For years, millions of brands have flocked to Instagram to educate Millennials, Gen Z, and members of other generations about the app.
And by this point, Instagram marketing has proven to be a smart tactic. Currently, 90% of Instagram's 1 billion+ users follow a business page on the platform.
While Instagram was a great place for brands to target audiences, it wasn't always easy for these companies to turn their followers into customers.
When the app started, Instagram only allowed links in profile bios. Shortly afterwards, the platform allowed users to place links in stories – but only if they had a verified account or more than 10,000 followers. This meant that smaller or less respected brands had to think strategically to get their Instagram audience to display product information, do brand research, and ultimately leave the Instagram app to buy products.
It just got easier for brands with the global launch of Instagram Shopping's shoppable posts in 2017. This was the first time a standard feed-based post or story image could be linked to a brand's Facebook product catalog. However, for this feature, Instagram users had to leave the app to make a purchase.
However, with the introduction of Facebook Shops, Instagram Checkout, and Instagram Live Shopping this summer, much of the friction between discovering products on Instagram and buying them has been eliminated.
In this blog post, I'm going to highlight the three free new tools that brands can use to make sales directly from the Instagram platform and all of the branding requirements for using them.
3 new Instagram shopping tools
1. Facebook shops
Technically, this tool was launched by Facebook, which owns Instagram. However, your Instagram followers don't need a Facebook account to use this feature to make purchases.
With the Facebook shops launched in May, brands can create online shops that link directly to a brand's Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger or Facebook business page.
When creating a free store, brands can upload bulk or individual product lists with photos, prices, and descriptions. Change the colors and text of the shop's buttons to bring it in line with the brand. and choose to have visitors buy products directly from the store or by integrating with an ecommerce website they are already using.
Facebook shops can be created on Facebook Commerce Manager. To get started, you need administrator rights for the Instagram Business or Facebook Business account to which you link the shop, as well as administrator rights for your brand's Facebook catalog.
Once a shop has been created, it can be linked directly to your Instagram business profile. When that's done, an icon labeled "View Store" will appear on your mobile profile under your bio. At this point, you can access Facebook stores on desktop through Facebook Business Profiles, but not through Instagram or WhatsApp desktop websites.
This is what the shop experience looks like when a user of an Instagram app visits the account of Ink Meets Paper, a printing company that offers a Facebook shop:
Facebook Shops, which are free to all businesses that meet the above business page requirements, are a great option for small and medium-sized businesses interested in ecommerce but lacking the time or bandwidth to run a full website to create and advertise ecommerce website related to your brand.
You can find more information about how Facebook shops work and the background to the introduction of Facebook in this post.
2. Instagram checkout
For brands that want to sell some select products on Instagram or don't have time to create a Facebook business page or catalog to open a shop, Instagram now also offers an in-app checkout experience that links to Instagram shoppable posts .
Before 2020, several brands were already using shoppable posts. These posts, often highlighting an image of a product or experience, allowed users to tap the content to view it in an online catalog off-platform.
In March, however, Instagram started a checkout function with which shoppable purchases could be made directly in the app.
In an announcement, Instagram stated that it launched In-App Checkout to keep users on the platform when they were inspired to purchase.
Adds Instagram, "Businesses can truly leverage the full Instagram shopping ecosystem to create experiences that drive awareness and transactions in one place.
Checkout for brands is currently free until at least 2021. However, after that, business sales fees may apply.
"We would also like to contribute to reducing business costs in these economically difficult times. Therefore, we will waive sales fees for companies that use Checkout on Instagram until the end of the year," says the Instagram post.
Now when users click on a shoppable post that points to the checkout feature for the first time, they will be prompted for their name, billing information, and delivery address, and can then click "Place Order" directly on Instagram. To further avoid friction losses, users can set the app to remember purchase information so that they do not have to submit it with every order.
At this point, you might be wondering, "How is this different from Facebook stores?"
Both tools allow consumers to shop directly on Instagram in a similar way. However, a shop is a mini online shop where you can buy one of many products from one brand. In the meantime, consumers can use Checkout to buy a product that they happen to see on an Instagram Shoppable post in their feed or on a brand's profile page.
In order to be able to use the checkout function, you must also meet the same requirements as for Facebook shops and the approval for Instagram shopping.
Checkout may be a great option for your brand if you want to get involved in internet sales but don't want to monitor how many products are being sold in a larger store. With Checkout, you can sell a product or two in a few posts and monitor your content for engagements and sales metrics.
3. Instagram Live Shopping
In addition to adding checkouts to posts in a feed, Instagram Live Shopping provides a similar shopping experience for live content streamed in the app.
Essentially, Instagram Live Shopping allows brands or Instagram influencers to showcase a small CTA for a product at the end of an Instagram live stream. Below is an example of an influencer discussing a product live while their checkout CTA is highlighted at the bottom of the screen:
When an Instagram Live viewer sees the checkout CTA and clicks "Add to Bag", they can either save the order for later if they want to continue watching the stream, or they can purchase the product immediately through checkout.
When a user puts a product in their Instagram bag, they can find it by going to the app's "Explore" tab and tapping "Shop" in the top navigation. On the shop page, you can then tap the bag icon in the top right corner to view mapped products:
Because users who purchase items through Instagram Live Shopping will be directed to Instagram Checkout to complete the purchase, brands must be given access to Instagram Checkout prior to using Live Shopping.
What to consider when selling products on Instagram
At this point, you may be ready to start selling your branded products using Instagram's in-app shopping features. However, as with any new marketing or sales technique, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
Your content strategy is still key.
While it sounds tempting to overwhelm your followers with posts filled with product photos or basic promotional messages and hope that users will hit the checkout button immediately, some audiences may not respond well to content that turns out to be a simple one Feel advertising.
Remember, social media users see ads with product photos and boring descriptions on a daily basis. If your content doesn't stand out from all the other promotional posts, your audience may break away from you, even if they like your brand.
Instead of posting basic pictures or videos of products associated with checkout, go a step further. For example, you can broadcast a live stream tutorial in which an influencer discusses your product, or post user-generated content such as customer testimonials. These types of content show the audience more valuable details than a simple product shot while showing how real people are benefiting your product. This could trick them into clicking and buying your items much faster.
You want to choose the right role for your company.
While shops allow customers to buy a number of different products from you at the same time, Checkout and Instagram Live Shopping allow you to access specific items or services through your content. While Facebook shops are suitable for brands that deliver multiple products at once and can handle potentially high demand, checkouts and live shopping can be beneficial for smaller businesses that are more convenient to highlight a standalone product each.
If you have a killer supply chain selling tons of products and don't have time to create content, a Facebook shop can help you move your inventory. If you have a great content team but few key products to sell, you may want to create solid product marketing content along with Instagram Checkout.
You want to monitor your metrics including sales.
While brands don't have to pay for Facebook stores, checkouts, or live shopping, the time and effort is still invested in creating and maintaining a store or content that will highlight the items sold in checkout. It is for this reason that you want to monitor the money and engagement related metrics of any strategy you are pursuing. You can use these metrics to learn what to do and what not to do. However, you can also determine if these features are worth your team's time.
If you're considering an ecommerce strategy on Instagram or any other online platform and don't know where to start your planning, bookmark our ultimate guide to ecommerce. If you want to learn how other brands transitioned to ecommerce in 2020, check out this article.