How to drive online sales via Instagram

A new study finds several common elements among the Instagram images that lead shoppers to make a purchase. For instance, consumers are more likely to buy after seeing unfiltered images rather than those using one of the social network’s 20 filters.

Zak Stambor

The Instagram images that spark consumers to Like or comment on a photo are not the same as those that drive online sales, according to a study of Instagram photos by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee marketing professors Purushottam Papatla and Nima Jalali.

The researchers examined consumers’ responses to more than 130,000 collections of images on 61 retail sites that work with photo-management vendor Olapic. Several retailers, including White House Black Market feature on their e-commerce sites images that consumers share on Instagram.

The study found the images that drive engagement are attention-grabbing or aspirational, such as a puppy or a scantily clad model, while those likely to lead a sale are those that a shopper can relate to, such as a consumer wearing a retailer’s sweater.

 “Marketers may use a supermodel to get your attention on a billboard,” says Pau Sabria, Olapic co-founder. “But when you’re ready to make a purchase, you’re interested in reality. You’re wondering, will this fit me? Is it nice quality?”

Shoppers’ desire to see images that inform their purchases explains why they are more likely to buy after viewing an unfiltered Instagram image rather than one using one of the social network’s 20 filters, which let consumers tweak the photo’s colors, Sabria says.

Here are the main elements the researchers found drive sales:

* Non-filtered images.

* Photos posted by consumers who post to Instagram infrequently but have many followers.

* Images with long captions, unless those captions include question or exclamation marks.

* High concentrations of yellow or blue in the frame; prominent green elements, which tend to foster engagement.

Sabria says Olapic plans to incorporate the findings into the algorithm it uses to help retailers select which consumer-shared images to highlight on their sites.

Internet Retailer’s new 2014 Social Media 500, which ranks the leaders in social commerce by the percentage of web site traffic they receive directly from social networks, includes a number of other social-related metrics, such as which of the retailers market through Instagram.


e-commerce, Instagram, Nima Jalali, Olapic, Purushottam Papatla, social media, Social Media 500, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, White House Black Market