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3 Startups Making Instagram Shoppable

A few apps (and some clever workarounds) are making it easier for followers to buy the things they see on Instagram.

Personal stylist Christine Cameron started using RewardStyle affiliate links on her blog, My Style Pill, in 2011. Like most bloggers, RewardStyle's affiliate commissions are a part of her business's annual revenue.* But as Cameron's Instagram presence has grown, she's become more interested in making that platform a part of her business, too. In December 2013, she signed up for LiketoKnow:It, RewardStyle's solution to shopping via Instagram. "It seemed like the organic step," she says. 

Right now, LiketoKnow:It is the best option for bloggers who wish they could include product links on their Instagram outfit posts. On a website or Facebook or even Twitter, a blogger can embed outfit credits with affiliate links. Instagram, on the other hand, offers no way of embedding external links, which means readers who follow these bloggers because they like to shop their outfits have a harder time getting to said outfits' e-commerce pages.

The process for a RewardStyle blogger to sign up for LiketoKnow:It is fairly easy, and the end result is simple. If a reader "hearts" an Instagram, she will be sent an email visually listing the outfit credits. The catch: the reader also needs to sign up for LiketoKnow:It. (All that part takes is logging in at with your Instagram account. Although the onus is on the blogger to ensure the reader is educated about this step.) "It's been great. Super easy to use," Cameron says. "And I enjoy getting the [LiketoKnow:It] emails from Instagrams I've liked so I can shop other people's posts."

Not everyone is happy with the results thus far.  "I liked it as a concept, especially in terms of delivering info to readers who constantly ask questions in spite of tags, credits, etc.," said one blogger, who asked for anonymity in order to preserve her relationship with RewardStyle. "But the reality is, people are still asking those questions and not using the app." Of course, that's only one blogger's experience. Since LiketoKnow:It launched last December, its own Instagram account has amassed more than 74,000 users. And top RewardStyle bloggers, including Sincerely Jules and the aforementioned Cameron, have embraced it wholeheartedly.  "We're always trying to figure out how we can make things easier for bloggers," says Kaetlin Andrews, head of international public relations at RewardStyle. 

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To be sure, bloggers are not the only "brands" eager to make Instagram more shoppable. Retailers big and small are trying pretty much everything to make it easier to buy their clothes on the platform. In September 2013, we wrote about vintage boutiques that are posting items on their Instagrams and then allowing users to purchase them by being the first to comment. Now, there are apps that make this process a bit more elegant. Soldsie, which works for both Facebook and Instagram, processes payments for "comment" transactions. For instance, if a store posts a photo of a dress with a caption explaining that it's for sale through Soldsie, a commenter can write "Sold". (The user must already be registered through Soldsie for her commented to be accepted as a purchase.) Soldsie then handles the transaction for the retailer. Another, Chirpify, allows users to buy items via a hashtag. An example: A retailer posts a product and says, "The first user to write #gottahaveit in the comments can purchase this item for $50." The user does just that, and Chirpify responds with a direct "@" message that includes a link to a payment page. 

While both are interesting options, some retailers are finding that even more scrappy approaches work better. Elizabeth Myer, who works in social media at Vince, says that the best Instagram shopping opportunities offer a "really big or special moment." For instance, if a brand is hosting a friends and family sale, it might post a photo and comment explaining that the sale is open early to Instagram users who click through from the custom url on the brand's bio (i.e., the place where the only hot link on Instagram lives.) That url takes the user to a "hidden grid," e-commerce speak for a page that's accessible via one link and one link only. "It makes fans feel like you're giving something back to them," she says. More recently, Myer has experimented with creating custom pages for specific products. In a recent denim post on @Vince, the @Vince_Denim account is tagged. When a user clicks over to that page, it sees Instagrams of all the styles of denim that are currently available for sale. And the url in that profile? It's, a link that goes straight to the denim page on the e-commerce site. Myer plans on creating similar accounts for Vince's recurring categories, like knitwear and t-shirts.

Myer's idea is a cool one. And it only requires the user to click twice before landing on an e-commerce page. But it's still not as simple as being able to tag an item with a direct url. None of these apps or clever tricks solve that problem. But Myers, for one, doesn't necessarily see the lack of direct links as a bad thing. "Enabling [direct links] will make Instagram like any other platform," she says. "It's the most engaging platform on social, and the fun part is finding creative solutions. You have to measure ROI in a different kind of way." 

*Fashionista also uses RewardStyle links.  

Front page photo courtesy of Phil Oh.