How Michael Kors Tries to Force Instagram to Do Retail

Michael Kors, founder and chief creative officer of Michael Kors Holdings Photograph by Peter Michael Dills/Getty Images

There’s money to be made for any retailer who succeeds in making Instagram a shopping site. Michael Kors Holdings is taking a crack at it, hoping to nudge its 3.1 million photo-swapping followers into making purchases.

The problem facing Kors and other retailers is that Instagram, a Facebook company, doesn’t make it easy to sell stuff. For all its scale and corporate participation, the photo-sharing platform is still all about photos. The outcry that Facebook set off when it bought Instagram was apparently enough to keep it from messing with that formula. Instagram doesn’t allow text and links and prices and the rest of Web infrastructure that pipes users to a “buy” button.

For a while, the best that brands could do was post a product’s item number in the comment section of a photo. Indeed, the Kors work-around is relatively clunky. First, it has to convince Instagram fans to register for its program, #InstaKors, with an e-mail address. When those fans “like” a Kors photo, the company e-mails them direct links that can be used to purchase the items in the photo. For a modern e-commerce experience, this is a long, annoying detour.

Scott Galloway, founder of Red Envelope and a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said people generally aren’t in a shopping mood when clicking through a friend’s photos or reading Tweets. “So far, social and commerce are strange bedfellows,” he explained. That said, engagement rates on Instagram are 15 to 25 times higher than those on Facebook and Twitter, which makes the space particularly valuable for any company looking to make a connection.

What’s more, retailers have little to lose. The magic of social media lies in capturing just what a person wants. Someone who “likes” a bunch of leopard print pants probably intends to buy a pair (or a fifth pair). Kors might as well try to give them a nudge, as long as its cost is as little as a few e-mail blasts.

The tech team at Nordstrom, meanwhile, has taken a more direct approach. The company hired Curalate, a social analytics firm, to create a platform called Like2Buy, a sort of shadow Instagram portal synced with the company’s real Instagram profile. Everything a Nordstrom fan “likes” is stored on a separate site that looks like Instagram, except the photos carry links to product pages.
At the time of its launch in August, Bryan Galipeau, Nordstrom’s director of social media, said the work-around was the closest thing yet to “delivering a seamless shopping experience.” Beyond tech strategy, however, there is one major difference between Kors and Nordstrom on Instagram: Kors is almost five times more popular.

Indeed, when it comes to the photo-sharing site, the burgeoning fashion brand dwarfs some of the biggest names in the luxury and apparel games, including Coach, Lululemon, and J. Crew. Even Adidas can’t keep up.