The Instapocalypse… what it is and why you need to sit up and take notice


Just after midnight, on a chilly fall evening in October 2010, Kevin Systrom did something that would change the world. Clicking into his Apple App store, he humbly released the photo-sharing app Instagram to the universe.

To say things went well would be a gross understatement. Within hours, the app had over 10,000 users with Systrom proudly proclaiming that ‘this is the best day of my life’ (perhaps, that was, until he sold the app a few years later to Facebook for a cool USD $1 billion).

Within months, the app’s users had ballooned from thousands to millions. Less than 2 years later, Instagram boasted 4 million users, yet still Systrom and his co-founder Mike Kreiger, remained humble about the money side of their business:

‘We have no plans right now to monetize the app.’

They both said in an interview in May 2011.

Fast forward 7 years, and boy, how things have changed. Having recently introduced a spate of options that make shopping from the app easier than ever, Insta is now gunning to be not only an advertising source, but an all-in app for our shopping needs. By doing so, according to the experts, Insta will establish itself as a ‘viable platform for serious business and serious revenue’ in what some people are calling the ‘Instapocalpyse’ of social e-commerce.  And although the revenue source for Instagram (outside of advertising) hasn’t been confirmed, experts predict that with all of the options Insta is introducing, they may well expect a cut of retail sales sooner than we think.

It certainly sounds like Instagram may have a new revenue stream. But will it really be the Instapocalpyse that the experts predict?  

The rise (and rise) of social e-commerce

Social e-commerce, or more specifically, the act of shopping from your social media accounts, is by no means a new phenomenon. It’s been happening for at least a few years now…and why not? It makes sense in so many ways. We’re on social media so much anyway; so much so that now, two-thirds of all UK consumers go there to purchase products. And the inspiration is all there for us, laid out in front of our very eyes. Helping brands sell things on Instagram is now a legitimate profession: top influencers can command over $5k per post.

The social media giants have been quick to capitalise on the trend, introducing ‘buy buttons’ or their equivalent to help users complete their purchases online. Facebook was the first to introduce theirs back in 2014. Twitter then followed suit later that year, then it was Pinterest’s turn in 2015. Amid much excitement, Snapchat also introduced their version of a button – ‘Shoppable AR’ – a feature so innovative that it has variously been described as ‘game-changing’ and Snapchat’s ‘most important feature yet.’

Yet no buy button has caused quite as much hysteria as Instagram’s ‘Shoppable Posts’ button, released en-masse earlier this year.  

Why is Instagram so special?

Whether Systrom intended it to be this way or not, Instagram has a special place in the social commerce hierarchy for its ability to inspire us to shop with the best-of-the-best when it comes to inspiring product images.

With over 800 million users worldwide, an Instagram account has become not just a nice-to-have, but a need-to-have for retailers of all denominations. And a lot of businesses realise this: Instagram recently celebrated having over 15 million businesses profiles on their platform.

Businesses are flocking to Instagram, because it works. Insta is by far the best platform for sharing visual content, and that type of content is the most powerful – studies show that visual content shared via social on a mobile produces a 111% uplift in conversion and can generate a 180% boost in revenue per visitor to any given website. And users are most certainly not averse to content shared by businesses. 80% of all Instagrammers follow a business and at least 200 million users visit at least one business profile a day.

But it’s only been relatively recently that Instagram has been able to capitalise on this incredible value proposition for retailers. Back in 2016, Instagram first trialled their ‘Shoppable Post’ button with a range of US retailers. The button worked by allowing users to click on a product tag for more product information and then subsequently hit a ‘buy now’ button where they’d be redirected to the company’s website.

Initial results from the trial companies, which included Abercrombie & Fitch and Kate Spade, were extremely positive. Many saw the button as solving a truckload of problems that usually result from the long purchase funnels associated with online shopping as voila – the user saw what they liked and took it straight to checkout.

Fast forward less than 2 years and the button has now been rolled out en-masse. Australian retailers who have introduced it have seen an immediate change, with some claiming that within two weeks of the button’s introduction they have seen more than a 5% increase in sales.

So successful has the button been that Instagram has now introduced a new version: a ‘Shoppable pin’ that will feature in Insta’s story function.

From Instagram’s perspective, it all seems to be going swimmingly. And from retailer’s perspective, the story is no different. Does that make an Instapocalypse all but inevitable?

‘Shoppable Posts’ not the unicorn solution they seem

An ‘Instapocalypse’ would imply that Instagram basically took over social e-commerce (or even e-commerce, in general) but for that to happen, retailers would need to have no problem in using it. But that’s just it. ‘Shoppable Posts’ are actually a major pain for retailers (at least to begin with), and here’s why.

Firstly, to be able to use the buttons at all, retailers need to commit to integrating them into their website – something that many retailers don’t know how or can’t afford to do. What this means is that there’s a significant barrier to entry for shoppable posts, and Instagram can’t be sure that their millions of smaller retailers will be able to pay the price.

Secondly, the shoppable posts experience is wonderful until…you get to the retailer’s website. Even though a user might be taken straight to checkout with the item of their choice, that doesn’t mean that checkout will be any easier for them. Checkouts are a major contributing factor to the woeful 15% mobile shopping conversion rate – research shows that 27% of cart abandonments occur as typing your details into your phone takes so damn long and a further 23% occur as the checkout process is too complex.

On the sly, Instagram knows this and they’re desperately trying to fix it. One alternative they’re trialling is the introduction of a native payments feature. With this feature, the entire shopping experience would be conducted on Instagram, In theory, this would solve the mobile checkout problem – Instagram could (technically) autofill all of your details if they had them saved, and you’d literally be able to buy anything at the click of a button.

But again, from a retailer’s perspective, this solution is complex. In order to enable the native payment functionality, a retailer would need to enable some kind of app SDK that enables Instagram to pull production purchase information from their back end. They’d need a connection between Instagram and their warehouse so the they knew to fulfil an order. Then, there’s the cash side of things. Would the money go straight into the hands of the retailer? Basically, to make the native payment feature work, retailers would need to share all of their sensitive data with Instagram, integrate just about everything, and hope that Insta really had their back (data leak, ehem, Facebook?). Sounds good in theory but in practice, hmm…

Autofill the best solution

So, if the native payments feature in Instagram is pretty much a no-go, that leaves shoppable posts. Could the pesky integration and checkout problems somehow be solved?

They sure could – with the help of intelligent autofill.

If Instagram did integrate an intelligent autofill such as Fillr, they would solve the checkout problem on behalf of retailers. Instead of having to painstakingly fill in their details, intelligent autofill would take care of everything, resulting in a checkout process that was up to 536 times faster.

Using autofill would also mean that retailers wouldn’t have to integrate shoppable posts functionality into their website - so effectively, two of the largest problems with the posts would be all but solved.

But solving the tech problems isn’t even the most exciting thing about autofill. It’s what it would do for everyone’s bottom line. A highly efficient checkout process linked to shoppable posts that users need and want means more money for everyone, including retailers and ultimately, Instagram, if they choose to start monetising in this way.

Will 2018 be the year of the Instapocalypse? Only time will tell. The foundations are all there, and with the help of the right technology, especially intelligent autofill, we may all soon be in the grips of the next big thing.

Fillr has developed ‘Autofill as a Service’, the world’s most intelligent and accurate autofill that seamlessly integrates into your social or shopping app.  Contact us today to find out how our technology can help your customers to transact faster and more effectively across millions of merchants sites, boosting your conversions and revenue.