What fashion brands need to know about Instagram’s shoppable posts

Instagram just took a big step toward making its platform shoppable.

On Tuesday, at Shoptalk in Las Vegas, Instagram announced that it had made the feature that allows retailers to tag unpaid posts with product names, prices and details available to all brands.

When scrolling through feeds, users will now see a small icon in the bottom left corner of posts, similar to the one that appears when people are tagged, signaling that it’s shoppable through the featured retailer. When tapped, the icon will pull up the information for each tagged product. Retailers, for now, can tag up to five products per image.

When a product is selected, customers are taken to a product carousel that shows more information on each product tagged in the post. If a customer wants to purchase an item, they can click on a “shop now” button that then takes them to the product page on the retailer’s mobile site to buy.

“On mobile today, the shopping experience is very transactional,” said Jim Squires, director of product marketing at Instagram. “It’s been focused, so far, on rushing people to purchase as quickly as possible, which isn’t always how people want to shop.”

A shoppable post from J.Crew

Instagram has tested shopping features in the past, looking to bridge the discrepancy between the inspiration found on the platform and the ability to buy products seen in posts. To solve for this, Instagram first launched shoppable ads that let retail partners link out to product pages in paid posts. It followed up by releasing the product tag feature in beta mode.

Now that product tags are available for all businesses, here’s what brands and retailers need to know.

Influencers will relinquish some power.
For now, only business accounts on Instagram have the ability to link to product pages through tagged items in their posts. That means that even when a brand hires a social media star to peddle a new product, the product will only be shoppable on the brand’s own account.

Squires said that this should force retailers to get more creative about how they think about the influencer partnership. As a result, brands will look for more ways to gain more followers to their own accounts through influencer partnerships, rather than rely on these social media stars for their big followings.

“Success with influencers comes when brands work with them on the creative side, not the distribution side,” said Squires. “Brands can use stars to drive attention to their own posts or get a big photographer to lend their aesthetic.”

Influencers can’t sell products from outside stores through their feeds, for now — but Squires added that as the shopping feature gets more traction, the platform will figure out ways to expand it.

Optimized mobile sites are critical.
If an actual purchase is going to be made from a shoppable Instagram post, users are transported out of the app and to the retailer’s mobile site. If a clunky experience there causes the customer to drop the purchase, that’s on the retailer.

Squires said that, for now, while retailers are more comfortable handling purchases on their own sites, rather than outsourcing them to the Instagram side, some aren’t equipped with strong mobile sites to make the most of the traffic sent from Instagram. During beta testing, Macy’s doubled traffic that came from Instagram to its mobile site — but without a proper experience on the other end, customers drop off.

“We’ve seen that happen; people drop,” said Squires. “So we advise retailers to think about these mobile-first users, and to design [their mobile site] first and make sure it’s optimized, to make sure the flow is seamless.”

When asked about bringing purchases in-app, Squires simply said that the feature would continue to expand.

Middlemen shopping solutions are going to fade.
As Instagram stalled to launch a way for retailers to link to products in the feed, a number of tech solutions popped up to solve the problem. Companies like Like2Buy created shoppable feeds accessible via links in Instagram bios, which took users to a replicated brand Instagram account — this time, complete with links to product pages.

“The moment that Instagram offers an in-app tool that’s widely available, it’s going to be superior and everyone has to adapt to that,” said Luis Sanz, co-founder of Olapic, which currently works with retailers to get user-generated content onto e-commerce sites.

Now that Instagram lets brands break down a single post by product and tag up to five items that users can browse without leaving the app, the middleman landing page will die off. For retailers, this means purchases will have to be considered in the photos they post, whether they’re solo product shots or lifestyle images.

“We’re only showing these posts to people who follow the brand, so people who have expectations for the type of content they share,” said Squires, adding that brands should try to make the product tags fit as naturally into the rest of the feed as possible. “We’re advising the brands not to break expectations [followers have].”

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