How Instagram became a virtual mall without a buy button
While Facebook and Twitter are rushing to let you buy stuff straight from your feeds, Instagram is in no such hurry. The photo-sharing network’s transition to e-commerce would be completely natural, unlike Twitter’s shoe-horning of a Buy button in your timeline. After all, brands already use Instagram to showcase their products in artful photos that users love. And yet, there’s still no way to buy a pair of jeans or shoes by tapping on those photos.
But brands and bloggers have discovered a few workarounds that creatively make use of Instagram’s hashtags, likes, and profile link—the one link that functions properly on the network—to give you shopping opportunities. The services are a little unwieldy, more so than a Buy button, but they’re a start.
The profile link
Like2Buy is the newest, launching this week as a partnership between retailers like Target and Nordstrom and marketing platform Curalate. You don’t have to sign up to use it, just head to Target or Nordstrom’s Instagram account. As you scroll through images in the feed, photos geo-tagged “link in profile” are items you can buy by clicking on the link in the—you guessed it—profile. The transactions don’t happen within the app, the link takes you to Nordstrom’s mobile site so you can pick a size, color, enter payment information, and so on.
Curalate offers social analytics, specifically around images, to 450 big-name brands. CEO Apu Gupta noticed that Instagram has the highest engagement rate of any social network, including Facebook and Twitter. He wanted to funnel those fans from Instagram to a retailer’s website, which has more info than an Instagram caption.
“The idea behind this should not be to make you buy on Instagram,” he said. “The idea should be to drive traffic. If you think of most e-commerce sites, they are chock-full of information. You can’t get sizing or availability or anything that’s dynamic on Instagram. The other approaches out there were asking consumers to write the word sold in a comment and immediately buy it.”
Gupta is referring to Soldsie, another shopping workaround that uses Facebook and Instagram comments to help brands sell stuff. Soldsie works with small businesses, like mom-and-pop chocolate shops, to run campaigns on their Facebook and Instagram pages. The business will post a photo of something for sale—like a box of chocolates—and fans of their page can reply with a simple “sold!” to buy it.
You have to register with Soldsie beforehand to make a purchase, and the businesses complete the transaction by e-mailing you an invoice, so it doesn’t feel as high-tech as Instagram shopping could—and should. But it opens the doors for social shopping to become more widespread, especially since the service integrated with eBay’s Magento e-commerce platform this month.
Fashion fans are familiar with Like to Know It, an Instagram shopping service popular with bloggers and magazines—even Vogue is on board. The platform is powered by rewardStyle, an affiliate marketing company that gives bloggers a cut of sales that come through their referral links. Like to Know It takes those referrals to Instagram using a clever tactic: likes.
You have to first authorize Like to Know It to access your Instagram account. Then, when you follow someone who uses the program, all you have to do is like a post that contains a www.liketk.it link in the caption to receive an e-mail with product links. The link in the caption doesn’t work, but serves as a marker so Like to Know It will e-mail you information about that particular photo.
Fashion bloggers and mags love the service because they get a commission from every piece of clothing sold through the referral links in Like to Know It’s e-mails. It’s also a super simple way for followers to find out product info without commenting, “Where did you get that?”
If Instagram ever capitalizes on the commerce happening on its platform, these workarounds will disappear, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening any time soon. Until then, impulse buying on the platform is getting easier and easier, even if it's not entirely streamlined.