The lack of live links on Instagram is a big pain for fashion: It's an obstacle for the brands and retailers who post photos of product, for the bloggers who want to insert affiliate links below outfit shots and for users who are sick of calls to action such as, "Like this look? Click the link on our profile page to shop it!"
There are plenty of apps and services trying to remedy the problem of an un-shoppable Instagram. Liketoknow.it helps bloggers and publishers monetize Instagram by sending fans who have "hearted" a blogger's outfit post an email of links to items featured in said post, which they can click to buy. Buzzy app Spring offers a completely separate experience from Instagram: you can follow your favorite brands on the Spring platform, and shop directly from their feeds.
Dash Hudson, the latest Insta alternative, offers a different sort of value proposition.
In its first iteration, the year-old startup -- which raised a $400,000 seed round of funding earlier this year -- was a shopping app geared toward men. This week, it relaunched as a more ambitious platform and social network for both sexes that -- guess what? -- makes Instagram photos shoppable. But instead of working directly with brands, Dash Hudson works within the parameters of Instagram's copyright policy to "feature" the photo app's images in its own app. The Dash Hudson editorial team then culls a proprietary database of more than 50,000 e-commerce products from more than 1,400 brands to make each image shoppable. They try to find exact, or close to exact, matches for the clothes and accessories featured in the photo. If you click to buy something, it looks like you're purchasing the item within the app, but you're actually purchasing it straight from the retailer. (If you've used Fancy or Lyst before, it's a similar checkout process.)
Much like Instagram, you can "follow" your favorite celebrities, bloggers and models. For example, if you follow "Pretty Little Liars" star Shay Mitchell on Instagram, you'll see that many of her Insta photos have been made shoppable on Dash Hudson. You can also upload images you want to make shoppable from your own Instagram feed, whether it's your own photo or a follower's photo. (This all makes me nervous permissions-wise, but co-founder Thomas Rankin says that the company has a "really aggressive teardown policy" in place in case a user posts a photo she doesn't have the right to post.)
The idea, according to Rankin -- who started the company with Tomek Niewiarowski -- is to create a social network around shopping. (That's quite a different philosophy from Spring, whose founders have reiterated time and again that they are not building a social network, but an e-commerce platform.) Right now, Rankin is not collecting commission fees on sales. But he might in the future. He also thinks that there's a chance for bloggers and other highly followed users to benefit financially. And while Rankin says the product is mobile first -- and will be available for Android soon -- Dash Hudson does plan to launch a fully functional website later on this month.
Dash Hudson could be fun to use, especially if you follow a lot of celebrities and are desperate to shop their outfits. But its challenges are pretty obvious. For one, using humans -- not image-recognition software -- to make each image shoppable may be more accurate, but it's also much more expensive. Then there's the matter of getting people to download yet another app and join yet another social network. And I'm not convinced that users will want to create their own "looks," although plenty of people love to do that via Polyvore and Pinterest. If you generally find photo-driven platforms frustrating because they're so difficult to shop, then Dash Hudson might be the right thing for you. Like any app, it'll be the community that determines its success. Download it now from the App Store.