Can Instagram make social commerce work?


With social commerce proving a major revenue generator for WeChat and Line in Asia, there’s no surprise that the big social networks are more enthusiastic than ever to get their slice of the action. And look no further than Instagram as a key example here: from the launch of ‘mini shops’, to now allowing retailers to add product information to their posts, the platform always seems to be launching new features that make it easier for consumers to carry out their purchase journeys within the platform. Visual and aspirational, Instagram has become the perfect avenue for big brands wanting to stand out from the crowd.

It’s easy to see why the platform is so committed to making social commerce work. Ask Instagrammers where they tend to research brands or products, and GlobalWebIndex’s research shows that almost half are now turning to social networks to do so – meaning that they’re more likely to be doing so than Facebookers, YouTubers and the rest. 16-24s are at the forefront of this trend (on 52%), with figures then falling in line with age. But even then, it’s still impressive that there’s about 40% of 45-64-year-old Instagrammers who are researching via social media. Combine all of this with the fact that 3 in 10 are choosing to follow a new brand on the platform every month and there’s little wonder why brands are so keen to get themselves noticed.

Instagram--Product-Research-Blog-Chart- (002)

For now, though, it seems that it’s the inspirational research phase of the purchase journey that should be the focus for brands using Instagram. Although many are clearly comfortable seeing branded content and using social platforms to find out more about brands, when it comes to the final purchase, the majority still turn to the traditional online retail sites. Indeed, if we take a look at GWI’s research here, it’s just 16% of Instagrammers who express interest in actually completing their purchase within a social network. That’s just a third of the proportion who say they research via social media.

Certainly, treating the platform like an online catalogue and flooding it with pictures of merchandise is unlikely to make a brand stand out from the rest. Rather, followers want to see the images from their favorite brands that they wouldn’t normally see from traditional media. Take Burberry, for instance: beyond some inspirational merchandise images, the brand uses its account to post images of London, celebrities on the red carpet, or backstage photos from photoshoots.

This illustrates the challenge that faces Instagram, and other networks, in their mission to popularize true social commerce options among digital consumers. People don’t mind doing some digital window-shopping on social networks, but they remain much more reticent about completing a transaction in the same space. Of course, it’s surely only a matter of time until European and North American consumers become accustomed to social commerce options like they have in Asia – especially as social networks continue to implement more secure and streamlined means of buying within the platform. But for now at least, it seems the true power of Instagram lies in using it as a tool to incite brand affinity before smoothly guiding people towards their own platforms/retail stores.


This is a guest blog from the awesome team @globalwebindex




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