With no “Buy Now” button, Instagram’s interface poses a challenge to e-commerce, but this hasn’t stopped the fashion industry from wholeheartedly embracing the social media platform. On the contrary, fashion is drawn to Instagram like a moth to light, with users hanging on every runway show, collection preview or “candid” selfie.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, creates an emotional connection between brands or designers and the customer, making followers feel like they are part of the action. The platform has taught fashion folk the importance of creating a digital brand identity and engaging with customers. While Instagram photos are not shoppable, brands are continuously creating ways to monetize social media through Carousel and dynamic ads, third party apps, and “influencer” (that dreadful word that refers to anyone with a substantial social following) marketing.
In March 2015, Instagram rolled out Carousel ads: a sponsored slideshow advertisement that appears on users’ Instagram feeds. The “Learn More” button creates a call-to-action, directing users away from the platform and giving them the opportunity to shop or read more. This week, in addition to Instagram’s fun logo and updated design, the platform introduced dynamic ads. Dynamic ads are visible to a mobile user after they visit a website or app, then later visit Instagram and show products related to that search. The ads feature a single image with a link in the caption or a multiproduct carousel ad, giving advertisers a customizable way to target consumers.
For smaller brands and designers, the second monetization tactic, third party apps and websites act as a place-filler for the lack of a “buy” button. Sites like Like2Buy and LIKEtoKNOW.it tap into Instagram's full potential, measuring engagement, traffic, and revenue at the post and product level. As spearheads of Like2Buy and LIKE.toKNOW.it, bloggers and influencers became another tool for brands to tap into to drive sales. When strategically chosen, partnering with a powerful influencer can boost sales, grow a brand's customer base and increase engagement.
Eva Chen, head of fashion partnerships at Instagram is the perfect example of an influencer whose 578K following makes her a dream partner for brands. Her ability to curate a visual story, balancing behind the scenes photos with her signature #EvaChenPose, are proof to her understanding of well-rounded content. “The new generation of shoppers are inspired by lifestyle as much as product,” Chen explains to The Independent.
The importance of the “experiential” is increasingly becoming more important for followers. Catering to this trend, designers like Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing, Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci and Marc Jacobs don’t just hawk collections, they use Instagram as a storytelling medium. “You're on this journey with them [designers], sure, a very glamorous and cool journey with those guys. And with new young designers, you also get to grow with them,” says Chen.
Compared to other platforms, Instagram’s viral potential is further reaching. This reach makes it a powerful outlet for fashion to reshape not only the way users buy clothes but also how fashion is sold. Instagram’s impact on fashion is not limited to e-commerce potential but also opens doors for talent discovery and brand development. Nevertheless, quantifying the impact of Instagram is challenging. Whether impressions and engagement rate directly equates to sales remains questionable. For now, it is up to the fashion industry to find a balance between inspirational and promotional and for the consumer to guide the industry based on their digital consumption.