The Ins and Outs of Buying and Selling on Instagram

Oxana Kunets
November 18, 2014
With over 200 million monthly users around the world, Instagram keeps sponsored feed to a minimum and does not allow active links in posts. However, the commercial potential of the platform is indisputable. From clothes to puppies, regular people and businesses initiate sales on Instagram and complete transactions elsewhere, either by a direct contact through WhatsApp or by sending a follower to their website. Below are three startups which attempt to unlock ecommerce potential of Instagram and also three Instagram users who sell better on their own.


Hashbag allows users to search posts tagged #forsale on Instagram. If a seller is registered with Hashbag, a transaction happens within the platform, otherwise Hashbag sends a buyer to the seller’s profile to inquire about an item. With a simple and powerful idea in its foundation, Hashbag does not boast a powerful execution. Attempts to engage in a transaction by clicking on images result in errors. Moreover, having to go through a registration just to sell a pair of old but still presentable shoes seems like a major pain. And most items tagged #forsale are just that – one off sale of pre-owned clothes by personal profiles. The search spits out everything tagged with keywords you are searching for (e.g. #shoes #forsale). As the result, it feels like you are digging into somebody’s old and smelly closet, not a feeling that an Instagram user usually looks for. Not to mention that the domain powers “daily news about cannabis culture”. (view site)


Soldsie allows selling right in the comments of Instagram posts. If a buyer likes a product on a picture, all she needs to do is to comment “sold”, and Soldsie sends an invoice to a buyer to complete the transaction. If Hashbag’s focus is a buyer who shops for whatever there is for sale, Soldsie powers a particular brand with followers. Enabling a sale right in a moment, when a user is inspired, can lead to a high conversion. But, it turns out, a sale does not happen quite right in the moment: before a brand follower can actually automate the shopping experience from Instagram, she needs to register first. For example, UGG Australia, one of Soldsie’s prominent customers, displays Soldsie-enabled link in the profile. After registration, any comments, tagged #UGGShop with color and size, will automatically generate an invoice. Having to register in advance (and, potentially, separately for each brand) makes shopping experience tedious. Worse than that, when I shop for anti-cellulite gel on Instagram, I do not want to hang there with a big sign “SOLD!” (view site)


Curalate solves privacy issue with its “LiketoBuy” service. It creates an analogical but “shoppable” gallery, allowing a follower to buy things on a picture. One of their prominent customers, Nordstrom, maintains a beautiful Instagram gallery and invites followers to go to another gallery with the same pictures connected to the Nordstrom’s online store and checkout. So users do not have to publicly express their tastes, while they remain aspired browsing through beautiful images. However, looking through Instagram gallery, then scrolling up to the link in the profile, and then leaving Instagram hoping to find the same image in the shoppable gallery in browser seems like too many hoops to jump to make a purchase happen. The frustration grows if a post on Instagram displays many items (slippers, coffee, and a plate with breakfast) and the picture in the shoppable gallery only links to one (slippers) and not the item I need (that being coffee). (view site)  

The Roundup

All three, Hashbag, Soldsie, and Curalate, have an ambitious goal. However, whether their service will outweigh the traditional scheme of Comment->WhatsApp->Direct Email in near future is questionable. Three Instagram profiles below are examples of people/businesses who successfully sell using Instagram without help of any of the above startups.

@Patrickbeach: Yoga

With 195K followers, handstand guru, Patrick Beach, travels the world with his highly demanded inversions workshops and sells his training videos on Cody app. The yogi’s announcements on Instagram are immediate calls for action to people inspired by his journey. Aside from absence of support for services, Hashbag, Soldsie, and Curalate create an extra medium between a buyer and a desired item. On the other hand, buying a training video bundle on Cody app or registering directly on yoga studio site satisfies the need immediately (view profile)

@LNFashion: Russian High End Fashion Brand

With 145K followers, the LN Family brand creators Larisa and Natalia (hence, LN) admit that they spend more time on Instagram than on their own website. LN Family has a number of showrooms in Russia, neighboring Eastern European countries, and even in Paris. What distinguishes the brand is the level of social listening it exhibits. @LNFashion responds to all the questions in a personal manner, which gives a human face to the brand and creates a strong connection. Using intermediaries would diminish the personal effect that LN Fashion consciously tries to maintain. Moreover, educating buyers on “three steps to checkout” would simply look “spammy” and tasteless for buyers of expensive clothes. (view profile)

@ashleylongshoreart: Modern Art

Based in New Orleans, Ashely Longshore has a relatively small (7.9K) audience, by Instagram standards. However, amongst her fans are Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, and some of the Wall Street elite. Her paintings, going for $30,000 a piece and illustrating pop culture and American consumerism, are often compared to works of Andy Warhol. Charismatic artist is an avid anti-gallery propagandist and makes most of her sales via social media. She claims that the clients from Instagram rush to email her their credit card numbers to get to her works first. None of the companies described above would benefit an artist who is trying to do exactly the opposite – to dis-intermediate a dealer and build a direct bond with the buyer. This bond and the artist’s reputation make giving financial information not an issue. As the result, Ashely Longshore was named the leading business woman of the South by Forbes in 2014 (view profile)

The Roundup

All three, @Patrickbeach, @LNFashion, and @ashleylongshoreart, are just examples of how people popular on Instagram can have an incredible reach resulting in higher than normal conversion rates. Creating a non-invasive and clean Instagram checkout tool for these influencers could be golden. However, what existing solutions have to offer now diminishes the sense of connection that a follower develops with a brand. Hence, people who sell the most on Instagram are better off doing it on their own.

About the Author

Oxana Kunets

Entrepreneur at heart, I moved to US all by myself to learn how businesses operate at different stages, from early stage to maturity. I gained my experience in evaluating investment opportunities by both starting my own business, helping others launch theirs, and performing pre-acquisition company, market, and competitor due diligence. Experienced in financial models and building investor presentations.

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