Is An Instagram Shopping App The Future Of E-Commerce?

Photographed by Lauren Maccabbee.
A cat face massager, (ill-fitting) clothes from a company called Zaful, and pet shedding and grooming gloves: These are just a few of the purchases Refinery29 staffers have made after seeing posts or advertisements on Instagram.
Soon, there could be many more. According to The Verge, Instagram is working on a standalone app called IG Shopping that would be devoted to e-commerce and allow users to browse and buy in one place. (The company also recently posted a job listing for a Product Marketing Manager for Shopping.) If released, IG Shopping would mark Instagram's third standalone app. The company debuted IGTV, a longer-form video app (you can also access it via the main Instagram app), in June. It has also been testing a standalone version of Direct — much like Facebook spun off Messenger — since December.
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News of a standalone shopping app isn't all that surprising, since people have been shopping on Instagram for years. However, early on, these exchanges were largely done on a person-to-person basis. For example, circa 2014 you might have DM'd an jewelry artist after seeing a pair of earrings you liked on their feed to arrange a way to buy it.
Instagram caught on to the app's e-commerce potential — it is, after all, already a platform that promotes discovery — and began investing in shopping more seriously a few years ago. In 2016, the app started testing a tool that let businesses tag products in posts on feed with prices, product details, and links to buy online. This expanded nation-wide in 2017 and has since spread worldwide, marking Instagram's entrance onto a global stage as an e-commerce platform. In 2018, Instagram added tools that let businesses add "start order" and "reserve" buttons to their profiles, as well as ways to filter DMs and respond to shopper inquiries more easily. The app also rolled out shopping stickers for brands to use in Stories.
Making it simpler and speedier for shops to do business on Instagram is critical, since there's some evidence Instagram-only businesses are growing. (That is, they do all of their sales, marketing, you name it, through Instagram.) According to Instagram, of the 25 million business profiles on the app as of November 2017, only 50% had a separate standalone website.
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Courtesy of Instagram.
Compared to IGTV, which has been slow to take off, IG Shopping might experience more success. For many creators, IGTV became yet another place they needed to post content, and the unknowns of creating for a vertical video format didn't help. Meanwhile, IG Shopping would likely require minimal extra work from businesses who are already active on Instagram and could serve as an important marketplace to reach millennial and Gen Z customers. However, it would need to compete with other apps that have sprung up in recent years, such as LiketoKnow.it, which has a strong user base of top influencers and enables their followers to shop looks via screenshots.
While some women who already shop on Instagram welcome the idea of a separate app, others are more hesitant. Tamiracle Williams, a legal assistant in St. Petersburg, FL, says she does the majority of her shopping online and would likely download the app if it is released to see what's there. But she cites quality as a major concern that might hold her back from purchasing anything, a lament cited elsewhere online.
"I believe the app would focus on quantity over quality," Williams says. "I used a third-party app awhile back to purchase my best friend a hoodie and it ended up being a Polaroid-sized print on a massive hoodie. It was such a bummer as it looked super cool on the app."
Instead, Williams says she would look for a similar product at a more practical rate from a site she knows she can trust. Others, meanwhile, already worry about the impact Instagram is having on their bank accounts. Then again, the same frustrations could be directed towards Amazon, where the "products related to this item" widget can prove troublesome.
For now, IG Shopping is just a rumor. But if it does come to fruition, the app could give your Prime addiction a serious run for its money.
Refinery29 has reached out to Instagram for comment.
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