Insta-Sales: Using Instagram as a Personal Shopping Mall

Entrepreneurs and major fashion brands are turning to the photo-sharing social tool to promote items for
WATCH Insta-Sales: Using Instagram for Personal Shopping

Scroll through any Instagram feed and you’re bound to see selfies, food porn, adorable pets and now lots of merchandise for sale.

The photo-sharing social tool has quickly become a personal shopping mall. Many small business owners, store fronts and even people looking to clean out their closets are turning to Instagram to sell their wares, and hashtags, such as #Instashop, #ShopMyCloset or #InstaSale, are linked to over 5 million posts selling everything from designer shoes to vintage clothing.

The way it works is users search a hashtag on Instagram like #InstaSale, which pulls up any accounts that are using that hashtag. Users can then browse posts, comment on them to tell the seller they want the item and then work with the seller to purchase it through services like PayPal.

“This is really the 2014 version of a garage sale,” said Alyssa Coscarelli, an assistant editor at Refinery29, a website that covers current fashion trends. “There’s no more hard work. You don’t have to lug bags across town to the resale shop. You can do everything from your closet, from your own bedroom. Snap a photo and post it right then and there.”

Coscarelli has had her own success selling items through Instagram from her own closet on her “Insta-store” called @shopalyssainthecity.

“I am constantly on Instagram and I kind of started noticing people doing this, so I thought, ‘Hmm, maybe I’m building enough of a following where I can do the same,” Coscarelli said. “And just in the first round I’ve already had some sales.”

When posting items for sale, Coscarelli said she’s personal with customers and goes “pretty light on the filters” because she wants the clothes’ appearance to be as real as possible. In the caption, she will include a description of the item, including its size and a few keywords, such as “sheer polka dot blouse,” and a style tip or two on what to wear with it.

“Aside from the importance of the quality of the photo and the price point, I think it’s really important to give it a personal touch,” she said. “You still want your customers to feel like, ‘Hey, that was awesome and I want to buy something from Alyssa again.’”

But you don’t post just any old thing for sale, Coscarelli said. It should be something that people can’t get a local chain store, so, for example, a plain white T-shirt probably isn’t going to sell.

“Instagram has become such a huge platform for ... fashion, personal style, shopping and I think it’s really the place to be now to catch people’s attention,” she added.

Women across the country are cashing in. Bethany Stutsman of Dallas said her Insta-selling started as a hobby in college, but now she has turned it into a fulltime business by buying items from thrift stores and reselling them on Instagram.

Insta-selling has also helped women like Ashley Steenhoven. She had a small consignment shop in Tennessee, and took to Instagram to boost sales. She said the customers came flocking.

“When we opened this in January we knew we wanted to use online sales as a way to drive customers to our store, but we didn’t want to use the traditional means we were using before,” Steenhoven said “We had heard a lot about Instagram and how other stores and people were using it to make sales and so we decided to hire someone to specifically do Instagram and it immediately took off and we saw results right away.”

She said a quarter of her revenue is now Instagram-based.

“It drives customers into our store [who] are local that have never been in our store before and come in to get one item that they saw on Instagram and usually end up buying several additional items with the item they came in for,” Steenhoven said.

And fashion brands are taking notice of this Insta-phenomenon, too. Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Coach and Burberry are just a few that have turned to Instagram. Indeed, 93 percent of fashion brands now have an Instagram presence, up from 63 percent in July, according to a recent Intelligence Report on Instagram by L2, a company that analyzes brands' digital competence.

Although users can’t directly buy items from big designers on Instagram yet, Nina Garcia, the creative director for Marie Claire and a judge on “Project Runway,” said it makes perfect sense for brands to turn to Instagram.

“Instagram is all about the visual. It’s all about the photo or the 15 second video,” Garcia said. “It is a perfect marriage really between fashion and Instagram. It’s all about that inspiring picture, or about seeing that blogger with the outfit. It is such eye candy.”

In a statement to ABC News, Instagram said it wasn’t meant to be a commerce platform, but officials are “inspired by the ways individuals and organizations have grown their brands.”

“At its core, Instagram is about capturing and sharing moments,” the statement continued. “The way in which the community interacts with Instagram has certainly changed and broadened over the years, but our focus will remain on providing the world with the best creative canvas. Nothing is out of the realm of possibilities, but we don’t have any immediate plans to change our business model around monetization.”