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Growing a business

Selling on Instagram: Where products and people connect

Since its inception, Instagram has been the network of choice for digital brands. Across niches, it’s proven to attract, sell to, and make cult-like followers out of customers.


Because unlike other social networks … the visual nature of Instagram means its one of the few places that people and products connect.

On the back of stylish photography, imaginative videography, and deeply personal storytelling, an army of brands have catapulted themselves from ideas to products to multi-million-dollar success.

With the introduction of shoppable posts — known officially as Shopping on Instagram — eCommerce retailers now have an even greater opportunity before them.

According to Instagram’s data, roughly two million of the 25 million companies currently use the platform for advertising and sales. What’s more …

  • 60% of people say they discover new products on Instagram
  • 33% of the most-viewed Instagram Stories are business accounts
  • 80% of Instagram’s one billion monthly users follow at least one business

Options for selling on Instagram

Currently, eCommerce retailers in the US and 58 other countries have four options for selling on Instagram (with a fifth available exclusively to select beta brands).

For the first four — the publicly available options — each allows merchants to “tag” an image or video within a post with a product from the company’s Facebook catalog. The tagging includes:

  • Product name and description
  • Cost (including optional discounts)
  • Direct link to the product page or pages onsite

1. Shoppable Posts

The first option is to tag products within individual Instagram posts. These posts can be single pictures, a carousel, or a video.


Up to five products can be tagged in a single photo or video


And up to 20 products for carousel posts


2. Shoppable Stories

Similarly, through the Stories interface, retailers can add a product “sticker” to the image or video allowing shoppers to swipe up to the product page.


3. Shoppable Collections

Similar to any other organic post, users can save (bookmark) shoppable posts. However, Instagram automatically collects Shoppable posts in a separate Shopping folder.

The other place Collections are used — though not user generated — is within the Search screen. There, Instagram functions much like a virtual mall, where users can browse and filter by categories.


The other place Collections are used — though not user generated — is within the Search screen. There, Instagram functions much like a virtual mall, where users can browse and filter by categories:


4. Shoppable ads on Instagram

Instagram Ads and Story Ads provide yet another opportunity for eCommerce companies to sell on Instagram. 

“Regular” Instagram Ads appear as sponsored posts as users scroll through their feed. Story Ads are presented to users as they view the Stories from the accounts they follow.


It’s worth mentioning that you’re not really selling on Instagram through these options. Rather, you’re using Instagram to link to specific product pages on your own website. 

For example, clicking the product tag in this post from The 5TH …


… will bring you to this screen within Instagram:


From there, the user clicks “View on Website,” which brings them to the product page onsite:


However, that may change in the near future.

5. Native Shopping on Instagram

In March 2019, Instagram revealed the beta of its new in-app Checkout feature, allowing consumers to purchase products directly from a company’s or influencer’s Instagram posts.


Though this option is not currently available for small retailers, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Instagram continue to push for more growth in this area moving forward.

Benefits of selling on Instagram

Instagram doesn’t just provide “yet another sales channel” that may or may not help your business grow. Companies in a wide variety of industries and niches have experienced huge success while selling on Instagram. 

That’s because …

Instagram has a massive, engaged audience

As of last year, Instagram boasts over one billion monthly active users.

Of that billion, 60% of them — 600 million people — use the platform to discover new products and brands. What’s more, 75% of Instagram users say they’ll take further action (such as visiting a website or making a purchase) after engaging with a post they appreciate.

While engaging Instagram followers in any way is good for business, the best-case scenario is for them to make a purchase right off the bat. With Shoppable Instagram posts, that decision is easy to make.

Instagram provides various content options

Instagram is built on the creation of multimedia content in a variety of forms.

This means you have a multiplicity of options when creating content. These options allow you to present your products in just the right way to engage your audience and get them to convert.


Because Instagram is all about creativity, your team can feel free to experiment with the formats and tools the platform provides.


This can help you fine-tune your brand’s messaging and overall “style,” which can help you generate the right type of following (i.e., the type who want to purchase from you).

Instagram's advertising tools are best-in-class

In addition to providing multiple options for advertising, Instagram’s targeting and reporting capabilities are second-to-none.

Through Facebook’s advertising tools and technology brands can use Instagram to:

  • Uncover high-probability audiences and individual target customers
  • Develop and deliver multiple ad campaigns targeting specific audience segments
  • Retarget audiences across channels with multiple offers delivered over time and based on their engagement onsite or on social
  • Dig into broad and granular data regarding the performance of their various campaigns

This enables brands to more effectively engage their audience not just on Instagram, but on their other marketing and sales channels, as well.

Instagram continues to look to the future

The future of selling on Instagram is bright for companies in a number of industries.

Instagram released Shoppable posts in June 2016, which quickly caught on among the platform’s audience. This led Instagram to expand the “Shoppable” feature to brand’s Stories—which also quickly grew.

Now, the team is unrolling the new Checkout feature … and it’s very likely the pattern will continue.

The point is Instagram is incredibly dedicated to its eCommerce initiatives — meaning the platform will continue to be a hotbed for commerce-related activities well into the future.

Challenges of selling on Instagram

Though selling on Instagram can be beneficial for your eCommerce business, it’s not without its drawbacks …

Lack of control over CX and user data

One potential flaw in the concept of selling directly on Instagram (via the upcoming Checkout feature) is that it requires brands to relinquish control.

Since sales will actually occur on Instagram, the customer’s entire shopping experience with brands will be “wrapped” in their overall Instagram experience.

In other words, it won’t be possible for brands to differentiate their Instagram Checkout experience beyond that which Instagram allows.

(While Instagram will likely address this in some way, the fact remains that the experience won’t be completely “yours.”)

Additionally, Instagram will also have control over any data collected from customers during on-channel purchases. Though Instagram’s reporting tools are robust and informative, brands will, again, only be privy to that which Instagram decides to share.

Low average order value

Another issue online retailers often face is generating low-value orders on the platform. This may be due to the nature of the current purchasing process on Instagram. 

When a user clicks on a product tag on Instagram, they’re brought to that product’s page on the company’s website. From there, they can quickly add the item to their cart and finalize their purchase.

The problem is that the customer — perhaps unwittingly — becomes focused on purchasing that item and that item alone.

Once they become focused on one item in a given post, they may end up forgetting about the other products the post featured.

The newly-introduced Checkout feature does seek to alleviate this issue in the near future. Rather than whisking customers away to a completely different channel, Checkout allows users to add multiple items to their on-Instagram cart.

Ideally, this will lead Instagram users to keep their options open when shopping on the platform.

“Serial returners”

Instagram’s various eCommerce-related features are making it quite easy for consumers to make purchases. For eCommerce retailers, this can be a double-edged sword. 

On the one hand, it’s a good thing that Instagram is smoothing out the buyer’s journey. After all, the easier it is for your customers to convert, the more likely they are to do so.

On the other hand, this ease of purchasing may also lead to a rise in impulse purchases — which, in turn, can lead to an increase in returns.

So-called “serial returners” — impulse buyers who end up returning most of their purchases — have posed a major problem for eCommerce companies in recent years. 

Though not unique to brands who sell on Instagram, it’s still an issue that you’ll need to deal with as you increase your investment into the platform.

These challenges mean mastering Instagram isn’t as easy as just setting up.

Now you have the lowdown on the options available for selling on Instagram, and the potential challenges, there is no better time to get started and to set your business on the next phase of growth.

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