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Instagram Tests Product Tagging Feature To See If It Can Drive Purchases

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Facebook-owned Instagram hopes its platform can drive market research and shopping. On Tuesday, the company said it will let brands tag products in in-feed images.

The pilot will run throughout the holiday season with 20 select US retailers, including brick-and-mortars like J. Crew, Coach and Macy’s, as well as digital-native brands like Warby Parker and JackThreads.

Instagram is testing two things, said Vishal Shah, Instagram director of product management: how consumers interact with the deeper information in a post, and whether Instagram drives consumers with intent to purchase.

When a user clicks on a tagged product in an image, he or she is sent to either an in-app browser product page or to the partner’s app. Clicking on a Warby Parker post featuring sunglasses, for instance, opens a layer over the post where users can shop and explore product details.

“The most important thing was that it felt natural to the Instagram experience,” Shah said. “We didn’t want it to feel forced, like we’re yelling at you, ‘Hey, there are products here! There are products here!’”

Neither Instagram nor Facebook own the actual shopping platform, however. When someone buys a Kate Spade product, she leaves her credit card information with the manufacturer. Similarly, Macy’s – not Instagram – would recognize a loyalty club member.

It’s a mistake, Shah said, for digital publishing platforms to also try being the buying platform. He said Instagram wants to be the jumping-off point for “serendipitous discovery of something you weren’t already looking for,” and said competitors that have taken a direct-shopping-portal approach “missed the middle magic of shopping, which is to browse, understand options and then decide what you want.”

Instagram’s pilot is a response to all the user comments hoping to identify products seen in images.

“This service is a natural extension of that organic intent and interest that’s already there,” he said.

Because Instagram is using the product-tagging pilot for learning purposes, retail partners aren’t paying for it.

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That’s an attractive offer for the first round of partners, but don’t expect Instagram to forgo profits once it figures out the best way to drive shoppers.

“We’ll be tracking post-click conversions to understand where value is had and what pieces of information are useful for our community [i.e., what kinds of product details result in sales],” Shah said. “This is just a test, but there’s an option here to think about how this fits into our ad formats.”

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