is charging, and the seller pays nothing to Instagram for any sale.
But don’t start taking pictures of your old stuff to sell on Instagram just yet. The same goes for those of you who think this might preclude the need to involve influencers in your marketing. Here are some key things to know about the latest addition to the world of e-commerce.
The company wants to take things slowly, and rightly so. With over 95 million posts and 4.2 billion likes every day, the potential for a tiny glitch to become catastrophic is very real. So, for now, IG has invited only 20 brands to participate in the rollout, all of them in the fashion space—a natural fit for an app built on visual appeal. Companies like JackThreads, Abercrombie & Fitch, Kate Spade, and Hollister—all of which have popular feeds with quality content—are part of this first phase.
These limitations will likely be the first to go away as the reliability and stability of shoppable photos is put to the test over the next few months. As popular as the iPhone is, iOS only accounts for less than 12% of the smartphone market share, while Android sits at 87%. Meanwhile, 80% of Instagram’s users are sharing and liking photos in countries that are not the United States. That’s a lot of users whose money won’t be spent on Instagram, and you can bet that the brands are going to want to see how this all scales. If Instagram's Shopping Tags can’t handle that kind of traffic without tweaks and updates, it’s better for Instagram to learn that with only 20 angry companies.
The implementation of shoppable photos won’t visually intrude with your feed. If a photo contains product tags, the only indicator will be a small white button in the lower left hand corner that states “View Products.” Tapping that button reveals the tags, each of which can be clicked on to view more information and the link to buy the product. It seems as though Instagram is trying to do this in a way that doesn’t cheapen their own product for the benefit of its advertisers. Speaking of which:
They haven’t yet developed an interface for brands to do this on their own; for now, the 20 companies who have access to this feature must coordinate with the Instagram team to add the tags to their posts. It’s doubtful the reason for this is that IG hasn’t been able to figure out how to let companies do it themselves. More likely, they are leaving themselves a little wiggle room to make editorial decisions on how companies choose to use the feature. As engineers of social software, the Instagram team is focused on making shoppable photos a functional and easy-to-use end-user experience. By drip-feeding the feature into their ecosystem, IG will get a handle on how marketers envision using the technology—and will be able to ensure that brand visions aren’t intrusive to the user experience.
As stated before, Instagram isn’t taking any cut of the profits on items sold through the shoppable posts feature, or adding any kind of fees that would end up coming out of users’ wallets. For now, the focus is on getting it right, both for users and companies. As the kinks are worked out, and more companies are invited to participate, the plan is to allow them to pay for promoting shoppable photos out to the feeds of users who aren’t already following them. You don’t need to be a marketing specialist to realise the economic potential of this for brands and Instagram alike. That Instagram is a popular service round the world is already known: reach just 5% of monthly active users and that’s an audience of 25 million. But consider this statistic, reported at Locowise: 75% of Instagram users take action on the sponsored posts they already see, clicking embedded links to be taken off the app and over to a website. Numbers like this are why Instagram and companies are all pretty excited about the future of the platform.
What is not yet known about the future of shoppable photos is where Instagram will ultimately draw the line on participation. Today, it’s just those 20 companies that are in on the action. The plan, of course, is to roll it out to more companies over time. But will it only be business accounts? What about influencers? There have been a few questions swirling around about where they sit in all this. One only has to think of some of the more notorious influencer fails to see how something like this could get out of hand —think of Scott Disick’s or Naomi Campbell’s hasty copy/paste jobs in their paid posts for BooTea and Adidas, respectively. Those incidents expose the blurred line between social posts and cynical cash-outs, and are cited as a reason why influencers probably won’t be able to make their posts shoppable. If that’s the case, others have said, this might be the end of influencer marketing itself: why throw money and resources at influencers if they aren’t able to help you sell your stuff?
Both of these concerns would be valid, if they didn’t miss the point of influencer marketing done right. For starters, the Scott Disick and Naomi Campbell incidents shouldn’t be considered influencer marketing. Those are straight-up, old-school paid celebrity endorsements. If anything, shoppable posts represent a great step forward for influencer marketing. Think about it: Disick charges $15,000 - $20,000 per post, and BooTea basically saw that money go down the drain with his blunder. Once Instagram makes it possible to pay for shoppable posts to appear in the feeds of its users, there’s no need to go through a middleman to get at his followers—just target the shoppable photos to people who follow him and hope for the best. Of course, without a recognisable face to go with the post, targeted ads like that might not be as effective.
And that right there shines a light on why influencer marketing will remain important. The real aim of influencer marketing is to build trust, awareness, and community with an influencer’s legion of followers; that doesn’t happen without the aid of an influencer. But once you supplement a solid influencer campaign with a paid shoppable post, all the pieces come together. The followers a brand does pick up will see the posts organically, while those who don’t end up following the company will at least have a level of familiarity and comfort with them when the paid post shows up in their feed. It’s a perfect one-two punch that’s going to bring influencer marketing to an even higher level of importance. With a paid endorsement, a company might get a one-time rush of purchases. But marketers have said that influencer marketing has already established itself as a way to build a better customer. We’ve already seen how effective a thoughtful influencer campaign can be in ingratiating a brand to the public and earn some serious social capital. With Instagram Shoppable Photo Tags, companies now get to turn that social capital into real money—and that’s why we’re saying this will be a real game changer.