Now you can be as creepy as Resident Evil 4's famed, hunching merchant when talking with people on Instagram. “Over here, stranger. What’re ya buying?” Instagram’s parent company Meta announced Monday you can now buy directly from small business owners when chatting with them on Instagram.
The company claims 1 billion people message a business each week on Meta-owned apps, which would include Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. Now those small businesses using Instagram Direct can ask for payments within the Instagram Chat function, which could include the option to ask for customizations or other questions about stock and shipping.
The company’s release said once a user asks to make a purchase, sellers can use the built-in Instagram Direct system to request a payment. Clicking on the payment link will take them to a screen just like many other online checkouts. Meta also explicitly intends the feature as a gateway to get sellers to set up digital storefronts on the shopping aspect of the app.
Though businesses in the U.S. who aren’t using Instagram Shops are allowed to use this new service, sellers also need to provide the usual basic personal information in order to access the feature, according to the Instagram Direct page. There are no fees to sell on direct, though the rub is apparently the social media giant is working with PayPal to set up its payment system, so not all information is stored in-house. On its info page, the company claims it won’t share that information publicly on Instagram.
The app has been on this path toward ‘online shopping channel’ for years. As an app that was originally all about sharing photos with your friends, its since gone through several transformations, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change any time soon. In 2020, the app’s shopping feature was expanded to support its video formats, allowing users to click on icons that take them to linked products shown in those videos. Those videos were also connected to the Instagram Shop part of the app.
Which goes to show how much Meta wants to keep users on the app rather than letting them leave to—god-forbid—visit another small business’ website to complete the purchase there. The tech giant is also advertising you can use Meta Pay, though no word yet if you’ll be able to use the much-maligned “Zuck Bucks” to pay for whatever product you found being shilled by a sponsored influencer. The company also advertises its own purchase protections for users buying items through chat.
Just like about every other app out there, Meta wants Instagram to look more like TikTok, with a focus on short-form video fed to you by an algorithm and an interface that looks very close to what’s become one of the most popular social media apps. Still, Meta seems to be sticking to shopping despite ByteDance-owned TikTok reportedly no longer interested in bringing its shopping experience to U.S. and European users. Now it seems that Meta wants to make the influencer-to-shopping pipeline as seamless as possible.
It’s also a step forward for Meta’s big dream of a metaverse, which of course would require a top-down ownership of all aspects of online life from content streaming and work—to online purchases. The company recently stopped requiring you to have a Facebook account to access the Quest Pro VR headset, and now requires a “Meta” account.