Instagram’s new shopping checkout feature
, once rolled out to a wider group of merchants, could have a notable effect on strategies for brands across several categories — fashion, beauty, anything sold direct to consumer, etc., as indicated by its group of beta partners. In many circumstances, this will lay the final bricks in Instagram’s “wall” as it provides users with a complete experience — from brand/product discovery and content consumption to purchase to tracking shipments. While previous
have come close, they’ve still required users to leave the application and purchase products on a brand’s website.
Over the last 15-plus years, I’ve witnessed social platforms progress from gatherers (building audiences without monetizing them) to hunters (capitalizing on audience growth with various streams of ad revenue) and now to merchants that facilitate actual transactions and charge a fee for doing so. My experience evaluating consumer behavior and brand adoption in response to these and other platform innovations has inspired a few prophecies for Instagram’s milestone.
Consumers May Not Be Ready To Pull the Trigger
The opportunity to sell through Instagram will undoubtedly be exciting for many brands. While research suggests that Instagram is a haven for affluent users ready to purchase luxury products and lavish vacations on a whim, Instagram’s checkout feature enables some high-end brands to test this hypothesis firsthand. In contrast to these brands’ astronomical followings, though, I believe they may find that an overwhelming majority of their audiences only follow them aspirationally. The transition of many powerful brands — once just aiming to be considered sellers of quality goods at fair prices but now becoming purveyors of a more desirable lifestyle — could increase the likelihood that users only follow them to be inspired.
Whether or not these beta partners prove that a closed-loop social marketplace is the selling channel Instagram anticipates, we all stand to learn a lot about consumer behavior in the process. I believe that users who follow luxury brands for trend inspiration but don’t have the means or confidence to make hasty, unresearched decisions on big-ticket items may prove to mirror the behavior of an impulse shopper at the register in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, making relatively mindless purchases of inexpensive items that catch their eye.
Pricier items, in this scenario, may likely continue to require more research and consideration, thereby leading users outside of the application and to online retailers where they can compare prices, read multiple reviews and access free or low-cost shipping. Brands may need to decide whether Instagram is a medium where they hope to inspire consumers or elicit purchases. If it’s both, they may have to find a thoughtful balance between relatable storytelling and strategic calls to action — one that doesn’t sacrifice the deeper, nontransactional relationships they’ve sought and built with their audiences.
Brands May Not Be Ready Either
With the ever-evolving retail landscape continuing to favor customer convenience and seamless shopping experiences, Instagram’s checkout feature may present both pros and cons to any brand choosing to participate. On one hand, brands will open a new retail channel with 1 billion monthly active users (105 million in the U.S.) and the captured attention of multiple generations. On the other hand, they’ll open a new retail channel through yet another shopkeeper that dips into their profit margins, owns the shopping experience and likely refuses to share much of its accompanying user data. These are the constraints that brands can avoid when selling direct to consumer on their own sites.
I predict that some brands may opt to forgo the opportunity to sell on Instagram in favor of continuing to bolster their direct-to-consumer business and leaning on retailers, such as Amazon, that manage the entire customer experience to the last mile. These brands will likely focus their social presence exclusively on storytelling and brand building.
The Mad Dash To Simplify The Customer Experience
Retailers, both online and offline, have worked for decades to remove confusion from the shopping experience. I believe that shoppable social feeds, while intended to create a less perplexing and more centralized path to purchase, may prove to muddy the waters even more as consumers wander the open web — often crossing from app to browser, or even to other devices — attempting to confirm that their purchase is the right one. Meanwhile, brands and retailers will likely be scrambling to map their behavior and understand the why behind the buy.
The merging of our once commerce-free social realms and transactional features is not new altogether, but Instagram’s full-scale entrance into this world may be the most interesting to date. Consumers win, in theory, with yet another simple way to buy more stuff. We’ll be watching closely to see whether brands (and, more specifically, which brands and categories) begin to form a different perspective.