Have you noticed your in-app buttons within Instagram moving around a bit of late? Suddenly, your 'Direct' icon has gone to the bottom function bar instead of up top, or your activity tab (the heart icon) has disappeared, then come back again days later?
Those changes are linked to Instagram's work to find the right place for its new 'Shops' tab, which it first previewed back in May as part of the announcement of Facebook and Instagram Shops, which are in the process of being rolled out.
And now, more users will start seeing the new 'Shop' tab within their bottom function bar, as Instagram looks to the next stage of its eCommerce expansion.
As reported by TechCrunch, Instagram is now testing the new Shops tab globally, with a small group of users. At present, tapping on the Shops tab will take you to the existing shopping experience in the app, with a listing of posts that have Shopping Tags added via approved merchants. But soon, the tab will highlight even more purchase options, as parent company Facebook expands its new on-platform selling options to more businesses.
The new bottom-bar Shops icon will replace the current 'Activity' tab for those in the test, with users still able to access their activity feed either via an additional icon in the top right (beside the 'Direct' paper plane) or from their profile.
The tab, as noted, is the next step in making eCommerce a bigger focus in the app - and with eCommerce sales rising amid the COVID-19 lockdowns, and boutique sellers losing out on opportunities to generate income from their work - via markets, retail shows, in-mall pop-ups, etc. - now is the best time for Facebook to make a bigger push.
Indeed, according to recent research from Adobe Analytics, online sales in the U.S. increased by 25% per day in March 2020, while further data from Emarsys found that, as of March 30:
"eCommerce sales from pure-play eCommerce retailers are up 34% year over year in the U.S. and Canada, and the number of orders has increased 52% year over year"
A significant proportion of that activity, of course, stems from grocery sales. With consumers unable to leave their homes due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, more people have been ordering their essentials online, which is a big part of what's lead to the surge in online purchase activity. But the general consensus among analysts is that such trends will hold beyond the pandemic. Once more consumers try out these online buying options, and realize the convenience of shopping from home, that will exacerbate the already rising eCommerce shift.
As such, Facebook's push into eCommerce is perfectly timed. Instagram had been moving in this direction for some time, as Facebook's sought to maximize the app's revenue potential. And now, it looks set to become a major eCommerce powerhouse, with all SMBs, eventually, able to open up their own, on-platform shops and sell their products direct to their Instagram audiences.
The next expansion of this will be the eventual development of Facebook Pay, which will make it easier for users to make, essentially, one-click purchases in-app. Facebook's still working through the regulatory detail of its in-stream payments, but eventually, it will be very easy for Instagram users to simply tap on a product they like, based on an Instagram post or Story, and make a purchase.
The Shop tab is another small, but significant, part of this push.
And with Instagram now used by more than a billion people each month, and the majority of them already engaging with brands on the platform, there is significant opportunity for the platform to become a key connective tool between brands and interested consumers.
Instagram and Facebook Shops are being rolled out gradually, with Facebook alerting businesses when they can access the option.