Considering the events of the last year, it is no surprise that platforms are making interface tweaks that create more in-app shopping opportunities. Demand for social commerce was already high pre-pandemic. By 2018, 55% of online shoppers admitted to making a purchase through a social media channel. Then lockdown struck and online shopping became a necessity, resulting in almost every area of online retail speeding up – including social commerce.

This unforeseen foot on the gas resulted in almost 30% of millennials and one in four Gen Zs buying something during lockdown that they had first seen on social media. And data released by ParcelHero predicted a 95% increase in sales of products discovered on social media. The pandemic has had a monumental impact on our online shopping behaviours, and official survey data suggests changes are here to stay; making Instagram’s unveiling of the Shop tab a predictable no-brainer.

But despite the data-backed evidence, any changes to an app as big as Instagram is going to raise questions. Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, even acknowledged this in the official release. “We don’t take these changes lightly – we haven’t updated Instagram’s home screen in a big way for quite a while. But how people create and enjoy culture has changed, and the biggest risk to Instagram is not that we change too fast, but that we don’t change and become irrelevant.” he explained; evidently aware that, while pleasing brands, the update may be received with some resistance from users.

Looking at the success of Instagram Shop

So just how successful has the Shop tab been since rollout? While official stats haven’t yet been released, the former ‘Shop’ option within the Explore tab was visited by more than 50% of Instagram users each month (that’s more than half a billion people), which should provide some gauge of interest potential.

The placement of the new tab is likely to have helped usage stats in the initial stage of rollout too. Replacing the original home of notifications, you have to wonder how many users will have unintentionally tapped on the new Shop tab, thinking they were checking their personal notifications, only to be presented with a screen of temptingly personalised products to buy.

When humans interact with technology, they form habits, so it’s easy to wonder whether this was an intentional move from the platform. This of course throws up questions around Instagram’s ethics and navigation trickery. But then, thinking back to the earlier stats around the rise in shopping, it could also be argued that these decisions have been made to meet user demands.

Has Instagram introduced too many features?

Beyond the psychological aspects of the update, there is also a question over whether Instagram’s main screen is getting too cluttered; that users are simply now presented with too many options. At the same time as the Shop tab being launched, the platform also rolled out the Reels tab – adding yet another icon to our already busy screens.

Usage data over the coming months will reveal the outcome of these decisions; but while the app may have undergone a potentially risky makeover, if people spend more time, and ultimately, more money, Instagram will only continue to grow.

Despite the doubts and limited statistics, there’s no denying the obvious benefits the Shop tab can have for brands. Exposure being the main one. And not just exposure to audiences beyond their existing followers; but exposure to intent-based audiences. Users that actively visit the Shop tab are in ‘buying mode’. And with the Shop feed built to serve users with products that they’re more likely to be interested in, all based on previous engagement, brands can connect with consumers who have the right interests, in the right mindset.

How can brands optimise the Shop feature?

So, what should brands be doing to make the most of Instagram’s Shop tab? First and foremost is getting set up with Instagram Shop. Once up and running, implementing practices like hashtag optimisation will help increase a brand’s chances of appearing in the Shop tab.

Like with any good strategy, careful ongoing tracking of platform analytics should be carried out to understand which products and content types are attracting the most interest. I would also advise adding shoppable products to different content formats, such as Guides, Collections, and even Reels, to create more engaging experiences.

The Body Shop demonstrated this well with a Valentine’s Day Gift Guide featuring product suggestions, which consequently is still being served in my personal Shop tab more than six weeks after Valentine’s Day – presumably thanks to good optimisation.

Social shopping isn’t going anywhere. It might be early days for the Shop tab, but its users are already well accustomed to its role as a social shop front. Gone are the days of Instagram being a pure-play photo-sharing app. If brands want to stay ahead of the curve, they need to embrace these new features or risk becoming irrelevant. Things are only going to evolve further, with ongoing rumblings around a UK rollout of Instagram Checkout on the cards. It’s time to prepare for a future where social networking and shopping are much more interlinked.

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