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GUEST COMMENT How Instagram is changing the way we shop: The rise of Instagram checkout

Instagram: pulling back from commerce?

Social media is increasingly important for shopping. In fact, a recent study revealed mobile-first shopping is up 24% in a year, driven by social media. Consumers are both actively and passively browsing products and brands across social platforms, meaning brands can (and must) utilise this rapidly evolving shopping channel.

Following the introduction of Checkout in the US, Instagram quickly made shopping on social even more seamless and convenient for users. Avid US users have been able to order and pay for items within the Instagram app itself, with brands including Adidas, Mac cosmetics, Zara and Nike having early access to the checkout function. So, what’s next in store for the app?

Why now?

Instagram Checkout launched in beta in March 2019 and is currently only available to selected retailer partners in the US, however the advanced nature of the social channel shows Instagram’s intention to become an ecommerce platform.

It has the biggest effect on impulse purchase categories such as fashion, beauty and tech, whose products are already bought predominantly online. And we can expect to see this roll out in the UK soon.

What are the implications?

With Christmas just behind us, it will be interesting to note how this played out for gifting in the festive lead-up. It’s not hard to see the opportunity for Instagram: it has one of the most sophisticated algorithms of all the social platforms and is incredibly adept at predicting and surfacing content you want to see. With its highly visual aesthetic, Instagram is the glossy magazine advert of social media. Products – especially apparel, beauty and interiors – feel incredibly native and appealing on the platform, making it the perfect window shopping experience. Who hasn’t been tempted to buy something that’s come up in their Instagram ads?

Social is already a key channel for discovery and consideration. As many as 81% of us admit to having bought something after seeing it on social, and according to GlobalWebIndex, 42% of internet users research brands and products actively using social,with 30% citing this as their primary reason for using social media. As social media usage has matured, our online behaviours are noticeably less about sharing personal information and are increasingly purpose-driven. Users are actively opening the app to take a look at the latest trends that brands are boasting on their profiles, rather than just to check their friend’s posts. Instagram Checkout is simply closing the gap between discovery and purchase and for lower consideration items like make-up and fast fashion, this will be a game-changer.

These changes coincide with the rise of mobile payments. GlobalWebIndex report a 5% Y.O.Y increase in mobile payments globally, and while the UK is slightly behind other markets, the growth here has been steady, especially amongst younger consumers.

A glimpse into the future

When we look at other markets such as China, where social commerce is entrenched, we get a glimpse of what our ecommerce future may look like. Ubiquitous messaging app WeChat introduced in-app ecommerce early on, and even allows brands and influencers to livestream shoppable product content. This creates a hugely interactive digital shopping experience where shoppers can quickly discuss product benefits and queries directly with the brand, in real time. Also used as a payment app like Apple Pay or Google Pay, WeChat has quickly replaced cash as a preferred payment method and allows users to pre-pay for everyday items and easily split the bill. For the shopper, this means significant gains in terms of convenience, and for the platform it means they become more indispensable to brands and therefore advertisers.

While we see other platforms in the US and UK building ecommerce functionalities into their offerings, like Pinterest’s Lens, Facebook’s shoppable tags and sales alerts, all of them currently still direct users to the retailer’s website for the final transaction. Instagram Checkout is the first in-app commerce development and is blurring the lines between social and ecommerce.

What are the knock-on effects?

For users and brands, the introduction of Instagram Checkout seems like a win win. For the time being, shopping on Instagram is a pleasant experience. This will only improve the overall experience for users, making it increasingly more convenient and seamless. For brands, this means the shopper journey from discovery to sales will be shorter and social will become a more critical channel in certain categories (like beauty and fashion).  

The downside in the longer term will be the likely increase in ads that can annoy and deter consumers, alongside an increasingly cluttered app experience. Instagram will have to work hard to ensure the user experience doesn’t suffer as a result of this update. 

Who are the winners and losers?

In terms of brands, social commerce stands to disrupt the categories that have been revolutionised by ecommerce the most, with fashion, beauty, interiors and tech leading the charge. The checkout function also has the biggest implications for impulse purchases. It’s easy to imagine buying something in the range of £20-£40 for example, but hard to envisage making a high consideration purchase through Instagram Checkout. Consumers are still likely to prefer an instore engagement when making purchases of this size.

It will also be interesting to see if gifting behaviours are impacted, as social is already a key channel for passive browsing and active discovery when it comes to selecting gifts for others. Speaking to We Are Social at the tail end of 2019, GlobalWebIndex’s Strategic Insights Analyst, Olivia Valentine, said three in 10 survey respondents agreed social media would play a role in helping them determine what to buy people for Christmas. 

Those at the bottom will be the other media channels, especially digital display. In China, WeChat and Ali Pay are absolutely dominant, making it hard for other players in the market to cut through. Regardless of location, competitors stand to lose out to increasing revenue being allocated to Instagram as it quickly becomes more of a sales platform, and therefore more efficacious in terms of ROI.

What’s next?

In the short term, we can expect an increased roll out of payable services through Instagram and Facebook. For instance, imagine being able to book your Uber or order your Deliveroo all through Instagram. We can also expect other social platforms to follow suit, so look out for ecommerce updates via the likes of Twitter and Snapchat. In the longer term, we can anticipate Instagram starting to mimic WeChat and other Chinese ecommerce apps, introducing features like Shoppable Live Streams and Wallets. 

Since the introduction of shoppable posts, Stories, and the expansion of its Explore page last year, Instagram Checkout appears to be the perfect and timely partner to close the purchasing journey in-app, especially as we enter the busiest shopping period of the year. Looking to the horizon, it seems highly likely we can expect to be using it in the UK by Christmas 2020… if not before!


 Cally Archibald is Content Strategist at independent creative agency Initials

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