Should You Sell on Instagram?

Eighty-three percent of millennials consult at least one social platform before purchasing a fashion item. The argument over social commerce isn't so much about the influence the networks have, however, but rather if shoppers should (or even want to) buy directly on the networks. 

Over the years, enabling and encouraging social commerce has been a slow process. Part of the blame can be placed directly on the social networks' digital shoulders, as retailers would have to create a separate shop (Facebook), rely on a very unpopular and since phased-out 'buy button' (Twitter), create workarounds for un-linkable posts like "link in bio" (Instagram) and be required to use an ecommerce platform that supports native checkout ( Pinterest). 

Just in the last six months or so, however, Instagram - arguably the most popular/effective network for  influencer marketing in particular - has made great advancements in social selling including the ability for:

  • Verified accounts to add a 'swipe up' feature within Instagram Stories to take followers directly to the relevant landing page where they can buy and/or take advantage of the promotional offer
  • Users to shop/browse products on a retailer's profile
  • Businesses to tag a post with products
  • Advertisers to include calls-to-action (like 'shop now') in ads that activate when a person shows interest and also follow the user to comments sections and a retailer's profile

All that said, retailers debating whether to start taking advantage of social selling opportunities on Instagram - or looking to boost their efforts - should ask themselves the following questions to see if selling on Instagram is for them.


Does your target audience spend time on the network?


Identifying and catering to a target audience can make a marketing budget go further and a person's available time seem more efficient, as they aren't wasting valuable resources on campaigns that simply won't resonate with the group of people who will be most profitable for a company. When it comes to selling on Instagram, retailers have to ask themselves whether their ideal buyer is spending time there. Here are the current Instagram demographics (as found by eMarketer):

  • 59 percent of Internet users ages 18-24 use Instagram
  • 54 percent of Internet users ages 25-34 use Instagram
  • 39 percent of U.S. college student mobile phone users claim Instagram is their favorite social media site (followed by Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter - in that order)
  • 65 percent of females accessing Instagram do so daily
  • 81 percent of U.S. female social media users 18 years or older say Instagram is their preferred social media site/app for engaging with brand content


Can you handle social service?



People are already reaching out to brands on social networks, so when retailers start to use the channel for direct selling, we can expect that the number of inbound messages will increase. Sellers must be equipped to not only listen to comments and complaints (like through a social media management platform), but also respond in a very timely manner.

If shoppers have a question while checking out an item they may want to purchase, they likely won't want to leave the app to go to a site with live chat or, much worse, wait for an email response or pick up the phone to call (just check out some of the questions subscription box company FabFitFun receives on Instagram).

Does your ecommerce platform support selling on Instagram?


There are some shopping features on Instagram that don't require an integration with a seller's ecommerce platform (like when a user is directed to the website to shop), but there are some features that only work for partner platforms. For example, in order to connect a seller's product catalog to their account and start tagging products (similar to how an everyday user would tag a person in a post), the retailer must be customers of Shopify or BigCommerce. 


Are you prepared to advertise?


Retailers looking to begin selling directly on Instagram do not need to advertise in order to do so, but with so many features available, it's not a bad idea to consider making room for Instagram advertising within their marketing budget. The best part about social advertising is the ability to set a budget that makes sense for the seller and to be able to adjust it at will. 


Do you have a mobile websites or a responsive layout?


Many daily Instagram users may not even know they can access to scroll through their newsfeeds because the majority of people use the app for a much richer experience. When a user does start to engage with a retailer on Instagram, they're going to expect that if they click through to the website, that it adapts to the device they are using (which in the case of Instagram users is almost always a mobile device). If they visit the site only to find a clunky user experience, they will leave without buying. Further, it's not just about whether a site is device agnostic but also how easy it is to navigate and check out on the site from their mobile devices. 


Are you open to working with influencers?


Despite all the brand-friendly features that Instagram is adding, the network is very much influencer driven. Celebrities, reality stars, authors, actors and other public figures are getting deals to push products to their followers - and it's working.

Of the 20,000 women surveyed by Bloglovin, more than half said they had bought a product or service due to an influencer post. Retailers wanting to get into the social commerce game should really consider working with people who have established and engaged audiences. These influencers often know the ins and outs of Instagram commerce more than some retailers and can connect the brand to the right people. Many were the first, for instance, to begin using the 'swipe up' feature within Instagram Stories that is available to verified accounts.


What do your analytic capabilities look like? 


Once a retailer switches their Instagram profile to a business account (doing so is easy, read how here), they will have more access to the number of impressions their posts are getting as well as their post's reach. Instagram Insights also provides information on top posts, how Stories are performing, fluctuations in the number of followers and any active promotions they are running.

Like Facebook Insights, Instagram Insights will be a good starting point for evaluating a brand's social efforts, but in order to tie real conversions to campaigns, retailers need to consider creating custom URLs to connect to their analytics system, working with an influencer platform that calculates ROI of influencer marketing and using their analytics system of choice, be able to measure key performance indicators from Instagram shoppers so they are able to adjust accordingly and know whether their efforts are paying off. 


Happy Selling


Whether your retail business is ready to jump into social commerce or not, merchants and marketers should be aware of the advancements made by the network, monitor their target audience to understand where they're spending their time, understand how today's shoppers are researching products and be aware of social's role in today's shopping journey.