Instagram Shopping features are relatively new to the nearly 10-year-old photo and video-sharing social networking service. Shopping on Instagram enables e-commerce brands to host an “immersive storefront for people to explore your best products.” Put simply, Instagram Shopping capabilities give brands the opportunity to share products through organic posts, Stories, or the Search & Explore function—all without ever leaving the app.
Here are a few Instagram Shopping features (we explore these and more later in the post):
First tested in November 2016, Shopping on Instagram has matured into a profitable avenue for brands to showcase their business to readily interested users. Whether through their own business profiles or through savvy Instagram influencers, brands of all kinds have been taking advantage of the Instagram repertoire of shopping features.
Whereas Instagram once hindered businesses from achieving e-commerce success on the platform (inability to share clickable links in post captions or tag products), now brands are clamoring to test out Shopping on Instagram. In fact, over 25 million business profiles exist, and roughly one-third of the most-viewed Instagram Stories come from business accounts. Of the 1 billion total Instagram users, 80% follow a business account.
This is a clear sign that ‘shoppable’ Instagram just works. And we owe much of this success to Instagram influencers.
When it comes to online growth and engagement, few platforms come close to Instagram. Touting more than 1 billion monthly active users as of June 2018, and dwarfing rival Snapchat with its own Stories feature, Instagram has become a social media powerhouse. Hugely popular with Gen Z and Millennials, nearly two-thirds of those aged 18-29 are using the platform.
Marketers have taken notice, shifting ad dollars from traditional venues like television to reach digital consumers online and through mobile apps. In the process, influencer marketing has swelled to become a $1 billion industry on Instagram alone. With the launch of long-form video platform and YouTube competitor, IGTV, Instagram is poised to capture even more users and ad dollars moving forward.
Instagram’s visual platform is an ideal forum for shopping. For a long time, however, Instagram’s lack of features stood in the way of truly efficient commerce. Due to their presence and following, influencers were able to connect their audiences to brands, but it took several extra steps to turn these connections into sales opportunities.
“Link In Bio”
Previously, influencers looking to advertise a product or service either had to type a URL in the description box or write “link in bio” somewhere in their post—directing audiences to the lone place Instagram accounts could have a clickable link. Instagrammers would also commonly add purchase instructions with special hashtags or promo codes to their posts to help entice clicks and sales. The lack of shoppable Instagram features forced users to take many extra steps to make a purchase, meaning that many would-be customers lost steam before buying anything.
Despite the platform’s initial obstacles, Instagrammers have been helping connect audiences and brands for years. Still, some brand and influencer partnerships violated the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules around proper disclosure of sponsored posts. In April 2017, the FTC sent letters to more than 90 brands, influencers, and celebrities for noncompliance.
Shortly thereafter, Instagram introduced its “paid partnership” subheader, which allowed influencers to be more transparent about the nature of their promotional posts. In addition, Instagram has since launched a number of shopping features making it easier for brands and influencers to work together through Instagram’s native advertising pathways.
Below are 10 prominent Instagram shopping features that both businesses and influencers can employ to facilitate a seamless shopping experience on the Instagram platform:
While brands can employ influencers or any other Instagram shopping features, business profiles now have the opportunity to feature all shoppable products in the Shop tab. When users visit a business account’s profile page, they can tap the ‘Shop’ button to view items, prices, as well as the posts featuring those products. This centralizes the shopping experience for users interested in brands they love.
Instagram’s Save feature allows users to save products from shoppable posts. Users can tap the Save icon in the bottom right corner of a shoppable post in either Stories or main feed, which stores it in their Shopping collection. This encourages users to shop across many different products or brands, as they now have a way to organize, save, and easily access products later.
The Explore tab is a frequent destination for Instagrammers, so it’s only natural that Instagram began testing out shopping features within it. In a statement released by Instagram in September 2018, the company claimed the shopping channel will be based on users’ shopping interests by displaying shoppable posts from recommended businesses. Presumably, shopping content within the Explore feed will be visible to users who have previously browsed products.
Business profiles now have the ability to tag products within branded videos, enabling viewers to tap the shopping icon in the bottom left corner and see a mini catalog displaying the featured products. This is yet another format in which brands can showcase products that otherwise would be less findable by interested viewers.
Regular in-feed posts (both photos and videos) can often be the gateway to shoppable content. As users scroll through their feed, they may come across influencer sponsored content that has visible tagging features, signaling that the post links to shoppable products.
Product tags—also known as product stickers—allow influencers and brands to tag items inside their posts or Stories with prices and links for purchasing. Similar to users tagging another person in a post, influencers can tag products featured in the post or Story for followers to click through to view product details.
Instagram claims that around 90 million users tap on its shopping posts every month—a massive opportunity for brands on the hunt for users with purchase intent. Shoppable Instagram stickers serve as a productive way for influencers to drive sales for brands.
To keep in line with its ease-of-use commerce factor, Instagram reportedly added a native payments feature that allows users to register a debit or credit card to their profile to buy products without leaving Instagram. The move for uninterrupted shopping cart checkouts will likely cause more brands to push Instagrammers to shop and buy on the platform—perhaps egging on impulsive buying behaviors.
While not available to all users quite yet, we expect Instagram to integrate this convenient payment feature worldwide in 2019.
Rolled out globally in the fall of 2018, Instagram Stories allow influencers to write instructions and add clickable links to their media. Since these posts disappear within 24 hours, unless the influencer highlights or archives the Story, there’s a limited window of time to drive sales via Story updates.
With Instagram’s “swipe up” feature inside of Stories, influencers now have an easy and endemic call to action (CTA) for selling goods. The tool can transport users to an Instagram post or account, or off-site destination.
When influencers tag products on their feed posts, Instagram will then denote it by including a shopping bag icon in the top right corner of the thumbnail image. This allows users to easily scan a brand or influencer’s Instagram feed for posts containing shoppable content.
Within the actual tagged post, tapping the shopping bag icon will reveal more product details, such as pricing and features.
In early 2018, Instagram introduced Carousel Ads for Stories, allowing brands to promote their message with up to three pieces of media. This added storytelling ability can be paired with the “swipe up” feature, giving brands a way to build toward a meaningful destination at the end of their message.
Currently, brands can select either unprompted or prompted carousel ads—the unprompted format displays automatically, whereas the prompted version displays responsively to users. Other formatting restrictions apply.
Brands can “boost” posts by influencers and celebrities to reach larger audiences. The feature allows brands that have been tagged in posts to pay a fee to push out the content to more viewers for a specified amount of time.
While the ad includes the “sponsored” tag at the top of the post, having the content originate from the profile of an influencer—rather than the brand itself—makes the promotion feel more organic.
Without verification from Instagram itself, the social media and commerce communities are left to speculate about Instagram’s plans to build a separate app for shopping. Nevertheless, some outlets have learned from industry sources that Instagram is, in fact, working on the new app dedicated to shopping functionalities. That’s not to say it will ever meander out into the real world.
If the rumors are true, and IG Shopping—as it’s informally being referred to—does launch, we can expect the app to allow users to shop and purchase directly within the platform.
More than likely, all Instagram’s current shopping features and ongoing shopping tests will serve as the basis for IG Shopping should it come to fruition.
Instagram has unquestionably pervaded the social media landscape, in many ways, setting the standard for user-, influencer-, and brand-friendly social media apps. Arguably the nucleus of social media and commerce activity, Instagram has become a port for business transactions.
As the world’s hottest mobile network readies for more growth, Instagram is giving serious consideration toward how brands and influencers work together on the platform. Introducing new commercial and creator tools, Instagram seems to not just be embracing the popularity of influencer marketing but integrating it into their own business model. In fact, 89% of marketers say Instagram is the most important channel for their influencer marketing strategy.
With more formats to reach target audiences and features to simplify shopping, Instagram is making it easier to partner with influencers and drive sales. However, with increased ease-of-use comes more competition.
For brands looking to maximize visibility and return on investment (ROI) on Instagram, finding the right combination of influencer, campaign, and advertising tools is becoming more important than ever. A qualified influencer marketing agency with strong influencer relationships and an in-depth understanding of Instagram’s promotional tools can help brands craft successful campaigns from start to finish.