In the digital age, technology is advancing at a breakneck speed in a million directions, so it can often seem hard to keep up with the pace of innovation. This isn't new - tech companies have been anticipating, or even predicting and determining, our needs for years, creating and providing us with products and services we never imagined we'd need, but that we soon couldn't live without. (We're looking at you, iPhone, Uber, Facebook and Amazon.)
However, it seems like this time around, consumers beat tech gurus to the punch.
When Instagram was launched in 2011, it was presented as a primarily visual platform. The creators probably never imagined that in under a decade, business owners from Baltimore to Bahrain would be utilizing Instagram as a digital storefront. Yet, here we are. While Instagram has now officially announced additional capabilities allowing select businesses to advertise and sell products directly in the app, mom and pop shops in the Middle East were doing it long before it was officially sanctioned.
"In Bahrain, if you do not have an Instagram account, you are an anonymous entity," says Neal Schaffer. "The Instagram account, where people prefer the simple engagement and direct message capabilities, goes hand in hand with the widespread popularity of WhatsApp here for mass messaging and communication."
Many businesses and influencers the world over have been complaining about the lack of selling ability on Instagram for awhile now, lamenting that consumers have to leave the app to make a purchase, which discourages impulse purchases. While the platform allows brands to include product tags on their posts and stories, which let users see purchasing information on products, it redirects users off the app to make a purchase, losing many users at the point in the process.
But business owners in the Middle East didn't wait for Instagram to make the change. Instead, they found a workaround. Basically, they use Instagram to catalog their offerings and provide ordering information for users. Their photos show their products and feature a WhatsApp number people can call to make their order. Once they've made the order, the product gets delivered to their home and they pay. There's even a company working on a cryptocurrency to make the financial end of the transaction even more simple.
Predictably, Instagram has now released a limited program allowing 22 major fashion and beauty brands to extend purchasing powers to their customers directly through the app. These brands include Prada, Balmain, Oscar de la Renta, H&M, Zara, Kylie Cosmetics, and Anastasia Beverly Hills. When users tap on a product they're interested in learning more about, they'll see an option to "Checkout on Instagram." There, they can enter their order, billing, and shipping information (which Instagram will store for future purchases), pull the trigger on their purchase, and go right back to scrolling and double-tapping.
Is that a little easier than calling a number to make a purchase? Most people think so. In the meantime, the shops in Bahrain will continue their workaround approach until Instagram rolls out this capability for all retailers.