At long last, Instagram is making it easier for users to shop products they see on the platform.

The image- and video-sharing app will next week begin testing a feature that lets brands add product details within the app and gives users the ability to click on outside links to purchase.

The 20 U.S.-based brands that will test the feature will be able to tag up to five products in an image (in the same way that people are now tagged). When tapped, the tags show the product name and price. Each tag opens a detailed view of the item and lets users swipe to see the other products tagged in the photo.

To make a purchase, the user can tap “Shop Now” in the product details view and be directed to the brand’s web site.

The change could solve a number of challenges from both a marketer’s and a customer’s point of view: It lets brands build on the interest of a potential customer without diminishing the organic feel of scrolling through Instagram, and it helps customers move easily between discovery and purchase.

“This is deliberately not a buy button,” said Instagram vice president of monetization James Quarles. While giving a preview of the new feature, Quarles said Instagram had not implemented a platform-wide buy button because the path from spark of an idea to a purchase is not often direct or immediate. This new feature allows more time for what Quarles described as the evaluation stage.

On social media and the mobile web, users viewing a product are often immediately asked to enter their credit card information, which is why many experts believe buy buttons have failed to ring in a mobile commerce windfall. According to a Facebook-commissioned survey, most purchases take more than a day or longer, while only 21 percent of purchases are made within a day.

But Instagram is well-regarded as a platform that is primed for discovery, and this new feature works to fill in the gaps between inspiration and monetization for brands.

“We have a really strong following and high engagement on Instagram, but the clunky transition to shopping has been frustrating for us and for our customer,” said Mary Beech, Kate Spade & Co. executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “The new shopping exploration allows her to have a seamless shopping experience.”

In addition to Kate Spade, Abercrombie & Fitch, BaubleBar, Coach, Hollister, J. Crew, JackThreads, Levi’s Brand, Lulus, Macy’s, Michael Kors, MVMT Watches, Tory Burch, Warby Parker and Shopbop will be trying out the new feature.

“This test is going to change the scope of what we, as retailers, are capable of offering on mobile,” said JackThreads chief marketing officer Ryan McIntyre. “Instead of having to transition over to the JackThreads app, our customers will be able to shop seamlessly from their social media feeds — allowing us to reach guys where they’re already hunting for what’s new.”

Warby Parker cofounder and cochief executive officer Dave Gilboa said customers often ask the brand for product details, which he described as a “bulky experience on both sides.”

During the initial testing phase, the new feature will appear to some iPhone users in the United States, and a user must follow the individual brand to see the new posts. The posts are not a form of advertising and Instagram does not make money from posts tagged with products, but Quarles said the format does lend itself nicely to advertising. For example, a brand could pay to promote an existing product post using Instagram’s targeting capabilities, which means that even nonfollowers would potentially see the post.

Going forward, Quarles said Instagram would continue to experiment with what works, but that the two main goals of the testing are to provide value to people and to make the option scalable. For now, brands have to manually add and edit product details. He pointed out that the feature was designed to not be disruptive, as every “reveal” comes with an intent, meaning the user has to select to see more details or click to a brand’s web site. Instagram will test elements such as product recommendations, the ways products are shown to shoppers, a potential global expansion and the ability to save content for later.

Ultimately, Quarles said, this might also expand to videos, which would make sense as the “see-now-buy-now” movement heats up. Designers in February, for example, might be able to tag runway videos with product details, and link to a purchase page.

Instagram, like parent-company Facebook, currently offers carousel ads that contain multiple images. It also allows advertisers to add a call to action, such as “shop now,” which takes users outside of Instagram. But this new feature would expand similar capabilities beyond advertising.

Instagram users in the past have tried a number of workarounds that direct a follower to an outside link — that familiar “link in bio” has often been the only way to direct a follower to a web link, but it requires constant upkeep as it allows for only one link.

Blogger monetization network RewardStyle’s LiketoKnow.It has an opt-in service for bloggers and followers that lets users “like” a photo to get an e-mail with product information. ShopStyle has a service that creates a landing page, accessed through a permanent bio link, that shows the products in a blogger’s recent Instagram posts. Perhaps the option most similar to Instagram’s new in-house offering is Curalate’s Like2Buy tool, which lets brands such as J. Crew create a landing page of all its recent Instagram posts, which links to corresponding product pages and acts as a curation tool that saves all of a user’s “liked” posts.

At Kate Spade, Beech said, the brand hasn’t had a method to add product details as seamlessly as this new feature allows. The brand has put descriptors of the product in the header, and linked back to the brand’s home page, but she said that most people aren’t clicking through. The brand also tried using LikeToKnow.It, but she said that didn’t offer the best customer experience.

“We were waiting to see if Instagram could find a solution that would allow us to do it directly, and we are very happy to have it,” she said.


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