Will direct shopping disrupt Instagram’s demographic edge? (IANS Interview)

Mumbai, Nov 6 (IANS) A big chunk of Instgram's one billion users is young. But will the platform continue to be a favourite among young people when the Facebook-owned photo and video-sharing app launches direct shopping in the app is the question.

To put it in perspective, 63 per cent of the platform's Indian users are believed to be between 18-24 years of age, 51 per cent between 25-34 years, 40 per cent between 35-44 and 23 per cent between 45-54.

Instagram, which, according to Statista, has 69 million users in India, is currently testing direct shopping in the US and plans to bring it to more markets in the future. When it launches the facility in India will it only have WhatsApp as a payment option which is slated to be launched in the country soon?

These are some of the questions that Vishal Shah, Instagram's Vice President of Products, addressed in an interview to IANS during his India visit earlier this month. He also talked about how Instagram plans to respond to growing competition from short video-sharing apps such as TikTok in India. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Q: Young people in India appear to prefer Instagram over Facebook. What drives them to the platform?

We see broad adoption of Instagram among young people and here are the key reasons for this. First, it is a pseudonymous platform. So it does not require you to reveal your real name or real identity to create an account. Young people are still figuring out what they are, what their interests are and how do they represent themselves. Instagram allows one to create an identity of one's choice. And if they do not like that identity they can create another identity. So the platform offers a lot of flexibility. It is a core part of why Instagram has worked well for young people.

Secondly, it offers an asymmetric relationship, meaning you can follow me, but I don't have to follow you. So you get more control over who you want to follow.

Thirdly, young people are very native to their phone. Instagram is built for the phone. You don't really have a desktop experience. Our creation tools are very mobile centric and known for ease of use.

Q: As you focus more on shopping, would you continue to focus on the young demography?

The fact that we saw a billion people across the world means that we are certainly not a young person-only platform. I think we are uniquely suited inside the Facebook company to serve the needs of the young people for the reasons I mentioned. But we serve everyone – people who are older in demographics, as well as younger ones, are valued on Instagram.

And yes, when it comes to shopping you have to have people who have the ability to buy something. And that may not be the youngest generation. It's the older people who are more likely to make purchases. Similarly, if you go deeper into IGTV, you might see more younger people there as younger people are more likely to follow up and coming creators. So we have different interest verticals that might skew a bit differently. But that is okay as we are trying to solve needs of everybody.

Q: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said that in India TikTok has gone ahead of Instagram. He also mentioned that TikTok works much like Instagram's Explore feature. So what more are you doing to beat the competition?

I believe that the best way to succeed in our product is to know who you are, what you represent and how you want to grow. Instagram is the home to creativity and expression. That has been true from the day we were founded. It's why we have a vast and robust creator ecosystem. It's also why you see a lot of different platforms. It's not just about video.

It can be about photos, it can be about Stories, it can be about video and the benefit that we see from a platform like Explore is that we have the ability to look at the broad ecosystem, not just the people you directly follow.

We will focus on making sure that ecosystem feels really healthy and robust. So we are going to focus on what makes us special on creativity and on expression, making sure people have further abilities to express themselves.

Q: When WhatsApp Payment comes to India, will it be the default payment option for direct shopping on Instagram?

In general, we want to support, as many payment option as we possibly can when we bring direct shopping to any market. Right now we are testing it in the US. So we are using credit cards and PayPal – payment options that are popular in that market. When we expand to other markets, we would like to support the payment options that people are most comfortable with. We want to make sure that people also have the option to shop with WhatsApp.

Q: What is your target for the India market in terms of growth of users and montetisation?

Ans: I think Instagram has resonated well with users in India. We want to learn how people are using the product, the needs that they have… so that we can make it even better. But I think we have a very strong healthy business even today.

Q: Any particular product you want to focus on?

We want to invest in two main areas – one is how people connect with people they know, and the other is the connect between people and the things and products that they love.

So on the first, we will continue to build creative tools that that we have in Stories, and continue to give people new ways to share, like in Threads, and focus on being really clear form the privacy and safety perspectives.

And on the interest side, we will be building deep experiences on the interests. IGTV is a deep experience for creators to share video. Shopping is a way way of going deep in the experience of shopping. So we are going to deep into verticals from interest perspectives as well as with people and sharing.

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