instagram social shopping

Instagram is taking another step toward becoming a retail power player.

On Monday, the company revealed new updates to its social media app that officially roll out shopping in Stories, alongside a new dedicated shopping channel in the “Explore” area.

As updates go, the changes seem fairly incremental. What’s more telling is how the update shines a light on Instagram’s retail thinking and strategy. The company has been dabbling with shopping tags since early 2017, and after 90 million accounts have browsed goods or shopped them through its network, it’s learned a few things about the nature of retail.

“These features think about shopping behavior in two different ways,” said Vishal Shah, a product management director who oversees products for the Instagram Interests team. “It’s serendipitous versus window shopping.”

instagram social shopping

Instagram shopping in Stories.  Courtesy image

He frames it as a matter of intention. “[Before], there was shopping content all over Instagram, but you had to either be following it or actively seeking it out,” he told WWD. “We wanted to take specific shopping content and be able to recommend it and personalize it in a dedicated space.”

The two new features are intended as a strike on both fronts.

First unveiled as a test last June, Stories’ shopping feature — which largely works as shoppable tags in participating brands’ Instagram shares — now officially launches worldwide across 46 countries. Just as before, companies can add a product tag sticker per story, and customers can tap the visual tag to learn more about the item or add it to a shopping cart.

And following the company’s launch of topic channels in the “Explore” tab, the section is now expanding with a new “Shopping” channel. Think of it as a personalized destination for consumers who are intentionally looking for products from either brands they follow or new ones they might like. Shopping in Explore will start out Monday as a test before rolling out globally some time over the coming weeks.

“The recommendations will vary from different types of behaviors and sources and things we observe,” Shah said. “But the point is that it will only be limited to shoppable posts and shoppable products.

instagram social shopping

Instagram Shopping in Explore, full view.  Courtesy image

“Just this week, in my Explore, I came across Madewell for men, which is a new line that they announced,” Shah said. “I was following Madewell for women, because my wife loves it, but I didn’t know that they had extended their line to men. I was able to see a post from them in Explore, because [the company] thought that would be interesting to me, as an individual.”

Instagram is banking on these shopping updates as a major driver of activity. It already has a strong foundation to build from: According to the company, more than 400 million people are using Instagram Stories every day. And a third of the most-viewed stories are coming from companies such as apparel retailers and beauty brands.