Gone are the days when Instagram's scope was clear-cut. For better or worse, the app is no longer just about sharing photos with other users or scrolling through a river of images with hundreds of digital likes. Since being acquired by Facebook in 2012, Instagram has left behind its roots as an unambiguous social network in favor of becoming a more robust platform. Whether to monetize or to enhance the experience for people, newly minted features like Stories have catapulted Instagram beyond being a simple photo-sharing app. And it's not finished yet.
A couple of weeks ago, the company rolled out support for shopping tags, which gives users the ability to buy products they see in ads in their feed. Rather than a brand telling you to click a link in the bio, you now hit a tap-to-view button on an image to learn more about any item you're interested in. Once you're ready to buy the goods, companies have the option to send you to their website or app to complete the checkout process. The idea, naturally, is to keep people glued to Instagram for longer periods and, most importantly, make shopping an integral part of the app's design.
Right now Instagram is only making this tool available to 20 fashion brands, such as Warby Parker and Kate Spade, as well as online retailers like JackThreads. But the feature, which is only viewable by iOS users in the US at launch, could expand to other countries in the near future. Android support is expected down the road too. According to Instagram, that'll happen once it's comfortable with how partners display and recommend products without affecting the core experience. Eventually, users will also have the option to bookmark products they'd like to buy at a later time, in what's going to be an obvious move to challenge Pinterest.
Surprisingly, Instagram isn't earning revenue based on how many people use shopping tags to make a purchase. Instead, the company hopes brands see the feature's potential and spend more money advertising on its platform. That strategy could pay major dividends, especially if things continue to go as smoothly as they have during this trial period. The challenge for Instagram, however, will be ensuring this doesn't become obtrusive, which wouldn't be good for either the user or the brand advertising.
"We're really kind of focused on being very craft oriented and doing the simple things first," says Vishal Shah, director of product management at Instagram. He points to the feature being aesthetically similar to when you see someone tagged in a photo, with an icon on the lower left corner indicating that you can go deeper than viewing or liking the picture. When asked about feedback from consumers, Shah said it is too early to know, though he noted that brands and retailers are excited about the possibilities.