Challenge of Driving New Habits on Highly Engaging Products

Is it just me or have you also turned a blind eye to the new shop button on Instagram UI already?

From starting out as a humble photo editing and social sharing app decade ago, to making you scroll endlessly when you've nothing else to do (or even when you're burdened with tasks), Instagram has built itself to be one of the stickiest products currently.

The high engagement of Instagram is super effective and it is likely that you'd have experienced it first hand. If you're interested in reading about how big a behemoth of a platform Instagram has turned into with some revenue and usage stats, you could read through this report here.

You may love it or hate it, but the fact is that Instagram has been taking a lot of smart product decisions which has turned it into what it is today. One of them has been the notifications, about which I'd written about a long time back. Here's the link to the old post if you want to check.

There have been a lot of new features which have been introduced over time in the form of Stories, IGTV, Reels, and more recently, the dedicated shopping space. It is obvious that the features like Stories, and Reels are copies from popular features of Snapchat and TikTok respectively. So, there's nothing too original that Instagram seems to be doing, but it's just still doing it well.

Instagram is basically doing the same to features from other popular products just the way Apple has been c̶o̶p̶y̶i̶n̶g̶ innovating from Android features to make them more acceptable for their users.

What's with this Shop thingy?

A shop like interface was available on Instagram for a while now, where the brands could use it to tag and sell items. However, now this interface has taken over a prime, and one of the commonly used (at least personally) spaces in the UI.

Image source: Instagram

Out of the other features that have been introduced, this particular one I feel does more for the brands and advertising, rather than the regular, majority users.

This feature was introduced as a test sometime earlier this year, and judging by the internet outrage, seems to have rolled out globally earlier this month. As a product, Instagram is definitely looking at milking as much money as possible from the advertisers by giving them a prime property to advertise and earn from.

Obviously, as expected, it got hate and outrage from the users for this change. But every other feature has got that hate too. Be it Stories, for copying from Snapchat, or Reels for copying TikTok and making the TikTok-hating Instagram audience to end up becoming T̶i̶k̶T̶o̶k̶-̶e̶r̶s̶ Reel-ers themselves. Even IGTV, which was quite original a feature released, wasn't something that interested the users.

The Shop, as mentioned before is a different kind of feature addition from these other examples. And before looking at how it might affect the user engagement and behavior and why, let me point out what worked in their favor for other features.

Stories

Stories were the obvious rip-off feature from the popular Snapchat feature. They're also placed on top of the screen in the UI. This position, which is considerably further from the easy reach of other buttons, still became a huge part of the Instagram experience quickly.

Image Source: t.ly/my30

Before stories, Instagram had already evolved as a platform where people were following other profiles for the content that they post. So, when Stories came out, people already had an audience. Also, the people who followed for the content, got to consume more content.

This demand and supply set up that was already built by Instagram before the introduction of Stories, made it way popular than the original Snapchat counterpart.

IGTV

IGTV was introduced as a way to upload long form video on Instagram. Posts allow 1 minute of video, so this was the option to upload longer videos.

Image Source: Instagram

Initially, Instagram tried to introduce it with an access point on the top right corner of the UI. It also had (or maybe, still has) another app for viewing IGTV content.

While it was not quite an accessible way to check the content on IGTV, over time, it has seamlessly integrated in the normal post viewing experience for the users with the videos being part of the usual feed. Thus, although it felt unnecessary, over time, this new feature has blended with the user experience and the behavior for engaging with IGTV videos has definitely become more common.

Reels

While Instagram looked at the longform video with their IGTV experiment, TikTok was growing because of its focus on short form content. Instagram took another inspiration here and made this new Reels feature.

Image Source: t.ly/9kxF

The conflicts that TikTok has been having with the governments around the world also helped Instagram, and it made sure it launched in the markets at the right time. For instance, the India release, where it made its feature live to a huge audience base quite soon after TikTok was banned in India.

Habit Forming

The success of such new features can be judged by how much it affects the user behavior and forms new habits. A great example here being Stories. While considering the ease of access, it'd have made sense to keep this access point of Stories closer to the bottom of the screen, however, it still became highly engaging for the users because the content was something that they want to engage with.

So, depending on how the users want to engage with your product, new habits are formed. In case of Stories, the pull of the feature was enough for users to get over the friction of having to click on top of the screen, so that they could access it.

And again, the relevance of the feature is more important here, because IGTV also started with an access point on top of the screen which I doubt many bothered to go and check. That's what made them push more IGTV content through the feed, or sometimes even through the Stories access points.

UX changes with Shop

The Activity button was one of the frequently visited sections of the app because it showed a space to check your profile notifications about likes, follows, comments, etc. Instagram itself being designed and having evolved into a space with focus on vanity, this constant checking of the activity section was a big habit with the users. I say this from personal experience of having engaged with this subsection regularly, I don't have any data about it.

Swapping this position with the Shop button has pushed users to inadvertently enter the shop, while all they want to check was the activity tab. This is frustrating for sure. Now the expectation here would be to convert more people to access this section of the UI often and then mint money from the advertisers by giving them more eyeballs on their content which they can advertise here. Possibly because the unsolicited ads in the feed were not enough, or weren't as effective in converting people to buyers maybe.

With an app that is highly engaging, and a button position that is so easy to access, putting this dark-pattern-ish change to redirect more users to the shop, which in turn is more $$ for Instagram. But how effective is it in the long run?

Habit Forming Backfires

Now this is from my personal experience of usage over the past few weeks of having this change in. When the change was introduced, I, like many others inadvertently entered the shopping area of the app while all I wanted to check was my notifications. In addition to this, it took some time to actually find where the notifications are placed.

However, after a couple of unintended clicks, and some intended clicks to actually see what's this page about, I realized that I'd already started ignoring that button completely.

The reason here was that Instagram being such an engaging app in itself, made me return and check it often, like it always did. What this meant was I also got used to the new changes quite soon. How much ever I hated these new changes, it didn't matter, because in a very short time, my behavior was redirected towards the feature that was more relevant to me - Activity tab.

Instagram might have introduced this feature to make me access the shop more, but after the mostly unintentional access in early sessions, I have developed the habit of ignoring the button altogether and shaping my experience in a new way.

Now I think this isn't something unexpected for Instagram, and I don't think they're that stupid to have made a huge billboard area only to make it such that they see initial engagement bump and then it goes away and becomes ineffective over time. After all, I believe that they'd have made it live for a bigger audience only after seeing potential through their soft launch. Or maybe, I'm an outlier of an user who adapts fast enough, which is also unlikely.

What could be the possible next steps for expanding on this feature then?

Next Steps for Shop

Instagram has evolved into this influencer driven marketplace where there is huge value for the reach and engagement with the content that you post. Brands are already making use of this by employing influencers to market their products.

So, this Shop space is definitely here to stay. Currently most, if not all, the items that you see there redirect you to their respective websites in order to make a purchase. Here Instagram earns money from the advertising aspect.

It can be quite possible that going forward, they'd look at including a way to make payments through the app directly so that the platform could provide a marketplace for the users from where they can do the purchase without leaving the app. This would mean an additional income for Instagram from its users as well. This would basically build up a competition to the marketplaces like Etsy.

I still believe that changing the location of the Activity tab and trying to lure users into the Shop section of the app won't be as effective. However, I expect more updates to come to this section soon and the product to evolve more in the direction of a one stop shop for your needs.

TL;DR

  1. Instagram has introduced a Shop button at a position where there was one of the frequently used Activity tab.

  2. This is similar to other big feature releases that it did over time like, IGTV, Stories, and more recently, Reels.

  3. Those features have effectively changed the user behavior on the app to make the users engage with content that is available there.

  4. With the Shop, after a few unintended taps, users would get used to accessing the Activity tab instead of the shop quite easily.

  5. The reason here is also the fact that Instagram in itself is a heavily engaging app. That makes sure that people get used to the new habit quite soon. Which maybe engaging with stories, or not engaging with the shop.

  6. It'd end up in seeing an early bump in the engagement with the Shop screen, but this bump will recede quite soon as users will actively avoid the Shop.

  7. I expect that Instagram will be building this feature further to turn the app into a shop with ways to purchase directly and posing a competition to brands like Etsy.


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Ishan Manjrekar

Game Designer, exploring stuff in and around the digital products space