Instagram Will End Live-Stream Shopping and Focus on Ads

Instagram will cease allowing product tags for live-stream shopping in the U.S. as of March 16, a functionality that has been available to creators and businesses since 2020. Although live-stream shopping is popular and profitable in Asian markets, it has been slow to take hold in the U.S. and Europe. Instagram says users will still be able to set up shops and leverage shopping opportunities across their feeds, stories and Reels, just not in live broadcasts. The company will “continue to invest in shopping experiences,” focusing on those “that provide the most value to our users.”

As housebound consumers sent online sales skyrocketing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, pundits began touting live shopping, as companies including TalkShopLive, Whatnot, NTWRK and Brandlive gained traction. But post-pandemic, as consumers returned to in-person shopping, live-streaming lost its allure.

Citing Insider Intelligence data, TechCrunch reports that “social commerce as a whole, which includes live-stream shopping, only made up around 5 percent of total e-commerce sales in the U.S. last year.”

In lieu of live commerce, Instagram will shift its focus to advertising as a business and shopping discovery tool and to drive sales, TechCrunch reports. “This includes the use of its automated tools like Shop ads and Meta Advantage+ shopping campaigns” and the company “will also continue to invest in Checkout, where people can buy a product in just a few taps from Instagram and Facebook Stories, Feed or Reels,” according to TechCrunch.

China’s Amazon equivalent, Alibaba, has invested heavily in social shopping in the past 10 years, including Taobao Live, racking up $7.5 billion in one 30-minute interval, according to McKinsey Digital. WeChat and Douyin have also had success in China, where the 2020 live shopping market totaled $171 billion, according to McKinsey.

But TikTok, Douyin’s Western sister-company, has never been able to replicate that success, and recently announced it “was scaling back its live commerce plans in the U.S. and Europe as many live-stream tests produced zero sales,” TechCrunch writes, noting it hasn’t given up entirely, having recently been linked to an endeavor with TalkShopLive.

“It seems that Western markets’ different cultures and digital habits have made it difficult to replicate China’s live commerce success, just as it’s failed to produce an equivalent ‘super app’ that could compete with WeChat,” TechCrunch reports, although many retailers and Big Tech continue to chase the pre-social era success of cable’s QVC in the 1990s and aughts.

Engadget observes that Instagram’s abandonment of live-stream shopping comes as Meta Platforms heralds a “year of efficiency” and “months after Facebook wound down Live Shopping and pointed stores toward Reels.”

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