NANDINI VAIDYANATHAN is gung-ho about Instagram shopping, and how the app empowers the brand and customer
I have always prided myself on not being weak, as in; no addiction of any kind can get to me. In the last one year, I have to shamefacedly admit that I am as weak as the next person. I am hopelessly addicted to Instagram Shopping.
Until we started Concoctions, our Indo-French eatery in Jaipur, Instagram was just another social media platform for me and I kind of kept track of it by hearsay. I remember in November 2019, when my daughter and I did a long road trip through Tamil Nadu, she tried initiating me into the wonders of Instagram for documenting our travelogue. Barring a few sunrise pictures and some inane videos I doubt I posted anything useful and regular.
When we started Concoctions, we realised how we could engage with our customers – both existing and potential – on Instagram; and I started spending more time on the app. Somewhere along the way, I discovered the Shop Now button on some of the brand messaging. In the early days, it was all genuine curiosity to know more about the brands and what they were selling, as nearly all of them were unknown names.
Increasingly, I found that this foray would lead me to discover quaint products, usually not mainlined on regular online platforms. By quaint I mean this, and I have mentioned brand names that I remember in brackets: a beautiful handcrafted coin purse with a rope sling (Sanskriti). A corduroy short dress that looked totally red-carpet wear without costing red-carpet price (seams friendly). A simple coffee-frother which was extremely utilitarian in a restaurant like ours (I don’t remember the brand name). Funky pants which didn’t look like pants (Evalaxy). And shorts which had more alphabet in their name than cloth in them (Whats down)! And OMG, handcrafted Patola shoes (Pair Patole) from Gujarat and the sexiest boxers from god-knows where (Bummer)!
For a while I did resist from buying. I would just look. Then one day I saw beautiful fairy lights which I thought were just perfect for our lawns at Concoctions. When I went to the payment page, it didn’t give me the option of cash on delivery. I exited the site but the pull of those swirling fairly lights was too strong, I paid 1800 bucks and made my first purchase on Insta. A couple of days later when I tried going back to the website, it said, under construction. Till date, the product hasn’t been delivered. So now I had a new metric. I would look, and only buy if it showed CoD option.
I have been shopping safely ever since. CoD is cool because when the delivery happens; if you are at home to receive it you make the payment on their QR code. If you are not, the delivery person calls you and you can transfer on Paytm to the number he gives you.
How come a picture posting site like Instagram became such a popular lead generating shopping site? Instagram launched Messenger API in June 2021.
Initially, as the name suggests, it was supposed to enable brands to engage in real-time communication with their customers. It was a brilliant move especially because we were in the thick of the pandemic and both small and large businesses were taking a beating from significantly reduced customer footfalls. The Messenger app ensured that the brands remained top-of-the-mind and with involved messaging, the brands could even induce a purchase activity, online.
Very soon brands discovered value in integrating their own online channels with this app so that active booking of appointments, sale of products and even after sales service could be rendered seamlessly and efficiently. Even fuddy-duddy banks are using the Messenger app on Insta to educate their customers about their own apps! So much so, any product that is looking for reach can set up a store on Insta today with minimal effort and a skeletal back-end team.
No more spending on real estate for a store, no more fancy marketing budgets, no more sky-rocketing customer acquisition costs! I have realised that all the products that I have regularly bought on Insta in the last few months are small businesses which now have the opportunity of remaining boutique, yet profitable, thanks to Insta!
I also discovered what I thought was just another mom-and-pop store. So for the longest time, I did only CoD. Then one day, I discovered it was a large and serious brand. They have the world’s worst customer service (from the templated replies I get from them, I am very certain their order fulfillment happens from their factory somewhere in China), but their AI is absolutely on the mark in sussing out my weaknesses!
Interestingly, many startups have sprung in this space offering conversational APIs like Gupshup, Amplify and the like, that not just do routine integration with CRM but are building bots and providing a complete end-to-end commercial transaction experience on Insta Messaging. The Insta experience has now gone beyond the realm of posting selfies. The road from discovery to order fulfillment is filled with to and fro messaging between brands and their customers. Once upon a time this road was long, arduous and frustrating for the customers, as brands generally were bad-ass. Now the brands don’t have to be, as Instagram empowers both brands and their customers alike. The one thing common to all the brands that I have bought on Instagram is evocative messaging (text and photography) and phenomenal product placement that breakthrough all the clutter of celebrity hype, in-your-face promotion of self through near-nudity or inane gyrations and a plethora of food pictures. I hope Instagram is here to stay for all our sakes.
The columnist has commenced her fourth professional avatar with her bakery and restaurant business in Jaipur (www.concoctions.fr) with her French Michelin-star chef life partner. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org