This is the latest in Localogy’s Skate To Where the Puck is Going series. Running semi-weekly, it examines the moves and motivations of tech giants as leading indicators for where markets are moving. Check out the entire series here, and its origin here

Instagram continues to evolve towards a shopping/eCommerce engine. This mostly includes consumer products that are visual-oriented (food, health & beauty), but it continues to expand. Its one-two punch involves cultivating a product-discovery use case, then rolling out buy buttons to make everything shoppable.

Users benefit from a one-stop-shop experience (literally), instead of a disjointed process of searching elsewhere or getting bounced to a retailer’s website. Retailers benefit from better integration and less abandoned carts; and Instagram benefits from all this happening under its roof.

You may remember from our coverage last week that all of this took a step forward when Instagram opened up its shopping program to SMBs. Previously available for larger brands and partners, SMBs can now sign up to be approved to sell their wares directly on Instagram pages and posts.

Now, more evidence emerges that Instagram is pushing its eCommerce master plan forward. This week it launched a global A-B test for new positioning for Instagram Shop. Some users will now see it directly accessible in the app’s main navigation bar (see screenshot below) replacing the “Activity” tab.

This plants shopping functionality in a persistent location, always a tap away. That tap brings users to a dedicated shopping area where they can search, discover, and filter products by category and other attributes. This is similar to what’s currently offered in the “Shop” module within Instagram Explore.

Beyond front & center positioning, this shopping module is expected to also get a new layout and UX sometime in 2020, per announcements Instagram made in May. Currently, users can browse the brands they follow plus categories like Beauty, Clothing & Accessories, Home, Jewelry & Watches, and Travel.

Meanwhile, the activity tab (heart icon formerly in the main navigation) is moved further into the background and can be found through an icon at the top right of users’ home screens. Again, this is an A-B test so not everyone will see the change until Instagram ingests the data and makes a UX decision.

The timing of this test is opportunistic, as tech & media companies continue to pivot towards all things eCommerce. This should resonate among retailers (including SMBs) that are doing the same. Both sides of the equation are driven to offset losses in physical transactions by scaling up eCommerce sales.

Instagram is meanwhile a likely candidate for this shift given its eCommerce evolutions already underway. And it can offer distribution scale via one billion users. In a similar light, Shopify recently partnered with Walmart to offer its merchants distribution scale through Walmart’s online marketplace.

Google also recently made Google Shopping ads free in the shopping tab and knowledge panel. It also announced that YouTube accounts can sell merchandise directly below their video, for which it will take a small commission. This could apply to SMBs that produce quasi-infomercials on YouTube.

Back to Instagram, we’ll be tracking it to see if the new Shop tab moves the needle… and if SMBs bite. If all goes well, the posts and feeds of Instagram will become populated with more buyable SMB fare. This could add new dimension to SMBs’ ongoing embrace of Instagram, which we expect to continue.

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