Instagram Is Letting Brands Test Taggable, Buyable Products in Photos

Feature launched with partners like Kate Spade and J. Crew

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Instagram is moving further into the world of ecommerce by allowing brands to test taggable products in their photos.

The Facebook-owned app is beginning to test organic posts that let nearly two dozen retail brands tag products for sale in photos that lead directly to a brand's website. The feature, announced today, is launching with partners including Kate Spade, J. Crew, Warby Parker and Macy's.

While the beta is limited, successful tests could later lead to running similar products in ads and across Instagram's Explore section, according to James Quarles, Instagram's vp of monetization. He said the feature is not meant to shorten the number of steps between discovering and buying a product, but instead meant to "reduce the friction" between each step. Quarles said a longer term goal is to also let users save content to return to later. (According to a Facebook-commissioned survey conducted this year by Kantar, only 21 percent of all purchases are made within a day of discovery.) 


Quarles said Instagram has three goals for the test:

  1. How easy is it to discover the tags?
  2. How much value does it create for businesses?
  3. How native does it feel for users?

"I think one thing that is very core to the design here is design for intent," he said. "Some people just want to go straight past this post. They'll see a little shoppable indication on the lower left corner and not have any interest. But for others, the step-by-step process for revealing more information as you express intent, I think really made it for Instagram."

As a part of the test, Kate Spade will be focused on its personalization initiative debuting this fall. The product, a handbag, will be featured along with straps, tassels, stickers and patches that can be sold separately for a custom design. In an interview, Kate Spade CMO Mary Beech said many of the company's customers use social media for inspiration, but until now the process of going from inspiration to shopping online has been "very clunky."

"This opportunity to have a product through Instagram that allows our customer—if she should choose—to shop directly from the piece of content seems like such an easy decision to make, and a customer-centric decision," she said.

Ecommerce accounts for about 20 percent of business, Beech said, and that's increasingly happening on mobile. While she wouldn't say what percentage mobile accounts for in terms of all Kate Spade website traffic, she said it's having a "drastic" increase since May 2016.

According to Beech, marketing on Instagram has until now served as more of a brand awareness tool, but she said tools like taggable products could help the retailer to focus more on actually selling through social.

Digital is also a large component of Kate Spade's marketing budget, making up around 70 percent of total spend when compared to print. The company hasn't set any metrics for how well it hopes the taggable products will do, but Beech said they'll be closely watching engagement.

"We're more in a wait-and-see mode," she said.

This isn't the first update Instagram has launched this year focused on retailers. In May, the company introduced dynamic ads that allow retailers to target ads to users featuring products they'd left in their shopping cart across the internet. Before that, it launched carousel ads for video, which allow advertisers to include as many as five swipeable videos and photos in the same ad.

Quarles said Instagram has no plans to share revenue with brands, allowing companies to keep all of the revenue they might receive as a result of the taggable product tests.

"This really does create what we're hoping for from a community value and a business value standpoint," he said. "I think it elevates the role that Instagram plays for businesses. We've definitely already got the shop window to tell you who (retailers) are as a brand and what it looks like through their eyes. Now we have this look book … This is like the product catalog."

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.