Is Social Media Taking over E-Commerce? (Yes, And Facebook’s Already Winning)

If there’s one social platform out there that just might be able to steal e-commerce business away from Amazon, it’s Instagram–a visual, highly interactive and personalized platform that just added the ability for users to shop.

This comes very soon after its parent company, Facebook, launched its own e-commerce marketplace, called Marketplace, which debuted as a Facebook branded alternative to Craigslist — except without the drugs and crime and weird stuff. (Although, it took less than a week for people to post drugs and crime and weird stuff on it–but Facebook is nothing if not determined, and this clearly hasn’t slowed down the company’s e-commerce domination dreams in the slightest.)

Instagram told Bank Innovation:

Partnering brands’ posts will now have more depth, making it easier to learn about, review, and consider the looks in your feed. Instagrammers will be able to open a new detail view, showcasing up to five products with information such as product descriptions, price, and a Shop Now link. Tapping on the link will send users directly to that product on the businesses’ website, making it easier to buy the product they want.

This new feature is best defined as “shoppable photos;” a way for users to purchase retail items they might see on the app by utilizing the tagging function already built in for friends and followers.

Instagram is testing out the feature with a small number of brands to start; a user scrolling through might see an ad post by Kate Spade, for instance, where instead of having friends tagged it has products: touching the description will give users information about those products, and touching again will send them to the retailer’s site for purchase.

“This announcement also shows Facebook is clearly making payments a key part of their business, across all their properties,” says Levvel Payments Practice Lead Scott Harkey. “If leveraged correctly, this creates a huge advantage for them, as FB will now have your stored payment information that they can leverage across FB buy buttons, FB marketplace, Instagram, and other properties.”

If leveraged correctly, and that’s going to be key: Facebook has launched quite a few products since its inception, more than a few of them in e-commerce; some have stuck around, some haven’t, and some, like Marketplace, are still in their infancy. However, it’s clear that e-commerce is moving to a more social experience, which Instagram might be uniquely qualified to handle.

Firstly, it’s a completely mobile experience. The lack of consumer interest in mobile PoS payments in physical stores aside, mobile shopping has never been more popular: for the first time, mobile browsing rates actually exceeded desktop browsing.

Secondly, the fact that the users are the ones who have to make the choice to tap for the product could actually solve the puzzle of: how to display your product without it feeling like you’re bombarding the consumer, but still having the consumer, well, buy it– as brands have been seeking to do for on digital since it’s inception.

Also, unlike Marketplace or other products dedicated to online shopping the product offerings aren’t aggregated in a separate area of the app; they will appear somewhat organically in a user’s feed, with the brand awareness of the retailer still fully attached to the consumer experience.

“For now, I don’t think this will have huge uptake on Day 1, people just haven’t gotten used to shopping this way yet, but I do think it’s where commerce is headed,” says Harkey of the impact of Instagram’s entirely visual platform on the shopper’s experience. “It’s sort of like the crowd sourced version of those magazines or websites that tell you where you can buy the dress that looks like the dress the celebrity wore the night before – people want to buy things that they see other people liking, or talking about or buying.”

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