The Differences Between Shopping on Instagram and Checkout on Instagram Every Brand Should Know

It’s that time of year again – brands are making their final tweaks to their eCommerce marketing and technology plans for the holidays. I’m hearing many questions about using Instagram as more than just a marketing channel and viewing it as a commerce channel that powers conversions directly. I’m also seeing several eCommerce platforms pushing sales efforts around the ability to shop and buy on Instagram, creating more confusion. 

Instagram is a powerful platform to drive customer engagement and brand loyalty, and now it’s becoming a platform that powers new purchases for many brands. Instagram made big waves in the eCommerce world when they rolled out Shopping on Instagram in 2017 and then Checkout on Instagram earlier this year. However, with all of the hype, many brands I’ve spoken with recently don’t understand how these two options differ and which option is available to their brand today. 

Shopping on Instagram and Checkout on Instagram are the name of two specific Instagram services. Shopping on Instagram is a process by which brands can create a post or a story that contains callouts to particular products. Interacting with those callouts then takes users to the product page on the brand’s website to view more details and purchase the product.

Checkout on Instagram is similar, but with one key difference – the transaction takes place entirely within the Instagram app. When users interact with a callout to a product from a brand that participates in Checkout on Instagram, they enter their billing, shipping, and payment information directly in the Instagram app. All communication about the order takes place within the Instagram app. The user’s data is saved in the Instagram app so that future purchases from that brand – or any other brand participating in Checkout on Instagram – are faster.

Shopping on Instagram requires brands to submit a product feed to Facebook, which is then also used on Instagram. Checkout on Instagram requires that same feed – and substantially more work beyond that. Because checkout takes place entirely within the Instagram app, brands must integrate deeply into Instagram’s systems to provide sales tax, shipping and other information to Instagram as it builds the cart. This deep integration means that the Checkout on Instagram program isn’t available to all merchants – it’s a closed beta. While some platforms are claiming any merchant can sign up for their platform and be guaranteed access to Checkout On Instagram, that’s not the case – Instagram considers requests to their closed beta program on a case-by-case basis. 

I’m a bit cynical about Checkout on Instagram. It requires a high level of effort, disrupts existing processes/procedures, provides all of your customer and commerce data to Instagram (owned by Facebook) for what is an unclear advantage over simply using Shopping on Instagram with a well-optimized mobile commerce site. You’re building customers for Facebook/Instagram, not for your brand, when you use Checkout on Instagram. Finally, I was involved with almost the exact same initiative at Pinterest – in 2015, Pinterest launched Pinterest Buyable Pins, which provided this exact same experience on Pinterest. By 2018, Pinterest announced they were shutting down the Buyable Pins program and reverting everyone to Product Pins. Product Pins (which are similar to Shopping On Instagram) proved to be more successful for both Pinterest and brands than Buyable Pins (which are similar to Checkout On Instagram). 

This holiday season, if you haven’t already, submit a Facebook catalog and enable Shopping on Instagram – it’s a simple process. However, instead of investing time and money into pursuing a Checkout on Instagram implementation, focus on improving the mobile experience on your site either through a Progressive Web Application or applying the findings of the Mobile Optimization Initiative to your existing site. You’ll see much better results, build more loyal customers for your brand and remain in complete control and ownership of your commerce data. 

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