Instagram Introduces In-App Shopping for Brands

November 4, 2016 - 3 minutes read

If Twitter is the poster child of angry users and poor monetization attempts, Instagram is the opposite — a massive mobile app startup that’s somehow perfectly balanced monetization and user experience.

That balance in on display currently as the company just launched “shoppable tags,” which allow select brands to display purchase information embedded within tags directly in-app.

The feature is a clever way for Instagram’s iPhone app developers to get their toes wet with in-app sales without intruding on the expected user experience. Like user tags, the “shoppable” data only pops up if a user single-taps the photo. Just like user tags, the information is displayed in a simple, clean word bubble overlaid on the photo. Scrolling away or clicking elsewhere removes them.

Like Facebook’s Instant Articles, the benefit here is obvious: lightning-fast load times. The current system of loading a separate browser window for product information (from the single allowed hyperlink in a brand’s profile) is far from ideal for users who increasingly expect to be able to shop on Instagram.

Instead of allowing more links in photos (which would surely unleash a deluge of spam), Instagram’s app development team is opting to retain control over who does and doesn’t get to sell on the platform. For now, that means it’s only available for a few corporate brands. In the future, the feature will be available at a price for those who wish to use it, and also will allow products to pop up in the feeds of users who don’t follow an account.

Facebook was successful at easing users into the idea of sponsored posts on the Facebook platform, so it’s likely they’ll be able to repeat that success with Instagram (Facebook acquired Instagram for about $1 billion). For Instagram app users accustomed to seeing sponsored posts and ads, shopping items will almost be an improvement so far as usability goes.

Sources close to Instagram report that a “save” feature will also be introduced, allowing users to bookmark products for future browsing and buying. Again, the curatorial aspect of this window-shopping concept is a perfect match for the poised, toned-down brand identity that made Instagram such an enormous startup success story. NYC iPhone app developers who want to turn social platforms into major revenue would do well to observe how the engineer in-app shopping very closely.

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