Shopping is coming to Instagram

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20 brands are testing new e-commerce features on the platform.

After six years of gathering 500 million monthly active users, Instagram is evolving from a social platform to a shopping platform.  

Beginning on Nov. 7, Instagram will be testing new e-commerce features with 20 retail brands in the US. Designed to give users an easy transition from discovering products in posts to shopping for them, the new features will allow brands to tag products in photos, supply product information and redirect consumers to their websites with "Shop Now" buttons.

For the last year, the social platform has been working with focus groups to develop shopping capabilities on Instagram, according to Jim Squires, director of market operations at Instagram. "Mobile has changed how we shop," said Squires. "When people are in the store, they are looking at their phones, researching products." In fact, 84% of smartphone users in the US browse and compare products on a web browser or app, according to eMarketer.

However, according to Squires, there is a still a gap in the mobile shopping experience. "You have a shop window where you see products and you get inspired, and you’ve got the cash register where you make the purchase and then buy it," he said. "What’s missing is the exploration in between those two things. That’s what we’re looking to solve."

With the new capabilities, posts within an Instagram feed will have buttons in the lower left-hand corner that read "Tap to view products." After a user taps the button, descriptions and price will pop up for up to five products featured in the post. For instance, in this JackThreads post, the JackThreads Ombre Flannel shirt is tagged along with the Vans Old Skool shoes. 

Then, a user can tap on one of the products to go to another post that gives more information or can swipe left to see other items featured in the same post. A "Shop Now" link located next to the price of the product takes the consumer to the brand website where they can make a purchase.

According to Squires, for this test and the "foreseeable future," the platform is working only with brand partners that sell products directly, meaning no influencers will have access to these features yet.

The 20 brands that are testing the e-commerce links out will be able to tag up to five products in each post over the next quarter. JackThreads, Abercrombie & Fitch, Coach, J.Crew, Kate Spade and Macy's are among the brands that are participating. 

Men’s retailer JackThreads will be posting roughly 45 photos with the shopping tags each month, according to CMO Ryan McIntyre. "It’s great for the consumer because a lot of guys are looking at our posts on the platform for style inspiration. This allows them to know what that product is and where to buy it," said McIntyre. "We are excited to turn an engagement channel into a selling channel."

Instagram will be monitoring usage, keeping track of how many people tap to see the items in a post, how many people explore more details, and ultimately, how many people buy them. "The focus of the test is to understand the purchase journey that someone goes through," said Squires. "We are looking at that entire funnel to understand what is bringing the most value to consumers."

According to Squires, this test is the first step in the process to bring shopping to the platform. "We are starting with the test as an organic experience," said Squires. "As we head into next year, we are going to further develop it." Product recommendations, the ability to save content within the app, and applying the same tagging capability to videos are all under consideration.

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