Shoppable Ads and the Decline of the Browser

By : Elizabeth Garlick


When was the last time you opened a browser to do something on your smartphone? If you’re struggling to remember, you’re not alone. It seems that for anything life throws at you theres an app to make it effortless. Need groceries? Amazon Fresh delivers to your door. Stranded without a ride? Hail an Uber. Looking to book a workout class or dinner reservation? Try ClassPass and Resy. Browsing to kill time? Meet, Instagram. Um, what about meditating? There’s Headspace. I could go on, but I think you see where this is going: For just about any activity, well, there’s an app for that.


Even though Apple’s popular slogan, “there’s an app for that,” first appeared a decade ago, it’s arguably more relevant today than ever. The more we turn to our smartphones to manage our day-to-day, the more we turn to apps over browsers. And if you’re like me, or those surveyed in VidMob’s 2018 State of Social Video report, the browser is quickly becoming an afterthought.

Why? Per the survey results, both Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to open social apps first, suggesting that time spent on mobile devices is moving away from traditional websites viewed in browsers. Additionally, Gen Z is four times more likely to start a mobile session on an app than a browser page. This trend doesn’t stop at US borders, either. In Germany and the UK, only 3% of Gen Z open a mobile browser app first and only 21% and 15%, respectively, open one within their first three interactions. Clearly, young consumers prefer to use apps.

Even if you do still frequent your browser (because who hasn’t googled the proper spelling for ‘pneumonia’ or wanted to know which day of the week fell on Tax Day), it’s becoming increasingly clear that people are inclined to spend more time in-app.


Stop me if this sounds familiar: You’re browsing on social media and come across an ad for a pair of must-have shoes. You go to purchase and are bounced from your place in-app to the retailer’s website (i.e. to a browser). While this is a purchasing experience we’ve all likely encountered, it’s not exactly ideal. Or seamless. Or particularly delightful (especially when you return to Instagram and are booted from your spot in-feed). In a word, it’s disruptive.

Well, that’s all about to change. Recently, Instagram launched Checkout, a new feature within the app that enables users to buy products from a brand’s shopping post without ever leaving the app. Instagram even notifies users when their purchases have shipped and stores buyer info, like name and address, to make repeat purchases a breeze. Now that’s a one-stop-shopping experience.


This new feature has a serious impact on the future of e-commerce. By eliminating friction from the traditional in-app discovery and purchase processes, the path to purchase becomes a delight. At the same time, it also provides an attractive incentive for brands to showcase their entire offering in those apps. This, of course, will drive more users to seek apps over browsers to learn about new trends and products.


Truth be told, Instagram isn’t the first to recognize this opportunity, and they certainly won’t be the last. For apps that are built on discovery, Instagram and Pinterest for example, it won’t be surprising to see shoppable ads become the new norm. These platforms provide a discovery experience that browsers simply can not—one that is incredibly valuable for marketers. Feeds are personalized to a user’s unique interests, so it’s easy (and addicting) to find inspiration for new recipes, outfit ideas, funny memes, or whatever else a user might be into.

For e-commerce brands, while in-app, shoppable ads might seem like a bit of a disruption to the familiar way of conducting business on browser, it’s important to remember that they’re not disruptive to a consumer’s shopping experience—and that’s a big win. And while we shouldn’t yet mourn the death of browsers, it would be wise to admit that its role is dramatically shapeshifting as we speak.