JackThreads on Instagram

On Monday, fashion brands became the first to test a new feature on Instagram that aims to connect the dots between product discovery and purchase.

The feature, which lets brands add product details and outside links, means that Instagram stands to expand beyond a story-telling tool to become a more direct commerce one.

The pilot program began rolling out to some users this week with 20 U.S.-based brands, and brands gradually began sharing posts that were tagged with products. When clicked, the tag opened up a “details” page with information such as product name, price and a description. From there, users can click a link to the product’s page on the brand’s web site.

JackThreads, for example, is posting a $49 flannel shirt and $65 Vans sneakers; Coach is featuring its pre-spring collection of Coach 1941, and Kate Spade is emphasizing its new personalization program with a $228 Cameron Street Lane bag and interchangeable $128 tassels.

When describing the incentive for brands to participate, many use the word “seamless,” an increasingly relevant aspect of shopping through the digital divide.

“Coach is always looking at ways to drive a seamless consumer journey,” said Andre Cohen, who is president, North America and global marketing at Coach. “This gives us the ability to broaden our reach by giving consumers even more of a reason to follow us and provide shoppable inspiration.”

The company aligned its product selection for the shoppable Instagram posts with the timing of the launch of the Coach 1941 collection.

Cohen said that Instagram has been “essential for storytelling and highlighting our brand transformation to consumers.”

In the last four years, Coach has attracted more than 1.5 million followers on the social media site. “We were a first adopter of Instagram Stories and we were the first luxury brand to host an InstaMeet, with more than 100 attendees and millions of impressions,” Cohen said. Followers regularly comment with interest in purchasing and the brand’s social presence has driven consumers to stores, where they use their phones to reference an item from Coach’s social media channels, he said. “We hope that the organic shopping feature will continue to further improve the shopping experience of our consumers.”

Other brands participating in the pilot include J. Crew, Warby Parker, Abercrombie & Fitch, Levi’s, Macy’s, Michael Kors, Tory Burch, BaubleBar, Hollister, Lulus, MVMT Watches and Shopbop.

JackThreads chief marketing officer Ryan McIntyre called it “a huge first step in the future of shopping” and a “game changer” in that customers won’t have to toggle over to the JackThreads app, or comment with purchase questions, when scrolling their Instagram feed.

The desire to shop an Instagram feed has inspired a handful of workarounds. Michael Kors, for example, lets followers shop Instagram posts with the hashtag #InstaKors.

Some companies have built services with similar features. By building it in-house, Instagram might eat away at their relevance but some say that this only emphasizes the need for social networks to serve the customer.

Curalate’s Like2Buy facilitates a shoppable landing page of a brand’s recent Instagram posts and saves users’ “liked” posts — a feature that Instagram is expected to add in the future.

“Instagram’s shoppable content initiative validates everything we’ve been building, and that has a profoundly positive impact on Curalate,” said chief executive officer Apu Gupta. “We think Instagram’s pilot program is great for consumers, brands, the partner ecosystem and Instagram. However, this isn’t just about making Instagram shoppable. It’s ultimately about connecting visual content to commerce — wherever it exists.”

J. Crew is a Curalate client and a participant in the Instagram pilot.

“The future of shopping is evolving daily,” said Jenna Lyons, president and executive creative director at J. Crew Group. “This is one more way we can see the experience coming to the customer where he or she is shopping and living. The ability to see something you love — and to get it seamlessly — is what the world expects these days.”

Blogger monetization network RewardStyle’s LiketoKnow.It has an opt-in service for bloggers that lets followers “like” a photo to get an e-mail with product information. Founder Amber Venz-Box said that the company’s service to influencers, rather than brands, will maintain relevance in social shopping.

“Businesses that were built on the back of Instagram, providing tools to retailers, were perhaps not savvy or thoughtful enough to consider the history of social networks,” she said. “Social networks attract influencers to the platform by giving them the opportunity to grow their audience. Then the network sells that audience to brands and earns revenue through advertising. The networks play in the brand sales space, and we serve the influencers; those lines are clear for us. Without the influencer, there are no ads to sell.”

Instagram doesn’t profit from its new feature, but vice president of monetization James Quarles did say that it could lend itself nicely to advertising in the future; this means a brand could pay to promote its shoppable posts beyond just followers.

In the immediate future, the observable changes on Instagram will be discrete and limited to only some users. But the capability signals a shift that, for many, was a long time coming.

A Tory Burch spokeswoman said that the brand hopes to learn whether shoppable posts increase traffic to its site, in addition to what resonates with the customer. “It will be interesting to see what drives click-through,” she said. For now, she said the Tory Burch feed will remain largely the same: ready-to-wear, shoes, handbags and accessories and a mix of personal photos, inspiration and products. Except now some of them will be shoppable.

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