How Instagram Changed the Way We Shop

Jun 23, 2020

Instagram started as a social network whose focus was on visual story-telling — sharing photos in short. This proved to be a good strategy for the social network because it was able to quickly catch the attention of regular users and businesses alike. Soon enough, the features Instagram started implementing started influencing its audience — mostly Millennials — in some very specific ways.

If LinkedIn changed the way we search and are being sought after — for a job, and if Facebook changed the way we socialise, then Instagram is the social network that is influencing our purchasing decisions depicted by the visual content.What’s so Special About Instagram?

Instagram’s unique selling point is that it’s a social network that relies primarily on visual content — photos, to be more specific. As such, it stands out among other social networks that are more focused on text-centric content, such as Twitter and Facebook, and it’s living proof of the cliché that a single image is worth a thousand words.

The visuals-first nature of Instagram is what’s behind one of the most interesting new developments that came about in the social media sphere — the influencer. Instagram also became famous as a kind of ground zero for the popular phenomenon. People who can attract a large following on the social network can leverage it when making deals with businesses.

But it’s not just the influencers who jumped on the bandwagon — brands are prominent members of the Instagram community. Not only through deals and endorsements but also because Instagram is a great platform for establishing a presence and reaching an audience. And it’s not just brands who’ve noticed it — businesses of all kinds are flocking to the social network.

Jeff Bullas

Consumers want to hear from people they idolise and respect. They trust these recommendations more than advertising from brands

How Does All of This Affect the Way We Shop?

So, we know Instagram is a popular social network with a growing audience. We know it’s a primarily visual social network, i.e. that its content tends to be photos. Businesses and brands are using it to reach an audience, and some influencers serve as intermediaries between businesses and consumers.

These circumstances converge to affect the way we shop in more than a few distinct ways. Here’s how the way we shop has changed thanks to them.A different kind of social proof

People often need a certain kind of nudge to move them towards making a purchase decision. Sometimes, that nudge comes in the form of social proof. You see someone else is using something, or going to buy it, or merely discussing it, and that’s enough to launch you on a shopping spree.

What Instagram changed here is that the influencer has become a major provider of social proof. Influencers are not celebrities (even though they might be, depends who you talk to) in the classic sense. Social networks allow two-way communication, making influencers more akin to an acquaintance than a far-away famous person. That’s probably at least a part of what makes them so effective at dishing out social proof. 

Experiences and lifestyles reign supreme

You debate about how much of what you see on Instagram is real and how much is the product of photo editing programs all you want. That won’t change the fact that people like what they see on Instagram, and often it’s aspirational content they want to look.

In that sense, lifestyle and, even more importantly, experiences, have become a major driver in our decision-making process when it comes to shopping. If you’re active on Instagram, you’re bombarded with post after post of people selling a product by wrapping it up in an appealing experience. The product becomes a gateway we can use to feel the same way we imagine the person in an Instagram post felt. 

Preference for Instagramable products and services

Here’s another way Instagram might have changed the way you shop: do you consider how photogenic something is before you buy it? Do you even judge the coffee shops and restaurants you visit by how good they’d look in an Instagram post? Have you ever posted a photo of a yummy-looking coffee or dessert on Instagram?

Businesses have noticed that people are taking appearances into account for certain products more than they used to. Everything from clothes to baked goods is now designed to look good when photographed and posted on Instagram. Why? Because businesses have figured out that Instagramable sells.

Instagram is ushering social commerce

It’s sometimes hard to remember that Instagram is, after all, a social network. It’s where people come to see what the brands and people they follow are up to and to post updates on their goings-on. That’s what Instagram was built for in the first place, right?

But while you’re at it, why wouldn’t you be able to shop something you find you like? Why wouldn’t a post give something that’s not just content — it’s an opportunity to purchase. With shoppable posts, that becomes a reality. The consequence is that people are starting to go to social media to make a purchase, not just window-shopping.

We’re spending money on weird stuff

When Instagram becomes a window into your life — or your ideal life — it can bring a lot of change into your life. Some degree of fame you get from it aside, even keeping appearances on the hyper-edited social network can shift the way you live your life and spend your money.

Just think about how many photos of personal milestones you’re seeing on Instagram. Not just regular photos, but professionally lit, shot, and edited photos. You don’t have to spend money on content on other social networks, right? But for Instagram, hair, lighting, photo angles and makeup start to matter more.