Publishers see opportunity in Instagram Shopping

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It used to be that Instagram Shopping, or the ability to sell wares on the social platform, was limited to influencers and retail brands like Nike or Kylie Cosmetics.

Now, however, a select number of publishers is also being invited to test the platform as an e-commerce tool. Now, publishers like Group Nine, Condé Nast and Highsnobiety are testing Instagram Shopping as a way to combine their large Instagram followings with their burgeoning e-commerce operations.

“It signals a whole new era for what this might be,” said Brian Lee, Group Nine’s evp of commerce. Lee said Group Nine approached Facebook about being able to make their Instagram posts and Stories more shoppable and by early September, they, along with other publishers, were invited to test it out.

So far, Group Nine has been selling its own products, such as Dodo-branded merchandise, and a collaboration between The Dodo and direct-to-consumer brand Sock Club that donates 10% of sales to help critically endangered species. The collection of six Dodo-branded socks launched just two weeks ago and in the past week, Lee said nearly half of site traffic for the socks came from Instagram.

Like Group Nine, Bon Appétit has also been testing out this new feature by selling its own merchandise, which includes branded shirts, hats, sweatshirts and other items, some of which feature the publication’s popular test kitchen editors-turned-influencers. On Sept. 27, Bon Appétit posted its first shoppable Instagram post, and since then, every post relating to its merchandise store has included shoppable links.

“The most recent [merchandise] drop, in terms of Instagram performance, was even more successful than the initial drop [in August],” Rachel Karten, associate director of social media for Bon Appétit and Epicurious, wrote in an email. “It got over 54,000 likes and 1,875 comments — putting it at one of our most commented posts of all time. We had always seen our followers say on social ‘make BA merch!’ so we knew that these drops would play very well to this audience specifically — but to see it continue to grow like this is really exciting.” Clicks from the shoppable links have been “incremental,” and Karten said, “So far, we’re definitely pleased.”

On Friday, 15-year-old lifestyle news publisher Highsnobiety debuted its first ever shoppable Instagram post, promoting 20 one-of-a-kind upcycled pieces made by artist Nicole McLaughlin, ranging in price from $50 to $300 each. The $50 pieces sold out in just three minutes and all items were sold by Sunday. The company just launched its e-commerce operations in May, and U.S. PR lead Jennifer Ong said its strategy revolves around the art of the drop, with products sold on Instagram likely being exclusive to the platform.

“Within Instagram, the drop feature enables customers to set reminders about product launches, so they get a notification once the product is available, with the option to buy them right on Instagram,” Ong said. She said so far Highsnobiety is pleased that customers can opt into reminders and notifications and she described the shopping experience as “seamless and intuitive.”

Invited publishers don’t pay any commission to Instagram for any conversions. Karten said, “The analytics are somewhat minimal. I’d love to see more granular numbers and tracking at some point.”

Group Nine, Highsnobiety and Bon Appétit would not disclose specific numbers related to conversions or sales being driven via Instagram, but it’s an area where mobile-first social media platforms have generally had mixed results and apps are still evolving to become more shoppable.

Instagram isn’t the only platform testing out how successfully it can marry commerce with content. YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat are also investing heavily into this space, but Lee said that, with varying degrees, publishers find the process to be “very manual” and that more is needed to make e-commerce simpler and easier to conduct on those channels.

“It’s slowly growing to become a big, big part of our overall meaningful sales,” Lee said of Instagram Shopping.”Not just for The Dodo, but it will also be a main channel for a lot of our other brands like Thrillist, Now This, Seeker and PopSugar. “We think this feature is going to be huge for that category, for fashion, fitness and wellness.”

At the moment, only a handful of publishers testing out Instagram Shopping are able to use the Instagram Checkout feature, which lets consumers pay for and manage their purchases all within Instagram. Highsnobiety was one of the first, although that feature is currently only available in the U.S.

Consumers who click on the shoppable posts from publishers like Group Nine and Bon Appétit are being directed to offsite websites, but those publishers have found it’s a significant improvement from previous promotions.

“When we send our followers off-platform, we typically direct them to our link in bio,” Karten said. “It can sometimes feel like a clunky process, especially when we are asking them to buy something, so I love that we can keep the purchase within platform. It feels like a more seamless process than the link in bio. I also like how I don’t have to list out prices in the caption — they are right there on the image for our followers to see.”

Going forward, both Lee and Karten said they’d like to have the ability to sell more things on Instagram. They said the possibility of adding affiliate links would be especially welcomed by publishers. “I could also see how opening up this feature for publishers to use on sponsored posts (linking directly out to the product that paid for the sponsorship) could be powerful,” Karten wrote.

Both said they’d also like the ability to sell event tickets via Instagram, or subscriptions, whether for magazines or subscription box services.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect how quickly and how many of Highsnobiety’s items were sold.

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