Instagram Reviews: Increasing E-Commerce Security & Small Brand Visibility

Leveraging social commerce to build trust in purchasing platforms and smaller brands.


Isabel Herczeg

3 years ago | 9 min read

Instagram Reviews Mockups

Let’s face it, over quarantine I did my fair share of online shopping. A common theme I found is that, like the millennial I am, I love to browse for shopping inspo on Instagram, and would go as far as to say … I like the Ads.

I have even caught myself whispering my wishlist to my phone in hopes of it digging up some viable options for me. However, reflecting on my own behaviors I realized that I had never followed through with a purchase on Instagram, and usually de-platformed to make my purchases.

After talking to a number of Instagram users, I found that very few of them had bought something on the app, which pointed to an issue with the in the experience of purchasing on the platform. Instagram allows users to purchase products within the platform, however, this action is rarely carried out because:

People Problem: When I am online shopping [on Instagram], I want to make safe, informed purchases. However, I can’t do this well because:

  1. The purchase process is complicated and/or long.
  2. The purchasing process does not feel secure.
  3. The Instagram Shops feature is hard to find.

IG Shop Needs More Visibility

Instagram Shop Feature as of October, 2020
Instagram Shop Feature as of October, 2020

Instagram has become the modern powerhouse of marketing by appealing to a youthful, global audience that is marketed products from real people that they trust, relate to, and have an interest in.

As quoted in the Article, How Instagram Makes Money, it states that About 72% of teenagers use Instagram, and 73% of them say it’s the best way for brands to reach them with promotions. I also read here that Instagram users generally like to see advertising on the platform; “About 70% of shopping enthusiasts say they turn to Instagram for “product discovery.”

On Instagram, users are exposed to opportunities to purchase on the platform from Ads, both on stories and on their feed, from products tagged in posts, and within the Shops page. After doing some initial investigation into the user experience on the platform, I found that the Shops feature allowed for the most streamlined method of purchasing on the app, as users did not have to purchase through a webpage pop-up window.

Going into this, my original hypothesis was: If IG Shops was easier to find, trust, and use, more users would follow through with purchases on the platform. Therefore, I set out to discover why people didn’t use the Shop feature and what their purchasing behaviors looked like instead.

Understanding Why IG Shop Isn’t Used

User Research
Of Instagram users, there are window shoppers and users that browse with the intent to buy. After interviewing five users from either of those user groups, I found insights:

  1. The IG Shop feature is hard to find, and users are initially overwhelmed and confused by its content, so they abandon the purchasing process.
  2. Most users do not go on IG primarily to shop, but make impromptu purchases based on inspiration to shop from ads and influencers; however, they leave the platform to do so.
  3. Users trust buying from an Influencer they follow and relate to, as opposed to buying from an Ad.
  4. Users do not make their impromptu purchases on the app because they like to do research into the products and brands before they purchase, to ensure they are making a safe and informed decision.
  5. Users feel that the checkout process is unsafe. When purchasing through a webpage, users are unsure which information Instagram is privy to. For this reason, users deplatform to ensure that their sensitive information is being protected.

I found that while the majority of my cohort liked window shopping on Instagram, to find smaller, more obscure brands with more unique and sustainable products, few users actually bought things on the Instagram platform.

The most common reason stated was that they were nervous about putting their personal purchasing information into the app because they did not trust that the products they were buying would be as they appeared on the platform, and did not trust the company being advertised. One quote I got from an interviewee touched on several issues with the process:

“Shopping on Instagram does not feel as secure as shopping on my laptop; I find it sketchy to put my card information into a website through another app, and sometimes I get spooked that the Ads are going to steal my information.” — Female, 20

At first, I though users did not make purchasing through Instagram because of the design and location of the Shops feature, but instead, it was because they did not trust the brands they were getting Ads from in the first place.

The key ingredient that is missing is a sense of safety and trust in the purchasing process, the product, and the brand.

With these insights, I conducted a brainstorming session with an interdisciplinary group of my Cornell colleagues. We brainstormed how to remediate these three problems in four opportunities areas, and then we ideated on solutions spaces to make users follow through with a purchase.

  1. Part 1 — Identifying Opportunity Areas: How might we make a better purchasing experience on the platform?
  • Improving the location and layout of the IG shops feature
  • Improving the effectiveness of Ads on Instagram
  • Leveraging social commerce and the power of the influencer
  • Lowering the barriers to purchasing on the platform
  1. Part 2 —Solution Spaces: How might we mobilize users to follow through with a purchase?
  • Make purchasing more trustworthy.
  • Make shopping more irresistible.
  • Make researching and engaging with shops on Instagram more convenient.
Ideating with the Homies
Ideating with the Homies

With these goals in mind, we voted on a solution that leveraged social commerce to build trust in new products and brands; implementing customer reviews on the platform.

Customer Reviews of Instagram Shops

I decided the best way to make users follow through with purchasing on the app is implementing reviews on the platform because it will build trust and engagement between users and brands.

Reviews will also bring understanding, clarity, & visibility to it the shops feature, and encourage users to follow through with purchases through the Instagram app in the most streamlined way.

Implementing reviews also leverages the power social commerce and word of mouth, as information has the greatest impact when it comes from people you can relate to and trust. To understand how reviews might work to build trust among users, I researched existing e-commerce sites to learn about how they have built trusting relationships and user-brand engagement on their platform.

Market Research

I looked to Facebook Marketplace, the Shop App, and HeartThis to see how they build trusting relationships between users and retailers.

For Facebook, it is the power of the social connection that allows users to trust one another, and for the other two apps, they use privacy statements and buyer protection policies to make the user trust in their services and ability to help them if a brand betrays them. Using this as inspiration, I began iterating on what the feature might look like.

Building Trust in Product Discovery

Initial Approach

I spent my first iteration gauging whether reviews should exist within a Shop’s page, or if they should be an entity of themselves where influencers could showcase their favorite products and endorse brands. To test my approach, I designed a paper prototype to see if it would actually serve a need.

Initial Approach & Ideation
Initial Approach & Ideation

Exploring Flow and Entry Points to Bring Visibility to Reviews

Despite being more likely to buy from an influencer than from an Ad, I found that users trusted word of mouth of regular people more than influencers. This steered me in the direction of having an open forum, where discussion is encouraged, and any users can leave a review or respond to a review of another person if they agree or disagree. This will allow the truth to reveal itself in the masses.

I explored numerous entry points for the feature: from a companies profile page, a companies shop page, from a tagged post, and from an Ad. Below I weighed the pros and cons of each.

Medium Fidelity Mockups of The Four Flows & Entry Points Explored for Reviews
Medium Fidelity Mockups of The Four Flows & Entry Points Explored for Reviews

While leaving A and B as supporting entry points of the Reviews feature, I pursued C for my prototype because it was the easiest entry point into reviews for most users that are interest in a specific product. An insight that this meets is that users are most likely to buy from a new brand if they see a product of theirs tagged in a post from either an influencer because they trust real people as opposed to refined marketing images.

Establishing Reviews Content Requirements

After looking at several precedents for reviews, I began iterating on what kind of information to include in reviews to paint the clearest picture of a product.

At the top of the reviews page, I chose to incorporate a 5-star review, for either the shop as a whole (as an average of all their product reviews ratings) or for a specific product when searched. I did this because the 5-star rating system it is a parameter that most people are familiar with.

For the reviews themselves, I focused my design around making small bits of digestible information, as Instagram is a primarily image based platform with little text.

As a sub-feature, I incorporated the ability to link a product from a companies Instagram shop, to create a quick link to purchasing the item itself. I also sought out to investigate other parameters that reflect a positive of negative shopping experience. I began with quality and value, but when testing my medium fidelity designs with participants, I found that “value” is subjective based on individual budgets.

I found that both quality and customer service are parameters that apply to industries from clothing to services, and resonate with users to reflect the accuracy of the product and trustworthiness of the company.

Content Requirement Explorations
Content Requirement Explorations

Navigation and Filtering Within Reviews

After deriving a working medium fidelity mockup of the reviews page, I sought out to allow users to curate the page to get the information most relevant to them. I created a sort and filter options to allow for this.

Navigation and Sorting Explorations
Navigation and Sorting Explorations

Final Interaction for Review Finding and Creation.

This brought me to my final iterations of the reviews pages. I used attractive branding colors to make the page easy to browse, and utilized the rainbow branding color in the add reviews button to encourage users to leave a review.

Once users have left their first review and learned how to interact with the page, the add reviews button becomes black and white. I also chose to make the leave a review function as a modal, as an insight I gained from medium fidelity testing was that users did not like getting lost several pages deep on Instagram.

The modal gives them visibility into their currently location, and an easy way to navigate backwards or save their work if they are more interested in browsing at that moment.

Finished flow for Review Creation
Finished flow for Review Creation

The final interaction includes a review discovery flow and review creation flow. This way, users can feel comfortable about purchasing a new product, having gotten an accurate review of its quality, the companies trustworthiness, and how closely the product shown in the post will fulfill their needs.

Users can also leave a review of a product they have purchased, and by doing so, help to trust in smaller brands that others users may just be discovering.

The Future of Instagram Purchasing

Instagram Reviews Mockups
Instagram Reviews Mockups


My goal with reviews is to increase trust in smaller brands to make people actually purchase on the platform by encouraging more engagement between users and brands.

Social commerce is incredibly powerful, as nothing is more trustworthy than word of mouth reviews, and online reviews are an elegant solution that brings personal experience onto the platform to drive more informed purchasing decisions.

Near completion of this case study, in mid November 2020, Instagram came out with an update that replaced the like button in the bottom navigation bar with the shop feature button.

This was a lovely surprise, as it proved that the IG team at Facebook shared my goals of bringing more visibility to this feature, and made design changes to create purchasing action from the massive potential they house as a powerful millennial marketing tool. I look forward to seeing the IG shop feature grow in popularity, and the implementation of reviews to boost purchasing activity, small business growth, and social commerce engagement.

The Instagram Update November, 2020 (upper left); with three Reviews mockups.
The Instagram Update November, 2020 (upper left); with three Reviews mockups.


Created by

Isabel Herczeg







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