For Christmas, Instagram becomes one giant shopping catalogue

Instagram shoppable tags
Shopping on Instagram is only available to a select group of people on iOS devices within the US for now

If further proof of Facebook’s relentless drive to raise profits at Instagram was needed, it’s here now and just in time for the Christmas buying season.

The blood has barely dried on our Halloween costumes and already news is drifting in of Instagram’s attempt to cash in on the biggest shopping season of all. The social media network, long considered the perfect place for brands to showcase their latest products, is pushing the bar further with shoppable tags, it said in a statement. Launched on select iOS devices in the US on November 1 with 20 brands such as Kate Spade and J Crew, the feature lets brands tag products in the same way you might tag a friend or follower.

How it works

Posts from each of the 20 brands will have a ‘Tap to view’ function just below a photo. Tap on the icon and tags will appear on up to five products in the photo, complete with pricing information if the brands so desire. Tapping on the tag throws up a detailed view of the product itself.

A ‘Shop now’ tag under the product view takes users out of the app to the brand’s website to actually complete the purchase. Think of it as a sort of augmented reality catalogue, with everything except the buying taking place within the app.

The new strategy is in addition to the advertising it already accepts, pushing sponsored posts at users. Instagram’s Vice President of monetisation (yes, that really is a job!) told Bloomberg that the attempt is part of a broader strategy to get users to buy products online. The next move will be decided based on users’ behaviour, James Quarles said.

“Instagram is super visual. We have a well-defined graph of your interests based on what you’re following, and the serendipity of discovery happens every day through the ad products and who you follow,” he told the wire.

Hard for independents

That quirky, charming stumble-upon nature of the app is what makes it a success, and now it looks as if that may change, as the algorithm slowly but surely gets fine-tuned to promote those posts with shoppable – and therefore paid for – tags. This will make it harder than ever for independent brands to stand up and be noticed  – unless, that is, they pay for the pleasure.

Instagram has 500 million users and Facebook is probably looking for new ways to make money on the $1 billion investment it made four years ago.

Nothing wrong with that, but are users going to stand for such straightforward commercialisation? Seeing as we don’t mind so much with all the news feed changes at Facebook itself, it’s a strategy that’ll probably reap dividends.

Big Blue itself, meanwhile, is expected to report another massive quarter, CNBC says, quoting a Reuters survey. Analysts expect the company to grow revenue by a staggering 54 per cent over the same period last year, marking the fourth straight quarter of sales over 50 per cent year-on-year.

However, its number of monthly unique users is falling, which probably explains why it needs Instagram to start making serious money soon. That’s all it wants for Christmas.