Last week, Instagram launched a brand new ecommerce checkout feature for more than 20 top brands – including Kylie Cosmetics, Nike, Uniqlo and Warbly Parker.

In the past, social media platforms have found it difficult to provide an end-to-end in-app ecommerce experience for users. Take Twitter’s defunct ‘Buy button’, for example, which was shuttered back in 2017 following a reluctance from both brands and Twitter users to make use of the feature.  

So, what makes Instagram Checkout any different from its predecessors? And what kind of impact will it have on ecommerce and marketing as whole? 

A quick recap – what is Instagram Checkout?

Instagram Checkout allows Instagram users to complete product purchases without having to leave the app. 

What’s more, after users’ first transaction their purchasing info will be saved to the platform – no data re-entry necessary for future purchases.   

Customers will also be able to track, manage and return their purchases through the app, as well as contact brands about their orders directly. In other words, users will be able to buy products and manage their entire purchasing journey, all within the app. 

At the time of writing, the feature is being tested in closed beta (with 20 brands) and is only available on organic posts, Stories and the Explore Page.

What does Instagram Checkouts mean for ecommerce and marketing as a whole?

To get a better understanding of the feature’s wider implications, we reached out to some industry experts for their reactions and initial thoughts. Here’s what they had to say.

A game-changer for visual content

James Gurd, Founder at Digital Juggler: Instagram Checkout could be a game-changer for brands that rely on visual content. The checkout is native, users need only sign up once and then have a quick checkout within the app for future purchases.

“Provided the integration with retailers is smooth to ensure order tracking is accurate and reliable, and there is no confusion regarding post-sale customer service, this could accelerate the path to purchase by bringing the conversion point directly into the social network rather than relying on linking through to the retailer. 

Monetising social commerce and improving attribution

James Gurd, Founder at Digital Juggler: “Over time, [Instagram] will be able to offer personalised ecommerce, and this will enable the platform to monetise social commerce more effectively – no doubt increasing the costs for marketers as conversion rates improve.

The reliability of data is going to be important – how will retailers factor in conversions outside their website to reports, attribution analysis, et cetera? 

Ben Davis, Editor at Econsultancy: The other thing everyone is intrigued about is what Instagram will do with this new data. Suddenly it has a very tangible metric about the value of users to particular retailers. The ability to target these users will be incredibly valuable.”  

Sean Donnelly, Senior Research Analyst at Econsultancy: “Marketers will need to think about direct Instagram advertising via their branded profile. They can also encourage fans to become influencers via tagging their brand and using hashtags. This enables brands to reach consumers in a different context, one that facilitates interaction, engagement, and ideally, a purchase.” 

Smoothing the customer journey

Sean Donnelly: From the consumer point of view, they value speed and usability. Empowering consumers to complete transactions without having to leave the Instagram app is an important step to allow brands to meet them at the moments that most influence their decisions. 

In fact, the app’s influencer culture and taggable user-generated content is really suitable for influencer marketing. Influencers, after all, can lower barriers by positioning products in a relevant and authentic way for consumers. 

Five pure-play ecommerce brands who boosted sales on Instagram

Joanna Bodley, Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Founder at Jo & co.: There are some obvious reasons why brands would want to keep control of their own checkout process.

“While customers can opt-in to share contact information with retailers via Instagram, they don’t have to. This will create challenges in building up databases, analysing user data and retargeting. 

On a positive note, perceived consumer safety of purchasing on a familiar channel and not having to share payment details may increase the propensity to purchase. 

James Gurd: “Some user journeys are likely to take place solely within the social network, from initial content interaction through to retargeting and then shopping ad into checkout. It may shrink social traffic to the retailer’s website but I think most retailers will accept that if the ROI model works. 

The future of social shopping

Joanna Bodley: I can understand marketers being wary, as some may balk at having to pay to promote and then again to actually complete the sale. If take-up is strong, we may soon be looking at a marketplace much like Amazon – convenient for customers, but potentially costly for brands as Facebook takes its share at each stage of the customer journey. 

It will also be interesting to see whether the platform’s algorithm will favour those who do chose to implement the system.

Ben Davis: Granted, product promotion already fits very nicely into the Instagram experience – people like looking at pretty things, shoppable posts and stories work well, and there’s already a shopping channel in the Explore tab – but if commerce ramps up, will users want a bigger part of the app to be dedicated to commerce? A place to go for shopping?

“Last year it was rumoured that the company was developing an entirely separate shopping app – perhaps the appetite for these new Checkout posts will go some way to proving the business case for a separate app.” 

Are people buying on social media?

Michelle Goodall, Marketing Consultant and Trainer: “The smart question is: “What next in social shopping?”

“Will Instagram, Pinterest, Snap and Facebook become much more like social Marketplaces, and will they look beyond ad funding as a primary revenue driver and unlock the huge commission potential from social shopping?” 

Conclusion

Instagram has been consistently improving its ecommerce experience – especially as it pertains to product discovery – with the introduction of shoppable posts, shoppable Stories, and the expansion of its Explore Page last year. It seems the social platform’s latest feature is a perfect accompaniment to close the purchasing journey in-app. 

Although Instagram Checkout presents an opportunity for brands to shorten their customers’ path to purchase, questions remain about attribution, ROI and how the feature will work with the platform’s algorithm.  

If marketers and Instagram can address these questions, then there is no telling how successful the feature will be. But if they can’t, it could become just another social commerce trial consigned to the scrap heap.

Learn more

Download Econsultancy’s Social Media Platforms Overview to find out more about the major social media platforms, and how marketers can make a business case for social.