8 Ways Ecommerce Stores Are Using Instagram

Tomas Laurinavicius

Last Updated: Jun 10, 2021

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Instagram has morphed from a social media network to a go-to destination for product discovery and purchases, posing a powerful opportunity for ecommerce stores. 

After seeing product information on the platform, 87% of users take follow-up action — they visit the company’s website or app, look up even more information online, or make a purchase. 

Given such a high engagement, it makes perfect sense why many ecommerce stores jump on the Instagram marketing bandwagon. 

Jewelry brand Missomma used a combo of influencer marketing, organic content and paid promos to attract over 45,000 new visitors to their Instagram store during the 2020 holiday period. Bloom & Wild, an online florist brand, saw a 62% bump in order volumes following a paid ad campaign. Many other online retailers, big or small, social media savvy or newbies, are also seeing stellar returns on their Instagram campaigns.

So if you’re still not sure how to use Instagram to promote your ecommerce business, this post showcases the must-know tips and swipe-able examples from other brands. 

Why Use Instagram To Support Your Ecommerce Business? 

Instagram is a hot-spot for ecommerce brands as the platform offers immediate access to vast audiences, browsing the platform in a “shoppable” state-of-mind. 

More specifically, ecommerce stores should get more active on Instagram for the next three reasons: 

1. Benefit From Unrestricted Access To Your Audience

Unlike many other social media networks, Instagram enables brands to play both ways: build an engaged audience organically or invest in paid campaigns to grow their presence. 

In 2016, the company replaced the chronological feed with a content ranking algorithm. Despite the initial backlash, users soon realized that they were seeing more of their friends’ content (up to 90%) and overall the relevancy of their feed increased. 

That’s because Instagram started using six signals to determine how to rank content:

  1. Interest: By analyzing past behaviors (likes, comments, saves, swipes) the app pitches you similar content.
  1. Recency: Fresh content gets more exposure. Thus, you’re encouraged to publish more frequently. 
  1. Relationship: If you interact a lot with the same account (e.g. comment on their posts or reply to their stories), content from them will always rank higher on your feed. 
  1. Frequency: Every time you open the app, Instagram will try to show you the best posts since the last visit. 
  1. Following. You may see fewer posts from a specific person if you’re following many people.
  1. Usage: The more time you spend within the app — the wider range of posts you’re likely to see. 

Your brand will be able to consistently grow its reach if your Instagram marketing strategy takes these factors into consideration.

2. Drive Traffic To Your Website 

Instagram not only allows brands to connect with their followers on the platform, but it also drives a lot of referral traffic — via swipe-able Story links, shopable tags, bio and ad links. 

Thanks to a continuous roll-out of shoppable features, the app has become one of the biggest referral traffic sources for ecommerce brands.

Statista photo of Instagram referral traffic

3. Increase Brand Awareness And Sales

Instagram is a prime avenue for trend-setting and inspiration sharing. But consumers flock to the platform not just to get inspired, but also to shop. 

Research suggests that the platform heavily impacts impulse buying behaviors for hedonic shopping — non-essential, pick-me-up purchases, made for pleasure and not out of necessity. Information and word-of-mouth recommendations on this platform have proven to reinforce consumers’ purchase decisions. 

The scientific data finds further reflection on business settings. For instance, Jane, an ecommerce multi-brand platform, attracted over 80% of social sales via Instagram Shopping in 6 months that translated to over $420,000 in incremental sales. All the company was doing is strategically leveraging the company’s native shopping functionality.

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8 Ways Ecommerce Stores Are Using Instagram 

But let’s keep it real: not all ecommerce stores are excelling in Instagram ecommerce marketing

A 2021 benchmarking study by Social Insider found that ecommerce brands secure the highest engagement rates on Instagram — 0.37% per post vs 0.08% on Facebook. 

photo social insider ecommerce rate engagement

Yet, the same study implies that ecommerce brands are the third least engaging industry on social media. Ouch, how so?

Many retailers see Instagram as an extension of their product catalog — a place where they can re-share some product pics with short descriptions and prices. 

But that’s not how Instagram works. Most consumers treat Instagram as an aspiration and inspiration board. Facebook data suggests that: 

  • 83% discover new products or services on Instagram
  • 81% use the app to look up new goodies 
  • 80% rely on Instagram to decide if they want to buy something 

The above means that ecommerce stores need to use Instagram for inspiring and nurturing prospects.

The following eight techniques (with examples from other ecommerce stores) will show you how to get higher engagement rates on Instagram and drive more sales! 

1. Using Instagram For Customer Service

For many consumers, Instagram is an avenue for collecting information about brands. 

So it follows that both prospects and buyers will probe with you with different questions. Be sure to reply to them fast. For 89% a fast response to a customer service query is an important decision-making factor. 

Take a page from cosmetics brand, Bliss. The company quickly addresses common consumer queries around the products’ characteristics. Plus often creates FAQ-styled content for new product launches to educate curious consumers. 

Bliss ecommere store on Instagram

Apart from the above, you should also: 

  • Post polls in Instagram Stories to quickly collect customer feedback.
  • Use social media listening tools to monitor and respond to comments. 
  • Try IGTV and Reels to share quick how-tos and product guides. 

2. Creating Instagram Ads To Reach New And Established Customers

Instagram ads provide a staunch avenue for attracting new audiences and re-marketing to profile or store visitors who previously engaged with your brand. 

Last year 90% of retailers purchased ads on the platform, as per the Smartly survey. But what’s more interesting is that 42% of marketers are seeing a better ROAS from Instagram ads, compared to Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. 

Case in point: A clothing retailer store, Hollister, was among the first to test Instagram ads with product tags in Spring 2020. A 7-day promo campaign brought in amazing results when compared to traditional retargeting campaigns:

  • 13% higher click-through rate
  • 42% lower cost per click
  • 34% lower cost per impression
Hollister ecommerce store instagram ad photo

Instagram ads tips to try:

  • Leverage data, instead of hunches. Facebook Ad Manager provides plenty of tools for targeting and audience research. Be sure to take advantage of those. For example, you may be surprised to learn that Boomers (aged 65-74) are the most responsive to Instagram ads! 
  • Experiment with different ad formats. Instagram now has over a dozen ad formats and features — from “classic” feed ads to shoppable ads, placed in IGTV streams, on the Explore page and in Shoppable feed. To decide which type of Instagram ads will work best for you, set specific goals and KPIs. Do you want to attract traffic or increase brand recall and awareness? Would you rather get leads or entice sales? Brainstorm. 

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3. Employing Shoppable Posts

The platform’s algorithms effectively curate and personalize our content feeds. Recently, their reach extended towards Shoppable posts and Shoppable feeds.

Now users can easily review tagged products they’ve discovered in the past from brands they interacted with. Based on your activity, you’ll receive personalized recommendations for Instagram Shops, Editorial Picks, Shop Collections, and Explore Guides. 

Instagram ecommerce shoppable posts

For ecommerce brands, all of these are a strong avenue for connecting with more audiences organically, plus fostering conversions. 

Instagram algorithms have grown very good at predicting consumer interests and preferences, based on the user’s past actions — likes, link swipes, saves, comments, etc.

Respectively, if you can get your content in front of a relevant audience, for example, outdoor lovers, high chances are that you’ll stay in their Shoppable feed for a while organically. If you manage to pique their interest during that time, your content will be recommended to more lookalike audiences, effectively creating a snowball effect in terms of reach.

LARQ, for example, set up an attractive Instagram storefront, but also organized all its products into several guides to improve discoverability. 

Photo of LARQ instagram ecommerce store

Here’s how you too can get more out of shoppable content:

  • Experiment with shoppable videos. In 2020, Instagram rolled out Shop tags for IGTV and plans to extend them to Reels shortly. Consider engaging your Instagram followers with inspirational videos, featuring your goods. 
  • Try live streaming. Shoppable live streams have caught up in China during the pandemic. The local live stream shopping market is estimated to be $170 billion in 2020 and growing bigger YoY. Now the trend is catching up in Europe and the US too as Instagram presented Instagram Live Shopping functionality. Now, brands and creators can prompt consumers to shop recommended goods in real-time. 
Shoppable livestream photo of YoY

4. Partnering With Influencers To Increase Conversions

This year, over 69% of marketers plan to spend most of their influencer marketing budgets on Instagram. That’s almost six times more than on YouTube — the second most popular influencer marketing channel.

What makes Instagram such an unbeatable option? Several factors:

  • Instagram drives a winning combo of brand awareness and sales: Over 40% of marketers use our influencer campaigns for increasing awareness; 36% rely on them to drive sales. 
  • It’s more niche and personal. Creators on Instagram typically build their following around a specific interest group — be it fashion, travel, skincare, or something more niche as owning a specific dog breed. Such a level of granularity enables marketers to build a better rapport with highly specific audience segments by personalizing their brand pitch to them with the help of the creator. 

To stand out in the crowded personal electronics market Skullcandy decided to create a distinctive brand voice and positioning online. The company does regular sponsored campaigns with their community “heroes” — artists, musicians, surfers, athletes, and more. 

Unlike other brands, Skullcandy tends to select campaign participants based on their ideas, ethos and lifestyle, rather than follower count alone. 

Skullcandy Instagram Photo

Given that the company amassed over 660K followers and has an average per post engagement rate of 12.50% (compared to an industry average of 3%), their strategy is working well. 

Here’s how you can do better with influencer marketing on Instagram, too: 

  • Partner with micro-influencers (under 30K followers). Such campaigns tend to drive the best price-to-value ratio.
  • Consider ambassadors over one-off engagements. Most consumers don’t immediately buy into sponsored recommendations. Especially if those feel inauthentic. But they are more willing to purchase from influencers who consistently vet and recommend the same products.
  • Leverage the creator’s knowledge. Instead of imposing a rigid brief, ask for the influencer’s ideas for product presentation. They have a deeper knowledge of their audience and will likely recommend a more organic and engaging approach for sponsorship. 

5. Increasing Brand Engagement

Per Instagram, 2 in 3 platform users say that Instagram enables interaction with brands. What’s more, 74% of users also perceive brands on Instagram as those committed to building community. 

The data clearly suggests that users want to have two-way conversations with brands on Instagram. Thus, ensure that you are meeting this need. How? Try the following:

  • Run surveys and polls to gauge your audience preferences 
  • Do Q&A sessions with your team or invited experts in stories or during live streams 
  • Launch a contest to help with product development 
  • Experiment with longer post captions, explaining addressing the key product characteristics 
  • Host a creative giveaway to reach more people in your network

Instead of doing a traditional Mother’s Day Promo this year, Solo Stove asked their Instagram followers to nominate their amazing moms in the comments for a chance to win a free fire pit. The community response was overwhelmingly positive! 

Instagram photo of Solo Stove ecommerce store

6. Boosting Ecommerce SEO

Did you know that you can apply some of the SEO best practices on Instagram, too?

Instagram SEO is the science and practice of optimizing your profile for higher visibility on the platform using keywords and hashtags. To recommend relevant pages and content, Instagram search box employs several algorithms. If you want your profile to rank higher for such searchers, try this:

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  • Add your primary keyword to your profile description. For example, if you specialize in selling shoes, adding “shoe” to your profile description and handle name can help you rank higher for user searchers on the platform. 
Instagram photo of SEO ecommerce stores

(See how all the suggested search results contain the word “shoe” in it?) 

  • Get strategic with your hashtags. Treat Instagram hashtags as SEO keywords — terms and phrases your audience uses to find specific content. Using hashtags can help you get found by more people on Instagram. Analyze trending hashtags in your niche and experiment with using them in your posts. As a rule of thumb, you should use a variety of highly searched hashtags (e.g. #bridesmaiddresses with 465,000+ results) and less popular ones (e.g. #2021bridesmaids with 450+ results)
Shop Revelry ecommerce store

7. Gathering Insights And Data About Customers

Users on Instagram don’t just passively consume content, they’re also eager to interact with their favorite creators and brands.

This tendency presents a great opportunity for doing audience research and collecting more information on product development. The best part? You can ‘disguise’ your polling activity as engaging content. 

For example, you can post simple polls in Stories to survey your audience on the new product flavors, their usage preferences, habits, routines, and more! 

Shop Revelry ecommerce store Instagram story

(Revely regularly asks followers to vote on their favorite bouquets, fabric swatches and wedding color combos.)

Such simple polls are a goldmine of voice-of-customer (VoC) data that you can effectively employ to improve your brand/product positioning, marketing strategy, and new product development.

8. Showcasing New Products

Publishing teasers, new product announcements, and big reveals has become a go-to strategy for brands to build up anticipation. 

Kim Kardashian regularly relies on Instagram to announce new product drops and restocks for her popular cosmetics and shapewear line. Following the announcement on Instagram, Skims have reportedly made over $2 million in sales in a matter of minutes after launching. 

What’s more important though is that smaller brands, too, can use Instagram to build suspense for new products and drive more sales on the launch day. For example, a recent video announcement from Bliss about their partnership with Boots generated over 2,500 organic views in 5 days and dozens of positive comments:

Bliss ecommerce store photo

Here’s what else you should try:

  • Tease the new product without fully revealing it and offer your audience to guess/vote on what it is. 
  • Share behind-the-scenes content on how your products are made. Or focus on one aspect of production, for example, packaging. 
  • Try Product Launch features on Instagram that let you use a special tag for an upcoming launch.

It’s All About Experimenting

The key to succeeding at Instagram as an ecommerce store is experimentation. Try different audience-building and engagement techniques. Test different photo styles, caption lengths, and hashtag combinations. 

Save the “recipes” driving the best results and re-use them for new campaigns. Finally, always keep tabs on your account analytics to make more informed marketing decisions and grow your following!

Author Bio

Tomas Laurinavicius is a co-founder of Content Writing Jobs, lifestyle blogger, content marketing consultant, and BigCommerce researcher.

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