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Last Tuesday, Instagram introduced a series of new features designed to help people identify, and eventually purchase, products they may come across in photos from brands in their feeds.
Like Pinterest, Instagram is trying to sell the idea that its app is a place for “discovering” goods. And it says it wants to remove some of the hurdles between the so-called moment of discovery and a purchase.
“We’ve seen pretty good progress in mobile on making purchases easier,” said Vishal Shah, Instagram’s head of product management for monetization. “But these two things — discovery and the actual purchase — are just not well-connected like happens in physical stores.”
The new shopping features don’t let you make an actual purchase inside of the Instagram app. Instead, select partners can include a “Tap to view products” icon in the lower corner of photos. Tapping on the icon brings up tags next to each product listing the item’s name and price. Another tap loads a product page inside of Instagram with more information.
But when it comes time to complete a purchase, Instagram will send people to the purchase page on a retailer’s mobile website or app. Fe-directing a person to another site to complete a purchase — especially on a mobile phone where conversion rates are already low — is a surprising decision.
Either way, these moves have been a long time coming for an industry that has been talking about this possibility for years. In the meantime, other social networks and photo-focused sites have tried to take advantage of the perceived discovery commerce opportunity with varying degrees of ... well, not really success.
Both Twitter and Facebook introduced “Buy” buttons to allow purchases of some products that people find in their apps, only to later give up on the initiatives. Pinterest’s e-commerce initiative began with a slow holiday season last year, but the company has since added a dedicated shopping section to the app, and other features that indicate it is sticking with the new business idea.
The test is only rolling out to a small group of iOS users in the U.S. to start.