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Shopping on Instagram: Get the Complete Details and What it Means for Businesses Like Yours

Nov 7, 2016 6 min readNews and Trends
Photo of Alfred Lua
Alfred Lua

Product Marketing @ Buffer

This year alone, Instagram has released business profiles and features like Stories and Zoom. Lucky for us, Instagram has something new to share again:

Shopping is coming to Instagram!

Starting this week, Instagram is testing a new way for users to learn more about products they discover in the app and to purchase those products if they wish to. The entire e-commerce flow from discovery to purchase is contained within Instagram, which may potentially help solve one of the biggest Instagram questions (and social media questions) for businesses everywhere: How can I get ROI and sales from what I share?

Fresh on the heels of the announcement, I’d love to share more details on what Instagram shopping might look like and what it means for you and your business. It’d be great to have your thoughts in the comments, too!


Why is Instagram building a shopping experience in the app?

The potential opportunity for businesses on Instagram is huge. According to Instagram’s announcement:

More than 84% of smartphone users in the U.S. browse, research, or compare products via a web browser or mobile app.

That is in line with the behavior Instagram users exhibit in the app. While speaking to James Quarles, Instagram’s VP of monetization, TechCrunch found that:

According to a study run by Instagram, 60% of Instagrammers say they learn about products and services on the app, while 75% say they take actions like visiting sites, searching, or telling a friend after being influenced by a post on Instagram.

While Instagram is a great platform for discovering new products, it can be a little challenging at the moment to find out more information or to find and purchase those products online, particularly with the limited use of links within updates and on profile pages. With the Instagram shopping announcement, it feels like Instagram is looking to make the experience much smoother.

With that, let’s take a look at this upcoming feature!

Overview: How Instagram is building shopping into the app

As shopping is introduced into the app, the primary feed experience won’t change at all. Shopping will simply be an added function to individual updates.

Instagrammed photos that include products or e-commerce experiences will have a tiny “Tap to view products” label at the bottom left corner of the photo. It’s possible that Instagram might simplify this into a symbol once users are used to this interface, just like they did for photos tagged with users.


Once the “Tap to view products” label is tapped, it brings up a tag for each product that has been tagged in the photo, showcasing up to five tags and the respective prices. It appears the tags for the products are initially hidden to not clutter up the photo, maintaining the clean and beautiful user experience.


When a tag is selected, more information about the product will be shown within the Instagram app itself so that users do not have to leave the app. From the video demo, it seems that users will also be able to scroll between the tagged products by swiping left and right.


If the user wishes to purchase the product, tapping the “Shop Now” link brings up the product on the business’s website. From there, the user will be able to place an order for the product.


This will also be within the Instagram app itself. A key advantage I see is a much faster shopping experience. Having all these steps happen within the app itself would likely make the experience much faster than the traditional approach of switching to a browser and letting the page load (and switching back to Instagram to continue browsing).

Here’s a short video of how this feature looks like:

What will it cost businesses? Incredibly, nothing

According to TechCrunch’s report, Instagram isn’t taking a cut from the transactions:

Instagram won’t take a cut of purchases, and instead plans to monetize the product by later allowing brands to pay to show their shoppable photos to people who don’t follow them, says Instagram’s VP of monetization James Quarles.

Instagram has teamed up with 20 U.S.-based retail brands including Kate Spade, JackThreads, and Warby Parker for this test feature. For its initial testing phase, Instagram will be rolling this out to only a group of iOS users in the U.S.

Future plans for shopping on Instagram

While it looks really impressive already, Instagram has more ambitious plans for this feature:

As we roll out further, we’ll explore product recommendations, ways products are showcased to shoppers, global expansion and the ability to save content so Instagrammers can take an action later. We want to understand how to deliver the most seamless shopping experience for consumers and businesses on Instagram, and ultimately mobile.

Instagram’s VP of monetization, James Quarles, also shared with TechCrunch how they are looking to expand on the shoppable tags:

Quarles tells me shoppable tags will eventually expand to video posts, photo carousels, and other countries.

How exciting!

Shopping on Instagram: What Opportunities Are There for Businesses?

To me, this feels like a huge leap for the Instagram experience and a very attractive proposition to businesses. Here are some opportunities I think this feature will bring to businesses:

1. Higher retail sales and tracking ability

As URLs in captions are not linked, businesses are currently resorting to using the link in their bio or platforms like Like2Buy and to direct their followers to their product pages. With this feature, businesses can provide a more direct option for their followers — yay!

I believe this feature will help to boost sales for businesses — maybe more for those with physical products than those offering services or digital products. Businesses will be able to better track sales from Instagram and perhaps even track referrals as it’s common for Instagram users to tag their friends in their comments to share about a product.

2. Enhanced influencer marketing

While I’m not sure if this feature will be available to non-business Instagram users, this feels like a great opportunity for influencer marketing, which is already very prevalent on Instagram. Influencers can tag the sponsored products, allowing their followers to learn more and even buy those products immediately within the Instagram app.

3. More sales through user-generated content

Another opportunity I see for this feature is through user-generated content. It is a common strategy used by businesses on Instagram nowadays. We used it to increase our Instagram following by 60% and are still using it today.

User-generated photos help to add social proof to the products and feel more authentic than photos by businesses themselves. By tagging the user-generated photos, businesses could possibly drive more sales through Instagram.

4. Additional layer of engagement

Having more options of action to take means more opportunities for engagement. I imagine a business could ask a question about the product such as “How many colors do you think this bag comes in?” As it’s easier to find the answer with this feature, followers might be more inclined to search for it. This could be a way to encourage followers to click through and check out the product too.

5. More creative captions

With the additional product information page in Instagram, businesses can choose not to describe the products in the photo caption. This will allow for more creativity for the captions, without having to worry that followers might not understand what the product is about.

How will you use this feature?

I imagine many of you are as excited as I am about this potential feature. I’d love to hear from you what opportunities this might present to you and your business.

P.S. If you are thinking of diving into Instagram marketing for your business now, here’s our complete guide to Instagram marketing!

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