Instagram has evolved from a place to post selfies, travel pics, and what you ate for dinner to a platform that people are using to make big money—from brands that use it as a marketing vehicle just as they would a magazine ad or billboard, to bloggers monetizing their accounts with affiliate links that generate income from sales of products they recommend. And now, the latest trend is among those using Instagram to directly sell clothes.
One quick search for hashtags that include #Instashop, #ShopMyCloset, and #InstaSale, and you’ll find millions of posts of people looking to unload everything from rare Chanel handbags, to vintage maxi dresses, to pre-worn J.Crew.
Here’s how it works: Put in one of the top hashtags—say #ShopMyCloset—and pull up all the posts that use it. Browse through, find something you want to buy, and then comment on the photo telling the seller you want it. He or she will then work with you to finalize the purchase, usually using a payment service like Paypal.
Instagram proved to be a surprise revenue stream for Ashley Steenhoven who owns a small consignment store in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Bloom Designer Finds, which she opened in January 2014. When one of her young employees suggested she get on Instagram to start selling pieces, Steenhoven agreed to give it a try, despite not exactly being a pro. “I’d never been on Instagram, at that point in my life,” she admits.
Within three months of joining she racked up 1,000 followers (she now totals over 3,000), a solid—but by no means gangbusters amount. However, business began to take off quickly, which she credits to a mix of her use of hashtags, and word of mouth among her pre-existing customer base.
Now, she says she totals between 30 to 40 sales a day from Instagram, which generate almost a quarter of her revenue. “We had a snow day this past winter, and closed the store, and I thought that day was going to be a wash, but I ended up making around $500 on Instagram,” she says.
As for what sells well on the platform, Steenhoven says, “Everything Lululemon…when we can hashtag something Lilly Pulitzer or J.Crew that does well for us, but it could also be random jeans—you never know.”
Wendy Nielsen, based near Sacramento, California, started an Instagram store with her two daughters Ashley and Haley earlier this year called Haley’s Closet (pictured above), and it’s been a growing business for the trio, who have the dream of opening their own boutique.
They post upwards of ten items for sale on the account daily, and Nielsen says their quick success selling on the platform has come from a mix of factors. “Answering questions quickly—it doesn’t matter if it’s three in the morning people want an answer—[providing] correct measurements, and posting daily,” have all been key to their business’ growth, she says.
So what does it take for someone to pull the trigger, and actually buy something on Instagram? “I get asked that a lot,” Nielsen says. “I think there are a lot of people out there who don’t like to shop in stores, but they do want to know how big the armhole is on a shirt, what the material feels like, is it cotton, rayon or something else—you have to be really descriptive and honest.”
Nielsen has also taken advantage of the fact that her two daughters are two different clothing sizes, and passes on how clothes look on them to her customers wondering if something will fit properly, providing a personal touch one wouldn’t necessarily expect from Instagram. “If something is running small, I tell people,” she says.
Not everyone taking advantage of Instagram’s money-making potential are doing it as their full-time job like Steenhoven and Nielsen, but rather are using the network to make some extra cash. Meredith Haynes, based in Dallas, Texas, has been a blogger since 2007, and turned to selling used clothes on Instagram that she no longer needed.
“In the beginning I would post several small sales, but now I post two giant sales a year,” she says. “The clothes are seasonal…I sell fall-winter clothes in August and spring-summer clothes in March…and each sale is generally 60-75 items, ranging from clothes to pajamas to shoes.”
Obviously, Haynes has picked up a few tips and tricks along the way—namely that it’s important to price things to sell. “Even if you think a dress or shirt is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen and is in mint condition, you have to be reasonable with what you charge. It took a few sales for me to get a good idea what people will pay for particular items. I really try to take the sentimentality out of the clothing and price it as objectively as possible.”
As of now, the majority of those selling clothes and accessories on Instagram are boutique owners, bloggers, and those just looking to make a few bucks, but fashion brands and large retailers would be wise to follow their lead—if they can figure out how to do it.
According to a recent L2 report—a company that analyzes brands’ digital presence—93 percent of fashion brands from Marc Jacobs to Topshop are now on Instagram, although they’ve been using it as a marketing and branding platform showcasing their goods instead of actually selling them directly. This is likely due to a number of factors, particularly the limited ability to post links on the photo-sharing service, and the platform’s lack of a native buy button, which would enable you to, for example, see a post about a Burberry scarf and click to buy without ever leaving Instagram.
Until they do figure out a way to allow shoppers to buy products directly from Instagram—which would cut out the tedious act of having to go though various websites and clicks—it’s fair to say that Instagram is a money-making opportunity that anyone can capitalize on—even you, if you know how. Below, 6 must-know tips before you start selling.
How To Start Your Own Instagram Store
1. Start with a welcome post about who you are, including some background information, so people feel comfortable shopping from you.
2. Next, create a shopping policies post, giving it its own unique hashtag so you can refer to it in every future post. Think of things like shipping, when payment is required, if you are or aren’t willing to ship internationally. It’s also wise to include your email address so people know where to reach you should they have any questions.
3. Pros suggest including the shipping amount in your price. That’s because it becomes a headache to start adding shipping costs after someones agreed to purchase from you. Just remember to make a note of that so your customers know exactly what they’re paying for. Also, consider offering a shipping bundle discount to encourage buyers to purchase multiple items.
4. When posting items for sale, use hashtags like #shopmycloset, #instacloset, #instasale, and #clothesforsale, which will help people find your “store.”
5. Much like eBay, the go-to payment method on Instagram is Paypal, so make sure to set up an account. Many sellers will have shoppers leave their Paypal email address in the comments of a post to indicate that they want to buy something—it’s that simple. Keep in mind that Paypal takes a portion of each invoice, so factor that in when pricing your items.
6. When creating invoices, give detailed descriptions of items so buyer know exactly what they are purchasing. Send the invoice within 24 hours of the sale ending.