Instagram is pushing hard into the e-commerce space. A report by TechCrunch reveals that the image sharing platform has quietly rolled out a feature for some users in the US and the UK that lets them make bookings and reservations directly from within the app. The report says that an Instagram spokesperson “confirmed that native payments for booking appointments like at restaurants or salons is now live for a limited set of partners”. So far, there has been no public announcement about the feature or when it is scheduled to roll out to other markets worldwide.
Instagram first hinted at the possibility of rolling out a native payments platform with “the ability to book a service with a business directly from their profile” in March 2017, but the service appears to have taken some time to come online. Instagram did take a big step towards its e-commerce dreams with the launch of ‘shoppable tags’ in the US in November last year. These tags allow businesses to attach hyperlinks to their posts that users can tap on to navigate to e-commerce platforms to buy the displayed products; the feature was further expanded to eight new markets in March this year.
However, forcing people to visit an external e-commerce platform reduces the time they spend on Instagram itself, something the platform likely aims to rectify with its new native payments option.
As per the TechCrunch report, the payments option lets users add a debit or credit card to their Instagram profiles, along with a security PIN. They can then use these details to make table reservations, salon appointments, and the like from partners that have received the payments option. For example, dinner reservation app Resy is one of the first Instagram partners equipped with the new feature, and some of its clients’ Instagram profiles now let users make table reservations directly. TechCrunch reports that Instagram Payments’ Terms of Service reveal that the service is backed by the same rules that apply to Facebook Payments.
Instagram parent Facebook has been dabbling in e-commerce and payments options for a few years, with its Messenger app currently supporting peer-to-peer (P2P) payments. Native payment for shopping is still in closed beta on the app. While it’s unclear if Instagram will go the P2P payments route, its latest feature is a key step along the way.
The latest feature also comes only a couple of days after Facebook’s F8 conference, where Instagram finally unveiled its video chat feature. At the event, Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that many Instagram users were already using the platform’s live video feature to talk with followers, and video chat was a natural evolution of that phenomenon. The platform is also getting a couple of new features, including a new filter to help stop bullying on the platform in comments, as well as an improved and updated Explore tab and support for AR features from third parties.
Instagram’s visual presentation has made it a big platform for brands to showcase their products to fans. The new native payments option is likely to make these brand marketing opportunities even more lucrative, by allowing companies to monetise their Instagram posts directly. This, in turn, will likely help Instagram’s bottom line as more brands become willing to hike up ad spend to have their shoppable posts visible more prominently – something the platform is likely banking on. What will the new payments feature mean for customers and competitors in the increasingly competitive e-commerce market? Time will tell.