Insta-Gratification: Social Shopping

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Social media, particularly Instagram, has spurred “influencer culture.”  An influencer culture where a single aesthetically pleasing image of an influencer wearing a faux fur coat during Fashion Week can propel fashion lovers around the globe to search for similar styles and brand pages.

This short interaction can generate thousands in revenue for a brand through a single post. According to Launchmetrics, during 2019 Milan Fashion Week, Chiara Ferragni’s Prada outfit post generated a Media Impact Value of $475k with an increase of 24% in traffic to Prada’s website and a 200% increase in clicks on “headbands.” Despite staggering statistics, is this short-lived hype and does it only apply to a single item? Does social commerce only work for established brands? With the advent of Instagram “Shops,” “Checkout,” collection launches, and live story shopping tags, it is important to understand what value Instagram holds for the future of shopping for consumers and the future of selling for brands.

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In the summer of 2018, Instagram held a “Social Shopping Masterclass” in the presence of Madewell, Cynthia Rowley, and BirchBox among many others. Business of Fashion details the event by noting a remark by Vishal Shah, Director of Product for Instagram Business, “Shopping isn’t a linear journey. It’s not even a funnel, in the typical sense. We actually refer to it as the noodle. That noodle is about to become the way a big part of the world consumes.” This is an important consideration given that we now live in an omni-channel retail world where brands are expected to provide a seamless customer experience whether in a physical store, on an online shop, or on a social media page. Social media, then, plays an important role in this journey; however, can their role be even more influential in the future?

China is a master in providing this omni-channel experience by taking advantage of the “stickiness” of social media in its ability to grab and keep user attention in an addictive manner. Partially due to China’s governmental structure, they provide what Armando Roggio for PracticalEcommerce calls “The Stack,” which is made up of “social media, technology capabilities, content, and an owned retail channel.” On WeChat, for example, a single influencer can sell $60 million worth of product on a single livestream. WeChat alone “drove 250 billion in ecommerce in 2020. And for social commerce, many people expect the market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 38 percent for the decade,” so it is critical for Instagram to latch onto this growth. With a well-integrated shopping platform, Instagram has the full stack with incredible potential to disrupt retail in the United States.

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BusinessofApps 2021 Instagram statistics report details metrics relative to Instagram Shopping. According to a survey, “54% of respondents said they bought something after seeing it on Instagram. 87% said they took some action after seeing product details on Instagram.” These actions include searching for more information, visiting brand websites, or visiting a retail store. It is clear then that Instagram plays a huge role in fostering action as well as significant conversions but is the value weighted toward larger brands? Is Instagram Shopping mainly limited to the product discovery of a single item without much value being attributed to continuous multi-item purchases and loyalty?

A look into Andrea Wazen, a small shoe business with growing popularity, offers some answers. Now, there is no doubt that Instagram offers a platform for small businesses to boast products and gain a following through aesthetics, awareness, and virality. According to Andrea Wazen in her interview with Business of Fashion, however, “consumers aren’t buying shoes directly off Instagram itself, at least not in large numbers. Customers use Instagram Checkout mainly to check prices before heading over to our own ecommerce site,” despite “100% of clients, whether in store or online, coming directly from Instagram.” There is clearly then a gap between Instagram’s shopping features and the consumer desire to make a purchase directly on the site. Instagram, in this case, is not the one-stop shop it attempts to be, but this provides a perfect example of the wonders of omni-channel retailing. Even though consumers leave Instagram’s platform before making a purchase, they still follow through along a noodle shaped journey to eventually make that purchase- in other words, a sale is a sale is a sale. Andrea Wazen benefits from this consumer journey that involves multiple touchpoints since consumers may have interacted with multiple products across channels; however, the experience is not necessarily optimized for the consumer whose experience could be made more efficient with less touchpoints. Dissonance then forms between the social platform and fashion brand with the need to merge the entire consumer journey onto the platform in a way that benefits both brand and consumer.


Image courtesy of @andreawazenofficial on Instagram

During Fashion Weeks this past and current year, Instagram has served as the hub for fashion content from inspiration to purchases. According to a spring 2021Launchmetrics report, “brands overall showed a 57% increase in their Instagram Owned Media posts which led to an increase of 131% in the total MIV® of Owned Media.” A particular spotlight can be shone on Burberry whose fall 2021 menswear campaign featured Instagram posts of primarily Asian celebrities dressed in Burberry taking pictures in branded folding chairs to signal their taking a virtual seat at the show. One post in particular, from NCT’s Jaehyun, a popular K-pop group member, earned over two million likes. These likes, however, do not necessarily equate to sales, but Burberry was certainly able to capture a large Asian audience which likely led to an increase in sales. A Jing Daily report, for example, marked Burberry as the winner of London Fashion Week in resonating with a Chinese audience. Instagram can serve a brand in creating fashion campaigns to foster sales in targeted areas when sales in other areas are lacking, especially during the current health pandemic. More established brands have an advantage in leveraging this ability; however, this does not mean that small brands cannot benefit from the platform’s features as evidenced by Andrea Wazen.

All-sized brands seem to benefit most from features on Instagram Stories in particular. Many fashion presentations in the past year have posted about presentations on Instagram with the ability to set a countdown to the show, as well as a reminder for users who may be interested in watching. According to Chantal Fernandez for Business of Fashion, “more users watch longform video and livestreams on the platform than they did before the pandemic with views up by 70%.” Instagram now features shopping tags for live videos and shoppable product tabs on the “Discover” page. These features essentially create the multi-channel presence on one channel; A user may watch a shoppable livestream, then visit that brand page, click on the shop tab to discover more products and make a purchase while staying on Instagram throughout the entire journey. This is close to the beauty seen in Chinese social commerce where every feature is in perfect harmony without ever having to scroll through different touchpoints.

Image courtesy of @_JeongJaehyun on Instagram

More sophisticated and integrated features mean a move from single product impulse buys to thoughtful purchases that span an entire product range. The future is that of a consumer browsing an entire collection through an Instagram story on the “Discover” page, viewing the integrated website through the “Shop” tab on Instagram, then checking out on the site without ever leaving. A consumer may also see an item they like and immediately buy. This purchase may cause the same consumer to scroll through the “Shop” tab to go through the discovery phase post-purchase which can cause more frequent purchases. The “Discover” tab then reflects this interest and promotes branded products to create a loyal consumer. The omni-channel strategy can essentially be replicated on a single platform. This strategy would be made even more effective through features that are aimed at increased personalization which Instagram has the consumer data to be able to develop. With more perceived channels, Instagram can get even closer to disrupting social commerce in the U.S.

—Tessa Swantek

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