It’s a dilemma the social media networks have yet to solve: how to transform users on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms into shoppers.
So far, the problem has confounded Twitter (which launched a buy button only to later abandon the idea) and Pinterest (which apparently has seen only lukewarm results from its own buy buttons, according to Digiday). Now, with Instagram’s new shoppable tags, Instagram marketing is about to get interesting.
The photo-sharing platform is trying out the new feature with select brands like Kate Spade and Macy’s. It works like this: brands tag products in their photos, which are hidden under a “tap to view products” button. When users tap the button, a tag appears on up to five products in the post with price information. Users can then tap a specific product to see an in-app product page with additional details. A “shop now” button then takes the user to the brand’s website or app to buy the item.
The tags allow Instagram to play a bit of a balancing act when it comes to user experience. Thanks to the tags, users can find additional info about a product within Instagram instead of going to an outside browser to search for it. The pertinent details are easily accessible right within the app—sort of like Facebook Instant Articles for products, as TechCrunch noted.
If they work, the tags could become a powerful Instagram marketing tool. Users are no strangers to following brands or influencers on the social media platform. In fact, half of Instagram users follow a business, the company stated, and 60 percent of people say they learn about products or services on Instagram. The platform boasts an audience of 500 million monthly active users, and those users spend about 50 minutes on Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger combined, TechCrunch reported.
Tapping into this brand-loving audience and inspiring action isn’t getting easier, however. With more brands adopting the platform there’s a lot of noise on the user side. Shoppable tags might get people to linger a little longer on an image as they scroll. Future features, like the ability to save products for review later, could also enhance Instagram’s abilities as a shopping tool.
Still, it’s unclear if the shoppable tags will take off, or if it will suffer a fate similar to Twitter’s buy buttons. While Instagram’s visual platform seems to avail itself to shopping in way that Twitter’s never did, its success isn’t guaranteed. Here are a few reasons the tags will succeed for Instagram marketing—and a few reasons they might not.
Like flipping through a magazine or catalog, Instagram is a visual feast. Photos and videos from friends, businesses, publishers, or influencers opens up your eyes to new destinations, fashion, food, beauty products, and more. With a quick scroll, it’s easy to take in a bunch of information in a short amount of time.
This ability to discover new content is what makes Instagram unique. Unlike Amazon, where people go for information about the stuff they already know they want, Instagram users aren’t quite there yet—they’re still open to suggestions. Instagram can function a bit like a store window. You walk by and see something eye-catching, so you pop in to find out more and think about a purchase. Similarly, users aren’t expressly going to Instagram to shop, but the platform makes it easy to discover items you may eventually decide to purchase.
If you follow brands on Instagram, you’ve likely noticed the hacks they use to point users toward product info. Instead of a proper link in the photo caption, brands use the phrase “link in profile” since Instagram doesn’t support links except in the user’s bio page. So, if a user sees a cute dress in a post from her fave retailer, she has to tap to the brand’s bio page to get a link to the product—then get bounced to an exterior website. Other brands might use hashtags to organize items for sale on their sites.
If it sounds clunky, that’s because it is. Shopping tags eliminate some of this awkwardness by providing additional product information without forcing users to abandon the Instagram feed. The tags basically provide information that was already being put out there, but in a more seamless manner.
Instagram needed a way to offer users more product info without creating too much of an ad-like experience, and the tags seem to achieve this for the most part. Pricing info won’t pop up unless a user taps on the “tap to view” button, keeping the visual elements of a branded post intact. In fact, many celebrities and influencers are already doing essentially the same thing by crediting brands through photo tags. The shoppable tags take the middleman away without sacrificing the design aesthetic or user experience.
Despite its abilities as a discovery portal, Instagram still can’t replicate the in-store experience. Unlike on a social network, shopping in a physical space combines discovery and purchase. Think about it: you’re browsing a store, and something catches your eye. You examine the item more closely, perhaps checking the price or other details. Even though you didn’t come into the store knowing you would want this particular thing, suddenly you’re driven to make the purchase. It’s a serendipitous moment—one that’s hard to recreate online.
This is mostly because people aren’t necessarily in buy mode when they hop on Instagram. Sure, they may be discovering ideas and products that may lead to a purchase eventually. Nevertheless, people are primarily using the platform to keep up with friends, not shop. As Twitter and Pinterest have found, the option to buy now may not be all that desirable.
Although users may enjoy getting more details about a product in a couple of taps, they may bail when it comes to purchasing the product from an outside website. It’s one thing to peruse additional product details while you’re commuting or waiting in line at a grocery store. It’s another to actually navigate to another website, initiate a shopping cart process, input credit card info, and actually make the purchase. These hiccups may keep the shoppable bag bonanza in check, unless Instagram comes up with a fix to smooth the process.
As mentioned before, the number of businesses with Instagram presences is increasing. As users start to follow more accounts, more and more content will get lost in the shuffle. Moreover, no one wants to engage on a platform that seems full of ads—that’s why ad blockers are so popular. Instagram will need to keep its eye on the mix between content and money-making ads, lest users start to tune out the ads or leave the platform altogether. A rise in the number of ads will make influencers more important as a quality content alternative.
Instagram’s version of the buy button has great potential, but it’s no social media marketing panacea. Prior attempts by other platforms have yielded poor-to-mixed results. On the other hand, what Instagram has going for it is its visually rich platform and tradition of users discovering content and products via celebrities and brands. The new tags provide an unobtrusive way for users to get more information about products they see and like. But whether the gambit will smooth the path to purchase remains to be seen.