Over the past few years, Instagram users might have noticed that the app morphed from a place where you turn to see your friend’s cute dog photos, into a place where you turn to see those dog photos while also buying a lot of shit you probably don’t need. If you had any doubts about the platform’s intentions of becoming a glorified digital mall, well, just look at its latest update: earlier today, the company announced that it’s expanding its beloved in-app shopping feature to support IGTV (the company’s Youtube clone) and Reels (the company’s TikTok clone). While the latter is primed for a rollout later this year, IGTV creators worldwide can now use their clips to hawk merch to viewers immediately.
If you look at the sample post that Instagram’s spokespeople sent around, the new function feels pretty similar to the app’s current setup for in-app shopping. If, say, a beauty guru wants to share a video of their #flawless makeup routine on IGTV, that video can now come saddled with a little shopping bag icon that direct viewers to a shop that’s stocked with the products from that video. Depending on whether or not that influencer’s been approved to run checkout through the app, folks can buy those products directly through Insta or through that influencer’s website.
“For creators and businesses, it’s a new way to sell in an inspirational and immersive way through long-form, edited video,” a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo. She added that in the future, shoppable IGTV videos will be browsable directly from the Instagram Shop tab.
This newfound shoppability is a way for creators to sell their goods to a mass audience, but it’s also a new way for Instagram to sell IGTV to creators that have, by and large, shirked the format because of its less-than-stellar viewership. But the allure of selling merch—and the brand deals that come with it—might be enough to convince creators to give the video format another go.
Instagram’s pretty tight-lipped about the total number of people who regularly shop on the platform, though last year, the company put out a blog post stating that since first rolling out Instagram’s checkout feature, 130 million of its monthly users were tapping on items that were up for sale within a given post. Granted, the expanse between loading up a shopping cart and actually clicking that “buy” button is a deep one.
Still, those clicks estimates were good enough for analysts from Deutsche Bank to extrapolate that e-commerce on Instagram might rake in a combined $10 billion for the company by the end of next year, with the firm telling its investors that the “momentum” this feature has—combined with the shopping features from its parent company, Facebook—might one day lead to a “standalone shopping app.” This figure is essentially business fan-fiction, but considering the current monetization strategy of in-feed and in-story ads raked in around $20 billion last year, Facebook apparently sees ecommerce as a worthy bet to make.
Instagram’s slow evolution into a glorified mall isn’t only an attempt to dethrone TikTok and Youtube’s massive base, but also Amazon’s. Bezos’s ecommerce darling had its earnings swell to insane proportions over the past few months, in part due to a global pandemic that forced just about everyone to pivot to online shopping, in some cases for good. And because advertisers tend to follow consumers wherever they are, this newfound online reliance might be one of the reasons why analysts projected that Amazon’s ad revenues would spike by a good 470% over the next three years.
That spike spells trouble for Facebook, which is, as you might remember, a company that earns close to 99% of its annual revenue through advertising. Any threat to the company’s digital ad dominance can translate into millions—or even billions—lost. And while Amazon still trails a far ways behind Facebook and Google when it comes to getting those ad bucks, it’s clearly a matter of time before Amazon’s business catches up.
This might be one of the reasons that we’re seeing Facebook and Instagram really giving their all to sell us on the shopping experience, through the Facebook Shops feature that was introduced this past spring, the ongoing rise of Facebook Marketplace, and through Instagram’s slow descent into ecommerce. Like it or not, the deathmatch between Zuckerberg and Bezos means that we’re likely to see Instagram look more like the home shopping network we never asked for.