News/ Online Media

User-Generated Images Can Boost E-Commerce, Study Says

by Giselle Abramovich
Senior & Strategic Editor

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Article Highlights:

  • Instagram has reached 150 million monthly users in just three years.
  • A whopping 93 percent of brands now have a presence on the photo sharing network.
  • Instagram provides velocity in the purchase funnel.

A new study by L2 Think Tank, in collaboration with visual commerce company Olapic, found that putting user-generated image content into the context of e-commerce is a big opportunity for brands. 

There’s no doubt that the Internet is shifting from text-based communication and media to more of a visual, image-based Web. Search advertisers already are realizing its benefits, a recent Adobe Digital Index report shows. The biggest driver of this shift is that the majority of consumers in the United States, and abroad, now own smartphones and, therefore, are armed with cameras at all times. So little wonder that they're using them to take photos of the brands and products they love--and hate--most.

“Even when you think of the early days of the iPhone, it quickly became the camera most used on Flickr,” said Pau Sabria, co-founder and CEO of Olapic, in an interview with “It’s become easy for mobile phone users to generate image content. Smartphones are basically enabling a change in the behavior of consumers.”

Instagram: The Bell Of The Image-Based Social Ball
Social media is also a driver of digital image-sharing, according to Pau. Consumers share about 500 million photos a day via networks including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, and Twitter. From an image standpoint, Instagram is the most valuable for brands, Pau said. Its amount of engagement and growth over the past couple of months are larger than any other network’s. 

In just three short years, Instagram has reached 150 million monthly users, the report said--two years faster than parent company Facebook and twice as fast as Twitter. Instagram also gets 15 times the engagement and double the engaged user base than Facebook. 

In addition, the report says, 93 percent of brands now have a presence on the photo-sharing network, up from 63 percent in July. Brands post an average of 5.5 times a week, and 43 percent of accounts post more than once a day. Ninety-nine percent of user engagement is from likes, the report said.

It stands to reason that retail and fashion brands dominate the top 10 largest communities on Instagram. “For these categories, Instagram is an evolved form of window-shopping enabling users to see products on organic mannequins,” the report stated. “Beauty brand accounts are the fastest growing and yield the greatest engagement. Cult Beauty brands Urban Decay, Essie, and Lush outperform the establishment.”

According to Pau, marketers should start to consider visual communication as a key component of the marketing strategy, though there is no on-size-fits-all approach. This means every brand should be thinking about creating, curating, and aggregating engaging pictures in a meaningful way. 

“The way to think about this new image strategy is laying out what problems you want to solve and how these challenges can be alleviated with pictures,” Pau told 

Pau said he believes there is a big opportunity in tying e-commerce to social media and using user-generated Instagram photos on brand and retail sites. 

Instagram-Infused E-Commerce
A plethora of studies have found consumers trust user-generated content, such as ratings and reviews, over brand communications via email and social media, for example. And it’s no different from an image perspective, according to Pau.

“With consumers more likely to trust and take action based on user-generated content than brand advertising, Instagram provides velocity in the purchase funnel,” the report says. 

However, Instagram doesn’t allow the use of links in photo captions. Pau suggested that brands get around that by using Instagram photos outside of the platform on their own e-commerce sites, within branded galleries, on product detail pages, and even on checkout pages. According to the research, brands experience a 5 to 7 percent increase in conversion rate and a 2 percent increase in average order value when they incorporate, or link to, user-generated content on product pages.

“CMOs and heads of digital at different brands talk about social media and ROI,” Pau told “If you tie social media like Instagram to e-commerce, then you can create differentiation and also see the effect that social has on sales numbers. And at a time when brands are starting to act more and more like publishers, relying on Instagram photos means original content from the brand, but also means an opportunity in using user-generated content and curating content as well.”

About Giselle Abramovich

Giselle Abramovich is senior & strategic editor at Previously she wrote for outlets including Direct Marketing News, Mobile Marketer, Mobile Commerce Daily, Luxury Daily, and Digiday. Reach her at, or follow her on Twitter @GAbramovich.