Features, Trends

Retail’s New Hypebeast: Instagram Product Launch Alerts

As if social media didn’t have enough of an impact on consumer behavior, Instagram is rolling out a new pilot program in the U.S. to help brands generate excitement for their product drops. Brands that are signed up for the program can now add a “reminder button” to their stories on Instagram, which customers can click to set alerts to remind them before specific products are shoppable. Vogue Business reports that brands can also add product details and launch date hashtags to their story photos that, when clicked, will let followers set reminders for the day that the product is released. The feature will let brands send customers a push notification on their phone both the day before and then 15-minutes before a product drop goes live.

Instagram is testing “Reminders” with the intention of using it to increase the amount of purchases made with Instagram’s native checkout feature–bringing the platform ever-closer to becoming more an all-in-one shoppable vision board where customers can create look books, fill their carts, get notifications, and checkout without ever leaving the app. While pop-up shops are still all of the rage in physical retail, it won’t be long until product drops on Instagram become just as well-publicized and just as well-attended as physical store traffic in pop-ups. But could the newest social media shopping features be a way for under-exposed retail start-ups to compete with ecommerce behemoths like Amazon?

Turning Product Research Into Real Conversions

Instagram is targeting online impulse shoppers by making product drops even more hype-able on the platform. But how many consumers are actually using Instagram to make purchases? Only 11 percent of social media users in the U.S. currently shop Instagram posts, while a whopping 81 percent of potential customers use the platform for product research. Consumers who use social media to research products are just as challenging as the “just browsing” in-store consumer. And, just like physical store owners, retailers on Instagram need to figure out how to convert more potential customers into active purchasers to make the platform lucrative.

Reducing the friction points along each customer’s path-to-purchase through in-app checkout and opt-in push notifications is one way to turn followers into customers. Similar to how the fashion and beauty industries mastered the fine art of pop-up shops, brands can use their curated digital presence to generate excitement for product releases and collaborations. And limited time product drop “Reminders” let retailers bring the allure of flash sale sites–excitement, exclusivity, the “act now” factor–to their social media platforms.

A Smart Sales Channel for Niche Retail Brands

H&M, Michael Kors, Warby Parker, Adidas and Levi’s are all part of Instagram’s product launch alert pilot program, but the “Reminders” feature isn’t only geared towards big name brands. It can also be used to help small brands with devoted cult followings of consumers scattered around the U.S. create a ROI from their Instagram traffic. Brands do have to pay a fee to use Instagram checkout and they need to use an Instagram-compatible website host, like Shopify. But the potential for entrepreneurs to expand their customer base through Instagram is high. According to Eva Chen, Instagram’s Head of Fashion, it’s not all about brands that have a lot of followers, either. Chen reports that some of the brands using Checkout have as few as 3,0000 followers on Instagram. “We want to have a wide breadth of brands,” Chen said. “And supporting small businesses is something we’re really passionate about.”

While Amazon is still consumers’ default platform for generic or bulk purchases, Instagram may become the default platform for limited-edition product drops, specialty or niche retail, technology-driven fashion, sustainable apparel, and buzz-worthy beauty brands. All of the interesting, higher-ticket product categories are rife for the taking and Instagram is the new disruptor on the e-commerce scene. It also stands to reason that Instagram Checkout and its related features will become cheaper and easier to adopt in years that come, which represents an exciting opportunity for SMBs to reach new pockets of “just browsing” consumers.

Are Personalized Product Release Dates in Our Future?

Some may argue that Instagram Checkout adoption is still too sporadic to foretell a shift in how retailers convert their followers on social media. But Instagram is the most popular social media network among teenagers and it’s second only to Facebook in overall adoption. A whopping 500 million people use Instagram Stories each day. While it’s true that, for now, most customers are still only using Instagram in the inception process of their shopping journey, the platform is taking all of the necessary steps to convert browsers into consumers… and retailers will begin to follow suit. Instagram Checkout is still best for brands with fanbases that are already active on Instagram, but it could soon be to younger consumers what Facebook Ads is to older Millennials and Boomers–the feature that entices them to convert.

When it comes to incentivizing impulse purchases on social media, the fewer steps from inception to checkout, the better. Especially since any friction points represent time that customers can use to rethink their intended purchases. I wonder how long it will take for this product drop feature to become similar to SMS or text message marketing? How long until Instagram is one of the channels that companies use to hit customers with product drop information at strategic times throughout each customer’s week–like on payday? How long until brands use customer data to ensure that their products are “dropping” during key purchasing windows? Unless structures are put in place to preserve the integrity of the aforementioned product drops, it’s just a matter of time.

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