COMMENT: Will this be an Insta-Xmas?

Has Instagram's "moment" arrived this Christmas? Philip Rooke, chief executive of online retailer and self-expression ecommerce site Spreadshirt, investigates.

Instagram Christmas

Could mobile shopping over take shopping via a PC this Christmas? It’s getting close.

The Centre for Retail Research found that last year 49.7 per cent of all online retail spending happened on a mobile device. Then a PwC report for the US revealed that 84 per cent of its sample will shop online. Most of the Generation Z respondents would do all of their Christmas shopping online, and half of those would only use a smartphone.

PwC’s research also revealed that 39 per cent of those Gen Zers will use buy buttons and 25 per cent said they prefer shoppable photos. But to be a less stressful experience than visiting the high street at Christmas, mobile shopping has to be simple and easy to use, as well as inspiring.

So, perhaps Instagram’s moment has arrived? They seem to think so.

The social media site is apparently working on expanding its ecommerce capabilities to make it easier to buy. Its repositioning as a shopping platform is underway in an effort to simplify the leap from Instagram image to wardrobe.

It certainly seems that, of all the social media outlets, Instagram works best in terms of connections between consumers and businesses.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg claims that two-thirds of visits to Instagram business profiles are from people who don’t yet follow them. And that four in five Instagram users now follow at least one business.

We tested this out at Spreadshirt to see if the customer journey was changing and found there was Insta-interest in our self-expression site. Our average number of web site clicks per week went up over 150 per cent. Of course it’s easy for gains to look big when you start small, but the activity is interesting. We gained new followers, established a new hashtag for our community, increased our audience and interactions.

From our test, it looks like people are beginning to use Instagram as part of their shopping process. It’s where they go to be inspired and find a unique treasure to share and buy.

This is a significant trend for us. We’re a self-expression site, where people come to personalise their stuff. Designing and buying on a mobile device is not just one click shopping. People save for later – sometimes days or weeks. They might browse and bookmark on their commute and then finish their shopping at home. Online shopping, even via Instagram, has become a two-stage process.

Of course, Christmas is slightly different. We find that consumers are more likely to spend time browsing and designing in the last quarter. And conversion rates change dramatically between the first three quarters and the last quarter – up 70 per cent in the run-up to Christmas.

So Instagram does seem to offer inspiration from someone we connect with, right next to the chance to buy. It’s user-generated content made shoppable for the community. But this is not commodity-shopping, like searching on Amazon for a new kettle. Instagrammers know they need to make their product images shareable and relatable. It could be the cure for Christmas present idea fatigue. You can check out what your friends and family like on Insta and create something that expresses who they are.

But it also needs to work. We’re the sort of ecommerce platform that supports those Instagrammers’ shops and our own mobile shopping numbers are up too. This doesn’t seem to be cannibalisation from the PC market as shoppers change their habits – it looks like new growth.

Our visits from mobile now exceed visits from PCs – up 40 per cent. Mobile sales are just behind PC sales, but catching up fast as global orders from a mobile were up 41 per cent between 2016 and 2017.

So for Instagram to have its best Christmas, it will need its users to be connected to a reliable platform. If Instagram is the shop window, online retailers are the till, the bag, the returns desk and the accounts department. Instagram may inspire and simplify the process, but you still need somewhere to make the transaction, fulfil the sale and pay the commission.

As Santa and his elves well know, Christmas is all about delivery. Santa gets round the world in a night, something that most ecommerce companies would love to be able to do. Retailers have set varying deadlines for “last orders”, in order to make sure packages are under the tree on time.

For 2018 to be an Insta-Christmas, its users will have to get more than their content right. They’ll need a platform that can process the order and deliver on time.

Philip Rooke is the CEO of online retailer Spreadshirt

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