Instagram is to remove the Shop tab from its homepage navigation bar this February, in what may form part of a wider shake-up that will see the social media platform re-focus on driving ad revenue.

Parent company Meta announced the change earlier this week, informing users that the Reels tab will replace Shop, while the content creation button will return to the centre of the navigation bar. “You will still be able to set up and run your shop on Instagram as we continue to invest in shopping experiences that provide the most value for people and businesses across feed, stories, reels, ads and more,” the company explained.

Back in September 2022, The Information reported that Meta employees had been informed via an internal memo that Instagram’s Shopping page would eventually disappear, following a trial of a pared-down and less-personalised version. The memo stated that the shift reflects “a new northstar and goals for the commerce organization that are more directly tied to advertising revenue for Meta.”

Indeed, Instagram’s removal of the Shop tab appears to align with this new purpose, indicating that perhaps Shop hadn’t been as profitable as hoped. But is this really the case? And what does Instagram’s decision mean for brand strategy on the platform and the wider state of social media and social commerce? I spoke to some experts to get their opinion on the topic.

The switch up could improve CX

Instagram’s Shop tab originally replaced the popular Activity tab in 2020, which was met with dismay from users at the time. Tamara Littleton, CEO at The Social Element, told Econsultancy that the removal of Shop could therefore be welcomed by users. With control over data remaining an issue for major brands, Littleton also believes that they may be unconcerned by the change.

“This play doesn’t necessarily negate the importance of commerce to Instagram’s overall strategy, but it might indicate that this placement and focus has not generated the results the tech giant would like,” she said. “Ultimately, most bigger brands like to remain in control of both the shopping experience and the data it lends them on customers, making the Shop feature less than critical for those with the biggest budgets.”

“Switching things up to ensure Shop features serve advertisers first and foremost makes sense from a revenue point of view. It also may work better for users, who ultimately use Instagram for content sharing and discovery – Instagram will be looking to help the platform to feel more organic. As the Shop tab was widely disputed by users this could arguably improve their experience with commerce by using the improved product tagging capabilities instead.”

Small brands and individual sellers will be hit

Sue Azari, Ecommerce Industry Lead, EMEA & LATAM at AppsFlyer, suggests that Instagram’s decision is based upon the Shop tab earning less engagement that other product features. “Social platforms are still experimenting with social commerce, so it’s possible that Instagram will develop stronger shopping features via a different experience in the future,” she said.

“Instagram’s decision will likely hit smaller brands and individual sellers hardest. The majority of the bigger retail brands have focused on pushing their social following to their respective web and app channels, where they have the benefit of capturing more granular data on user behaviours.”

A bigger push towards user-created content

Tom Jarvis, Founder and CEO of Wilderness Agency, told Econsultancy that Meta’s move is less likely to be a reflection of the value of social commerce itself, and more of UX-driven decision, designed to push users towards a different kind of content – especially now that the creation button is prominently featured once again.

“Some have argued this is a loss for commerce on the platform and indicative of a wider m-commerce challenge, but I actually think this represents a doubling-down from Instagram in trying to get users to watch and create Reels content,” he said. “The shop feature is still available in feed, in stories, in Reels, and in ads but Instagram is bringing its “create” button front and centre ensuring users are prompted to not just watch but make original content for the platform.”

So, Jarvis says that shopping will still be integral to Instagram’s strategy, just not so ‘in your face’.

“Instagram has to find ways to encourage users to create original content for the platform so simplifying the nav to make this a more seamless process is an obvious next step. I still fully expect them to develop new tools for users to buy products from the content they see as a core focus; it just doesn’t have to live on the nav but throughout the platform and the content within it.”

But is it a short-sighted decision?

George Pavlou, Head of Group Social at The Hut Group, told Econsultancy that Meta’s priorities are unsurprising on the basis of its long-standing business model.

“Meta has, generally speaking, paid lip service to commerce on social as they’ve always concentrated and developed their business model around ads. From the launch of Instagram Checkout to other commerce features released across their portfolio, it’s generally been the case that they’ve left brands to work it out for themselves – which is a far cry from the initial successes of something like TikTok Shop, where the platform has dedicated vast resource on onboarding and strategising with brands on how to most successfully sell their products on their marketplace,” he explained.

Consequently, Pavlou says that Instagram’s changes won’t impact the overall growth of social commerce, and that it could even be a decision Meta comes to regret in the long-term – particularly if other platforms start to reap the rewards.

“I don’t think Meta’s decision will deter other social platforms like Pinterest, YouTube and even Twitter from deviating too far from the commerce model being set out by TikTok,” he said. “Short and medium term, social media is where the next generation of consumers want to shop, having grown up with it as the place to discover new products and brands. Meta are banking on the metaverse being the next great advertising space, which is why they’re further prioritising ads over commerce on Instagram – essentially training audiences to get used to ads.”

“They’ve got the resources to make it work, but as always with social – for short-medium term success, you have to meet audiences where they are, and retail brands will always follow their audiences and customers to wherever they can reach them. They’re not in the metaverse right now but consumers are looking to shop via social media, which makes the decision to prioritise ads seem short sighted, in spite of their long term metaverse strategy.”

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