You’ll soon be able to shop on Instagram

Is it becoming the ultimate enabler?

Instagram adds shoppable feature

Is it becoming the ultimate enabler?

Instagram announced on Tuesday that it will be adding a shiny new shoppable feature from next week. A crop of Insta-influencers have been selling their much-liked wares on Instagram informally for a while now, and Facebook Inc. (who own the app) have had a light-bulb moment about how to transform it into a veritable ecommerce app.

‘While browsing and discovery is easy on mobile, finding more information about the specific products you see isn’t always as simple,’ a post on Instagram's business blog explained. ‘On a platform known for its power of mobile discovery, today we’re excited to announce an easier experience to shop the products you love on Instagram.’

According to Bloomberg, researchers behind the app noticed that users were taking screenshots of products they love, or direct-message them to themselves (sound familiar?), then hitting a sort of digital dead-end and having to go seek out the product online - at which point most of us get distracted by a photo of a puppy in a bowtie and abandon search.

‘Instagram is super visual, we have a well-defined graph of your interests based on what you're following, and the serendipity of discovery happens every day through the ad products and who you follow,’ James Quarles, Instagram's vice president of monetisation explained.

Which brands can you shop on Instagram?

So, exactly how are they intending to convert our swiping whims into sales? To test the new experience, 20 US-based brands including Kate Spade, Michael Kors, J.Crew, Coach and Shopbop will be trialling the new feature, and not taking any cut of the proceeds.

‘It's been a little frustrating to us in the past to not be able to have people purchase on Instagram,’ said Jenna Lyons, J. Crew's president and creative director. ‘Not only has it become a place for people to get influenced by their friends, but they're walking into our stores with their phones and saying, “do you have this?”’

How do you shop on Instagram?

The functionality goes something like this: Instagram will share product posts that have more depth, making it easier for us to review, learn about and consider the items that interest us. Each post will have a ‘tap to view icon’ at the bottom left of the photo which, when tapped, reveals a tag on various products in the post. Once a tag is tapped, a new detailed view of the product will open (still on Instagram). Then, if you want to make the plunge to purchase, a 'Shop Now' link from the product will whisk you directly to the product on the brand’s website. Here’s an example of how it works with Kate Spade:

‘Instagram is where we reflect the interesting life of the Kate Spade New York girl through relatable social moments which highlight the products that are characters in her story,’ says Mary Beech, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Kate Spade & Company. ‘This post features our favourite new bag and elements from our new personalisation program that, together, make the bag uniquely hers. With this seamless shopping experience launching on Instagram, the possibilities for selling our products are endless.’

Can you shop on Instagram in the UK?

Now the bad news, during this initial phase the new features will only be available to a select group of people on iOS devices within the US. But there is more good news to come: they will be rolling it out globally with new functions, such as the ability to save items you like to action later, removing any sense of frantic impulse shopping.

This isn't the first time a social platform has dipped into ecomm: Facebook recently introduced a Marketplace function, though it’s popularity is unknown. And Twitter previously trialled a ‘buy button’ for more than a year, but the project folded. Pinterest made a bigger investment in shopping, allowing direct buying on its site from thousands of retailers, but it's uncertain how popular this is either. Whether Instagram’s plan will be more fruitful remains to be seen, but judging by the success of their Instagram stories, we have faith. Either way, we’re pleased to see it’s tapping into the rise of handy mobile shopping. Pun totally indented.

Gillian Brett