Back in 2020, Instagram launched its social shopping feature with 26 early-adopter brands. Although there has been some drop-off in brands using the platform, 21 brands still maintain a product catalog on the app. However, only 16 are using Instagram checkout.
Instagram is one of the biggest social media platforms with over 1.22 billion monthly users, of which 70.8% are under the age of 35. And despite the decline in brands using Instagram checkout, more than 130 million people still use Instagram shopping.
It’s clear that Instagram represents a significant — and underutilized — shopping platform for brands. In fact, in our latest Q4 addition of the State of Social Commerce research it is the number one destination for brands with 23% of shoppers purchasing on Instagram. So, here at SimplicityDX, we decided to test out how brands were performing on the app by conducting a mystery shopper experiment.
The Instagram launch brands includes innovators and renowned brands such as Prada, Michael Kors, Adidas, NARS, Dior and H&M. We bought a product from each brand, then returned it and scored our experience to find out what brands are doing well… and not so well! Here we’ve looked at the top and bottom performing brands in our study and pulled out some best lessons from what works, as well as the main problem areas when it comes to social commerce on Instagram.
It’s clear that social commerce is in transition. Brand enthusiasm for customers checking out on social platforms is waning, and there are multiple reasons for this. Top of the list, as this research highlights, is that customer experience when shopping on Instagram is generally poor:
- Inventory is frequently out of step, especially for faster moving product lines, leading to customers buying products that aren’t in stock and not buying products that are. This is due to limitations in Instagram’s inventory integration.
- Promotions frequently aren’t reflected on Instagram resulting in different (higher) prices being offered than on the brand’s primary e-commerce store.
- Tagging of posts is often incomplete, frustrating the customer; as they are unable to easily buy the products they see in a post.
- Assortment of products sold on Instagram is often a subset of the entire product line.
- Returns can be problematic, with some returns experiences being very poor. This is most easily addressed by putting return information in the package, bypassing Instagram.
What works on Instagram
From our mystery shopper research, there are a number of themes and best practice lessons for brands to take note of. Let’s start by looking at what brands are already doing well on Instagram and what we can learn from them.
What brands are Doing Well
All of the top-performing brands that we interacted with were really strong when it came to the post-purchase stage. The vast majority of brands delivered the product on time to us without any particular difficulties.
The one recommendation that we would make for brands looking to improve this area of their Instagram social strategy is to set up an email to confirm the dispatch of the customer’s items.
A couple of brands we’d just like to call out as really strong in this area are Michael Kors, Dior, and Anastasia Beverly Hills.
We also found that communication from brands on Instagram was really strong across the board. Messaging was clear, concise, and relevant in almost all cases.
Interestingly, the recommendation we would make in this case is to ensure that branding and messaging are consistent across all online channels — too often we see one thing on a brand site only to see something completely different on their socials.
For a great example of brand communication, check out the Prada Instagram page.
Overall, brands scored highly for consistency in our study. Most of the brands had a consistent look, feel, and messaging across their brand site and social channels. Ensuring that your brand voice is consistent and dialed in is absolutely crucial for building brand awareness and boosting customer acquisition.
The key areas for improvement here are increasing the product range on social channels and making sure marketing promotions are aligned across the brand site and socials.
We found Zara to have great consistency across all of their online channels, projecting a really strong and distinctive brand voice.
Problem areas to focus on
Now we’ve looked at what brands are doing well on Instagram, let’s take a look at some problem areas that we noticed cropped up a lot.
1. Social checkout
As we’ve already mentioned, there has been a fairly significant drop in the brands that are using Instagram checkout when selling on Instagram — 26 down to 16. This is indicative of a trend that we have observed before, with over 70% of shoppers preferring to complete their purchase on the brand site, rather than on social media.
Often, shoppers will use social media to discover new products but they are unlikely to buy on their first visit. This makes communicating with and retargeting customers difficult after the initial interaction on social media.
Brands should focus on funneling customers to their own brand site in order to complete their purchase. Not only is this what customers overwhelmingly want and in line with Instagram’s push towards advertising and away from checkouts, but it also allows brands to capture customer data for advertising and retargeting, as well as providing transparency on returns policies and refunds.
2. Landing page experience
It’s all well and good pushing customers to your own site but if your landing page is poorly optimized, you will lose those customers at the final step. In fact, according to our research, 81% of customers report a poor experience when migrating from socials to landing pages — and this was confirmed with our Instagram study.
This is due in part to landing pages not functioning correctly or displaying out-of-date information. It is also the case that brands will push customers onto product detail pages that lack the aspirational social content that had them interested in the product in the first place, in turn leading to a high bounce rate.
Brands should try to migrate shoppers to pages that have a blend of social content and product details in order to keep the customer journey smooth and engaging.
One of the major issues encountered by customers shopping on social was problems with stock. 98% of shoppers reported that they had encountered stock issues when making a purchase through social, again, something we found to be all too common during our Instagram experiment.
The first thing that a brand should do if looking to set up an Instagram store (or any social commerce promotion) is to upload their product catalog to the app. Doing this means that all of the products you are advertising on your socials are readily available to be viewed by potential customers.
You then need to ensure that your inventory on social media is regularly reviewed to keep it in sync with your real-time stock levels. This prevents customers from inadvertently buying out-of-stock items and decreases the number of refunds you have to issue.
And remember — don’t be afraid to pause or cancel promotions on your socials if you are unable to keep up with the demand.
Navigation was the number two problem we encountered during our Instagram study. Navigating brand social stores was too often a chore and left us unable to find what we were looking for.
Brands that focused on consistent tagging of their products on their Instagram stores eliminated many of the navigation issues we ran into. If you consistently tag all of the products in your posts, you make your posts shoppable — customers are able to view the product details with one tap and be taken straight to a product detail page with another.
Tagging removes a great deal of friction from the customer journey and again, increases your chances of customers making a purchase after the initial discovery stage. Shoppable posts also make it easier to direct customers to your brand site, as you can link directly to your product detail page on the post and migrate shoppers straight over.
Problems with the returns process were the top issue that we encountered when running our Instagram mystery shopper experiment. Nearly every brand we interacted with had difficulty with this step. The issue stems from a lack of transparency when purchasing through social, leaving customers confused as to how the returns process works.
However, this can be easily solved with a few simple steps. First, ensure that the product return information is included in the delivery and that the Instagram return code is accepted as part of the process.
Second, if you focus on migrating customers over to your brand site, you can mitigate a lot of the issues with returns. Often, when customers buy through social, they don’t know who to return the product to — the brand or Instagram? Eliminate this problem by having customers buy from you directly.
The cost of a poor returns process should not be underestimated by brands. Our research showed that 66% of shoppers are cautious after returning products bought on social media networks. Have a clear and transparent returns policy in place to ensure you don’t miss out on potential customers.
If you’re looking for more social commerce insights or need help optimizing your eCommerce landing pages, head over to our website for more information.
Read more about our insights on social commerce: