How To Drive Ecommerce Sales From Instagram

Last updated August 17, 2017
instagram-ecommerce

From a funky photo-sharing app in late 2010 to a potential marketing powerhouse in early 2017, Instagram has come a long way. But have you come a long way with it?

Instagram is one of those platforms (like its owners, Facebook) that is bridging the ever-narrowing divide between personal and business. While Instagram has few business-specific features, its recent moves have made many ecommerce business owners’ ears start buzzing.

BONUS: Scroll to the bottom to download the Best Brands Cheat Sheet. Learn the top 40 strategies the best brands on Instagram use to grow.
instagram-ecommerce

But it’s fair to say that, as we look around the average ecommerce business, few store owners have adopted a coherent Instagram ecommerce strategy to reap all the potential benefits the app has to offer a business.

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom might like you to believe that “the world runs on luck” but he knows as well as anyone that hard work and strategy goes into making that luck.

So if your a content marketing company or brand, check it out:

The Instagram ecommerce statistics don’t lie…

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Let me ask you:

In late 2015, Instagram was used by just under a third of U.S. brands with 100 employees or more. This year that number was expected to rise to 70.7%, according to eMarketer.

More brands are waking up to the power of Instagram and Instagram is waking up to the power of brands. It seems like a match made in heaven; posts, images, likes, and comments are increasing rapidly and daily.

Generating and converting traffic is the lifeblood of any ecommerce business. So bear in mind the following regarding Instagram marketing:

If you are yet to tap into this power then quite simply you are missing a huge opportunity. But it’s not too late to start harnessing Instagram’s potential for marketing your business, to start driving more ecommerce sales.

You’ll discover how to do this by reading on: following is a step-by-step guide to placing your store well and truly on the map for Instagram shoppers.

You’ll learn the following:

  • A proven Instagram ecommerce marketing strategy to attract more followers
  • The changes required to convert more Instagram shoppers into buyers
  • Some of the key Instagram ecommerce tools available to help you achieve better results

Before we get into that, let’s look a little closer at where the relationship between Instagram and ecommerce sits at present.

The Instagram BUY button and beyond…

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Instagram is clearly gearing up for some serious shopping. And that means removing some of the obstacles in place for linking outside the app.

The company has been taking steps recently to broaden and deepen its relationship with ecommerce; there is little doubt that they are becoming more integrated, with the introduction of more features that allow retailers to provide more information about their products in the content they publish.

In 2015, the app allowed advertisers to add a BUY NOW button to ads, which linked directly to the retailer’s store.

But, according to the director of market operations for Instagram, this is a rather limited way of bringing about results, because people often need more information before clicking a BUY button on the strength of a photo. They need to consider price, size, colors, and other factors.

For this reason, 20 U.S. brands started testing organic posts with white ‘tap to view’ icons in the bottom corner of photos at the end of last year (as seen in the image above). This icon allows users to find out more detailed information and if, after viewing this, they want to buy, they can click the SHOP NOW link that sends them directly to the retailer’s store.

There is scope for this same feature to be included on advertisements in the future; Instagram makes most of its revenue from advertising. Anything that makes advertisements more attractive, and can generate more ad spend, is likely to be embraced quickly by the app.

Introducing the Instagram ecommerce team…

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If you were left in any doubt about the future importance of Instagram to ecommerce, the fact that Instagram is building its very own ecommerce team in New York should convince you.

In the final months of 2016, the company began recruiting a team of up to 50 people to work on designing what ecommerce on Instagram will look like: quite an investment that clearly indicates the company’s intentions in 2017 and beyond.

What does this mean for you as a store owner?

Well, if your competitors are not driving Instagram traffic to their stores already, it is highly likely that they will be in the near future.

Soon there will be no need to try to ‘hack’ Instagram by including a phrase such as ‘purchase link in Bio’ as an overlay in a product photo. Instagram will provide you the means to include links and more product details to encourage purchases of each product image you upload.

This is where it’s heading. So are you ready with a killer Instagram ecommerce strategy? What does your Instagram ecommerce sales funnel look like?

If your answers to these questions are ‘umm – no’ or ‘what’s that?’ keep reading on…

The Instagram ecommerce strategy for a complete sales funnel

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Below are the five detailed steps to creating an optimized Instagram ecommerce strategy that is proven to bring more traffic and sales.

Step 1: Optimize your profile page

We need to start right at the beginning, because plenty of store owners are operating from a poor Instagram ‘base’: that is, an un-optimized, underperforming, un-engaging profile page.

There is no point attracting large amounts of new followers (as you will see in Step 2) if they get to your profile and think …

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There are two main points to bear in mind with your Profile:

  1. It needs to be optimized
  2. It needs to link to a landing page – not a homepage

OPTIMIZING YOUR PROFILE

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When a visitor lands on your profile, it’s a chance to create a fantastic and enduring first impression; to sprinkle a little magic on your brand and to demonstrate to your visitors that they are in the right place.

You can’t do this unless you first have a clear understanding of what your brand is, the image you want to portray, what values you stand for, and what separates you from the others. What is your value proposition to the customer – why should they deal with you?

I’ll assume you know this already (though a surprising number of store owners struggle with it) so let’s get straight into the types of actions you need to take to optimize your profile.

WHAT ACTIONS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE?

  • Use a high-quality profile image – this is the first thing people will look at. If you are using a photo make sure the ‘face’ of your brand is a high-quality shot (not taken in the back garden by your 12-year old daughter). Ensure it is sized correctly and looks the part. Alternatively, you may simply want to use your company logo here.
  • Get a professionally-written bio – your bio should be a reflection of your brand and talk to your target audience. If you cannot write this yourself, hire a professional copywriter.
  • Avoid using hashtags in your bio – your bio is not the best place to cram hashtags. They are not clickable, so are generally pointless. Use the designated URL sections to link to the required landing page.
  • Create campaign-specific offers in your profile bio – use bit.ly/ URLs containing value propositions such as: bit.ly/sale-free-shipping.

LINKING TO A LANDING PAGE

It is important that your Instagram profile links to a dedicated landing page, not an informational homepage.

If you only have one product, then a single direct link from your profile may work, but most people reading this will have a gallery of different products they want to sell; that means there will need to be a collection of different landing pages. This is covered in detail in Step 4.

Step 2: Grow your number of Instagram followers

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You can’t achieve anything on Instagram without followers. You undoubtedly know this already, but what have you actually done to develop a strategy that actively increases your amount of followers daily?

This is your future store traffic – so it’s valuable currency. It’s worth putting time into GROWING traffic before you focus on QUALIFYING, TARGETING and CONVERTING it into sales.

This is where the real strength of Instagram marketing lies: in generating more prospects to feed into the top of your sales funnel, by taking steps to grow your ‘fanbase’ – by targeting and integrating with the followers you want following you, and by creating an inspiring and engaging feed.

Below we look at the first element…before step 3 looks at how to develop an engaging feed.

CROSS-PROMOTE YOUR INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT

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There are ecommerce brands that share a similar audience to you that are NOT direct competitors. And you need to find them.

Say you run a store that sells jewelry, mainly to 18-35 year-old women. You need to consider which other brands share that audience but do not sell jewelry. It could be a store that sells bags, or a clothing or shoes store. Whatever you sell, other brands do share the exact same market.

Cross-promoting by sharing audiences works because it’s a win-win for both brands. You post an Instagram image and message about their brand (a ‘shoutout’) and they post about your brand; then you link to each other’s profiles and begin to tap into their pool of followers.

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This is the quickest and most effective way of boosting follower numbers almost overnight, but there’s a caveat: it’s not going to work if you have a following of a few thousand and the other brand has a following of 100,000. Your request may be laughed off. Find brands of a similar popularity to your own.

WHAT ACTIONS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE?

  • Research to develop a list of ‘shoulder niche’ brands – with a similar audience and a similar (or slightly larger) following than yours.
  • Target at least 10 new brands per month – this will improve your chances of success, as it’s largely a numbers game.
  • Send short, punchy emails to your chosen brands – requesting to swap a post for a post and explaining the benefits of cross-promoting. Make sure you add a personal touch to demonstrate that you have actually checked their brand out; they probably receive loads of emails and you need to stand out.

Your email template may look something like this:

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  • Automate this process of email outreach – to make it less time consuming use tools like boomerang for tracking email opens and sending follow ups, and Sujan Patel’s Connector app.
  • Follow up – you should get around a 30 percent reply rate, with one in 10 agreeing; so you can see the ‘numbers game’ element to this. What will set you apart from the rest is if you follow up – few people requesting shoutouts do this and it only takes a minute to send a message saying:

Hi {Insert name}

Just wanted to be sure you got my previous email. I was just wondering whether this is something you’d be interested in?

Looking forward to hearing from you

{Your Name}

  • Start posting ‘shoutouts’ – once you have an agreement with another brand you can start posting messages about that brand and they should be reciprocated. These can be either ‘caption only’ shoutouts (where the brand uses its own images and just gives you a mention) or ‘full shoutouts’ that can use your own images. The message should include a good call to action.

PRO-ACTIVELY COMMENT & LIKE

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Rather than ignoring your competitors , you should be actively using them to grow your following. This is where the smartest Instagram ecommerce marketers really earn their corn.

By liking and commenting on the posts of followers of competitors, you can grow your own band of followers.

WHAT ACTIONS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE?

  • Research competitors and create an Instagram ‘hit list’ – you may know most of the names already.
  • Start to ‘Like’ and comment on their Instagram posts – this will help you interact with their followers, and create engagement with your own brand. Note: first check that they are real accounts (plenty of fakes exist).
  • Create a spreadsheet to plan who you will target and when – bring structure to the process and divide time to pay attention to your main competitors, thereby achieving maximum reach.
  • Make sure you comment – this involves more work than simple ‘likes’ but is more effective too. Comments should be unique, personalized, and positive. Make sure you let people know that you have really paid attention to their post.
  • Expect to receive 1-2 replies for every 10 comments: all potential future followers of your brand.

BULK FOLLOW/UNFOLLOW COMPETITORS’ FOLLOWERS

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The whole purpose of finding and interacting with large numbers of your competitors’ followers in the above step is to convince them to become followers of your account.

In a perfect world, everyone who follows your competitors will also follow you. Well, that may be a pipe dream, but you can increase numbers by first following them; bulk following like this should bring a reciprocal follow-back rate of around one in ten – a good start.

WHAT ACTIONS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE?

  • Manage your time to take consistent action (or outsource it) you can follow around 100 users per hour. By doing this numerous times a day, for instance, for the first two weeks of the month, you will soon start to rapidly grow your account.

Example: 100 users per hour, 2.5  hours a day, every working day for the first two weeks in every month:

100 x 2.5 x 10 =2500 contacts

2500 x 10% = 250 new followers every month

How would 250 new followers per month help your account?

  • Use software to ‘auto-unfollow’ people who do not follow you back – this allows you to maintain a good follow/follow-back ratio and grows your account with ‘real’ users with the potential to head over to your site and buy from you.

Step 3: Focus on organic growth with great content

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Many ecommerce store owners ask me whether they should create posts or run ads to drive traffic and sales?

I have found that ads are more effective in the retargeting and remarketing phase, with followers who have already expressed an interest in shopping with you. More about that later. Using ads too early in the sales funnel, before building a proper relationship with followers, can turn into a colossal waste of money.

For smaller businesses, with a limited marketing budget, organic growth should be the main focus.

After attracting more followers in the second step, we need to make sure that we provide them with the right content to draw them in and become more engaged with our brand.

WORK ON OPTIMIZING IMAGES

Posting the right types of images for maximum impact is not as easy as it sounds. A good way of learning this is to take a glance at what some of the most successful brands do and ‘reverse engineer’ it.

Crowdfire is a useful tool that allows you to analyze what works best on Instagram pages, in terms of post types and lengths, images, the most popular days and times, and so on. This can provide valuable information that should help you design your image-posting strategy.

WHAT ACTIONS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE?

  • Create a few Instagram templates in Photoshop (or find someone who can) – this will allow you to easily create future images without having to start from scratch each time. Include the strongest elements of your brand in each.
  • Stick to the recommended image size – 1080 x 1080 pixels. Captions can be 2,200 characters long, including your Instagram handle.
  • Experiment until you settle on a few image types that get the best response – play around with image styling, colours, and the brand imagery you use.
  • When posting, follow industry best practices for maximum impact – use industry-specific and niche-specific hashtags (in the comment section), use the most popular Instagram filters, and use image collages and other tools to add variety to your images.
  • Optimize, optimize, optimize – make sure you experiment and tweak until you have the right types of images seen by the right people at the right times to generate interest and traffic.
  • Automate the process – use Latergramme to schedule volumes of posts at the times you have decided are best for your audience; or Schedugram, which allows you to auto-post right from the desktop.
  • Build account activity – aim to post 3 images per day, 90 per month, to demonstrate account activity and make you more visible to followers.

BRING ENGAGEMENT (AND SALES) TO YOUR IMAGES

It’s important for ecommerce store owners to strike a balance with their Instagram content. A constant stream of product shots will quickly wear thin with your followers and may result in people drifting away: not what you want after such efforts in attracting them in the first place.

So how do you delight your audience and keep them engaged with your brand? Here are a few ideas for an optimal approach to image content that will keep things fresh and interesting for followers:

WHAT ACTIONS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE?

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Include ‘behind the scenes’ content – sneak peeks beneath the surface of your products and behind the scenes in your company add depth, character, and engagement to your posts. Why not introduce your team to customers or show how products are made through your image posts?

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Promote user-generated content – people love ‘real’. Nothing is more ‘real’ than user-generated content, which is seen as social proof and more believable than the usual marketing shots. This can help to create positive sentiment that heightens brand engagement.

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Creative product showcasing – obviously you need to showcase your products but think more creatively: consider context and lifestyle – showing products being used in real-life shots often ‘sells’ them more effectively.

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Make it educational – teach your audience something they don’t know about your niche; educate your buyers.

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Show shots demonstrating company culture – open up to your audience and show what your company stands for, what it’s like working for you, and demonstrate what your values are. You may attract high-quality employees as well as customers. The ‘company culture’ image above actually brings us nicely onto the following image type…

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Make it fun – it’s OK to be a little playful with posts, as long as it remains tasteful and in tune with your target audience. How about a few funny memes – would they resonate with your younger audience?

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Include customer stories – this serves a few purposes: not only does it add credibility to your brand, it shows that you care about the impact your products have on real lives.

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Create seasonal posts – adapting posts to the time of year will make them more relevant; obviously if your target audience is dispersed around the world, different posts are required for different segments of your market, but Thanksgiving and New Year’s posts would be well-received in the U.S., for instance.

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Run contests – many Instagram users follow brands simply for the associated perks and giveaways; by announcing competitions with clear text overlays on images, with prizes or free giveaways, you can rapidly boost your following.

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Guest takeover – allowing someone cool to temporarily take over your Instagram account while you also take over theirs can add fun, originality, and a different perspective to posts. Try it and see what your followers think.

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Include short URLs – make sure that you create short URLS (as in the above example); they look better than long URLs and can be branded.

Step 4 – Send your visitors to conversion-oriented landing pages

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Once you’ve increased your number of followers, you’ll notice an upswing in traffic to your store. That’s great – but only half the job is done.

If you were shopping in a supermarket and wanted to be directed to the ‘World Foods’ section and the assistant sent you to the laundry detergent aisle you wouldn’t be too happy; or if he started talking to you about bicycles you’d be think ‘what a waste of time’.

The same applies online: send your traffic to relevant pages that talk directly to them about what they want. That means creating well-written landing pages focused on the target audience rather than sending them to a home page designed mainly for informational purposes.

This will help you achieve the second main part of Instagram marketing –converting traffic into sales. To do that effectively, you need to bring the customer to a decision and make it as easy as possible to buy from your store.

WHAT ACTIONS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE?

  • Get landing pages professionally written – if you’re not a copy writer, don’t try to write these pages. It’s quite easy to sound really fake and you will end up turning your hard-earned visitors away. Invest in a conversion-focused copywriter and create pages that are geared to sell to hungry shoppers.
  • Think ‘mobile first’ – this is a recurrent theme for all online marketing. Landing pages, like all content on Instagram and other social networks, needs a ‘mobile first’ strategy. This means not only optimizing for mobile users, but designed with mobile users uppermost in the mind. Pay special attention to navigation, search, the shopping cart, BUY buttons, and payments.
  • Create a branded URL shortener – use Google Campaign URL Builder to create a trackable link with a shortened URL that Google provides you with. You can then look at campaign reports in Google Analytics and understand the ROI of your Instagram marketing campaigns.
  • Experiment with different landing pages – you will learn little by sticking to one landing page. Experiment by sending visitors to landing pages designed for different products and with different approaches.
  • Measure and adjust – how are your landing pages doing? This is not a ‘set and forget’ strategy. You need to measure sales, as well as traffic to your landing pages; find out what works and what doesn’t and tweak pages accordingly. Google Analytics reports will help you assess individual pages and also provide an overview of campaigns.
  • Create shoppable Instagram pages – you can effectively turn your Instagram account into an extension of your website, using tools that help you turn user-generated content into shoppable galleries for your online store. Foursixty allows you to embed Instagram galleries anywhere and Magento Connect Instagram extension allows merchants to display the images from their Instagram user profile.

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Step 5 – Retargeting customers

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Visitors that come to your landing page and leave without buying are no surprise. But what do you do with them?

Your answer can make a huge difference to the profitability of your ecommerce store. You have invested time, effort, and money into bringing more visitors to your store; doesn’t it make sense not to allow them to slip away quietly into the night?

This is where well-targeted ads can make a real difference. Until now, I’ve talked about organic growth, content, and landing pages; but retargeting with Instagram ecommerce ads, just like on Facebook, can help you squeeze more sales from a campaign at this stage.

WHAT ACTIONS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE?

  • Install the Facebook Pixel on your website – this first step may seem a little strange but remember that Facebook owns Instagram. Log into Facebook Power Editor to create your Facebook Pixel from the Tools menu. After you click ‘Install Pixel Now’ it will reveal the pixel code to place between the head tags of your website code and Facebook will track every visitor.
  • Create your audience to retarget – from the Facebook Pixel tab click ‘Create Audience’ and select ‘Website Traffic’. Then enter the details of this audience: you may like to retarget anyone who has visited your site in the last 30 days, for instance. You can also create audiences based on the action you want them to take when they view your ad.
  • Create your retargeting ad campaign – from Power Editor click ‘Create Campaign’, choose a name and an objective for the campaign: this might be ‘Clicks to Website’ or ‘Website Conversions’. Complete the details on the rest of the form and you’ll be taken to the next step.
  • Set budget and edit the retargeted audience – set a budget and schedule and then ‘edit the audience’ so that your campaign only targets visitors who have previously visited your site. Then you need to specify that Instagram is the required ‘placement’ for the campaign. Once you confirm that the potential audience reach of your campaign is large enough, you’ ready to start creating ads.
  • Design your ad – after connecting an Instagram account to your Facebook ads account, you can design your ad. Use the same process as for a Facebook ad, with a recommended image size of 1080 x 1080 pixels and text not taking up more than 20% of the space. The Facebook Grid Tool can be used to check this – or refer to Facebook’s guide for Instagram ad creative.
  • Launch the campaign – by clicking Review Changes in Power editor and simply following the prompts.
  • Use Smartly to automate and measure performance – this can help you automate, optimize, and measure the success of your Instagram retargeting ad campaigns. It will help you to create ads with a series of great templates and retarget visitors based upon their specific behavior on your site.

 

  • EXTRA TIP: Beware of ‘beginner’ tools that often feature bad reporting that does not agree with Google Analytics results. I’ll avoid naming names here, you know who you are!

Other useful Instagram ecommerce apps & tools

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I don’t have the space to cover all the growing band of Instagram ecommerce apps and tools that can make your life easier.

But here are a few apps and tools certainly worth considering if you are looking to make it as effortless as possible for followers to shop at your store from Instagram – which is the ultimate goal of attracting more traffic:

  • Like2Buy – described as ‘Instagram’s Missing Link’, this tool allows you to build a gallery full of brand stories and shoppable feeds.
  • Tap shop – helps you to monetize your Instagram feed, as well as track image performance and ROI, to help you make better campaign decisions.
  • Soldsie (formerly Have 2 Have It) – helps you to showcase your content and link your photos to the content that followers are looking for.
  • Shopseen – helps you turn your Instagram feed into a store without leaving Instagram, sending followers there directly without unnecessary redirects.  
  • Inselly – a searchable, sortable, and shoppable marketplace for Instagram businesses that want a commission-free free online shop.
  • InstaOrders – helps you turn your Instagram account into an online store in minutes.
  • Like2HaveIt – enables fully optimized and shoppable galleries on any device.
  • Websta – enables ecommerce merchants to embed Instagram photos into their websites using a free widget creator; a great way to showcase user images of your products.
  • Showcase – a Shopify tool that helps you to monetize Instagram traffic with shoppable Instagram galleries that embed easily and directly on your site.

Instagram ecommerce marketing: Final thoughts

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Some of your competitors will already be eagerly anticipating the changes at Instagram, which (as you have seen) are increasing the emphasis on ecommerce. But, fortunately for you, most will have little idea how to tap into its full potential.

It’s one of the few social platforms that is not yet saturated with marketers, but this is changing quickly. The potential benefits are enormous and you don’t need a huge budget to achieve them: it’s a cheap and relatively simple way to rapidly turn a sole merchant into a small business, or turn a small business into something bigger. It’s certainly not just for the big guns to muscle every other business out.

VERY FEW ecommerce sites are taking all of the steps above and are therefore missing out on opportunities; this creates more of an opportunity for you to step in.

If you’ve read this to the end, chances are you’re serious about tapping into the power of Instagram ecommerce marketing. It takes action to make it happen. As mentioned earlier, this is not a one-off, ‘set and forget’ strategy for short-term gains.

Getting returns is, of course, what ultimately matters. While the Instagram ecommerce strategy you have read above is proven to create an effective sales funnel, it takes consistent action to get the results; it requires making changes not only to boost traffic but to convert that traffic into sales. Then you need to measure success and tweak strategy for what’s working. Then repeat.

You can take comfort from the fact that many of the most time-consuming processes can be

automated… you don’t have to start anew each time; there are plenty of tools to help, some of which I’ve detailed. Failing that, outsource the work, so that it impacts less on your time.

I will pretty much guarantee that the natural upswing in traffic and sales that follows will make any investment more than worth it.

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Author:

Hi, I’m Giles Thomas. Founder of AcquireConvert, the place where ecommerce entrepreneurs & marketers go to learn how to get more visitors to buy. I’m a head marketing mentor at the Google Launchpad Accelerator & a member of the prestigious Google Experts Program.

Comments

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  1. Yan Fredo says:

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