In a previous article about selling on Instagram, I described some ecommerce businesses that are using the photo sharing site more or less the way it was intended - you post photos of items that are related (in this case, they're all featured items for sale), and get viewers to click through to your website so they can compete the purchase.
Since Instagram began allowing users to link posted photos to external websites, this kind of selling became a real possibility. But for other sellers, this is just a starting point. In this article, I describe some ways to sell on Instagram that take advantage of its nature as a social marketing venue. By doing "social selling" on Instagram, merchants can get viewers to fully engage with your website and with other buyers as well.
Why Sell on Instagram?
Springbot, which provides "bots" that analyze an ecommerce business's customer data and interactions and recommends marketing actions, thought so highly of Instagram as a sales platform that it integrated its product with the photo-sharing site early in 2015. The integration works with stores hosted on Magento and Shopify. The goal is to enable merchants to turn their Instagram page into a "customized shopping gallery."
"In three easy steps, an ecommerce merchant can publish a customized link to their profile, encourage customers to shop among featured products, and convert product page visits to sales - all from Instagram," says Springbot's Chief Marketing Officer, Erika Jolly Brookes.
Bob Bentz, author of a book about mobile marketing entitled "Relevance Raises Response: how to Engage and Acquire with Mobile Marketing," says the advantage Instagram presents is engagement.
"On Instagram, users seem interested in every photographic post, whether it is from their friend or a celebrity crush," he observes. "Business posts on Instagram are also very subtle. One company that does a great job with showing is products on Instagram is Forever 21. It shows its fashions on girl-next-door type models in pictures that drive traffic to its retail stores." (Here's a link to the Forever 21 Instagram page.)
Get Social with Customers
Shawn Fludd, who sells baby and toddler accessories through his California-based Bear & Boo Children's Boutique, has developed some clever ways to generate sales on Instagram. In fact, he says 70 percent of his sales come through this venue. He puts prices and product descriptions on his Bear & Boo Instagram page, and then encourages people to follow through.
"We include a photo of the products we have for sale and offer our followers the opportunity to leave their email to receive a PayPal invoice. We also provide our followers with discount codes and give them a link to our website where they can go and use the codes to purchase the products directly."
In addition, Fludd has banded together with other businesses. "We also started the page @ashopsmallsavebig (on Instagram). On this page, we collaborate with other businesses to offer our followers and their followers great deals. We recently completed a great sale involving over 40 businesses and plan to host another in a few weeks."
Recruiting Influential Instagrammers
Ishmeet Singh is the founder/owner of High on Leather, which sells genuine leather bags and is located in India. Most of its audience is in the US.
"We get an average of 60 followers every day and 1 to 2 new orders daily from Instagram," he says. "It is one of the best places to start selling your products without investing in ads." While Facebook search and Pinterest have lost users, this "leaves Instagram open for youth."
How does he do it? First, he doesn't put prices on the images of leather bags that cover his Instagram page. This, he says, makes customers curious to visit their website.
Secondly, he recruits influential Instagrammers. "We approach fashion influencers with lots of followers to promote us by giving them free gifts." As a result, pictures of Singh's leather bags show up all over Instagram.
The user @musakazmi (321 followers) and @rowanrow (73,400 followers) posted a photos of themselves with leather bags. It's impossible to tell if they are among Singh's chosen gift receivers or not, but either way, lots of people are seeing the bags and the link @highonleather on a variety of Instagram pages. (@rowanrow's photo of a High on Leather bag got 2,593 likes, by the way.)
Singh suggests that sellers get started with Instagram by uploading 1-2 photos with correct hashtags per day. He adds: "Follow your industry influencers and talk to them about promotional activities."
Yuval Aharon of Israel takes it a step further in what some might call "Guerilla Instagram Marketing." His business, Rated Radar Detector, sells radar detectors through the Amazon Affiliate Program.
"Radar detectors are in the car accessories/gadgets niche, so what I'm doing is finding a list of big cars' fans pages and asking them if they are interested in making some easy money," he says. "I'm offering them some money for getting a post about radar detectors in their page with some eye-catching descriptions and a link to my site."
He adds that although he gets a lot of sales using this method and says, "it pays back my investment easily," he doesn't depend solely on Instagram. He also uses Facebook ads, search engine traffic and other methods. "Do heavy market research before you pay someone for posting," he cautions.
Tips for Instagram Ecommerce
Candice Galek, founder of Miami-based Bikini Luxe, uses the Foursixty app, which is provided by Shopify to its merchants, to sell on Instagram.
She emphasizes the importance of getting referrals from customers. "We find posts that stimulate conversation, such as "tag your friend,"" she says. "These are great because we get lots of comments and customers friend referrals. As I am sure you know, a customer friend referral converts at a much higher rate because of the built-in trust."
Another tip: develop multiple presences on Instagram. Candice Galek has five Instagram pages, three of which are devoted to her bikini business.
She also tells merchants to focus on high-quality visuals. "Customers want to look at pretty pictures, you will lose followers and interest if you post ugly discount photos.
Another tip: you don't always have to just post what you sell. Look for pictures and hashtags that are performing well and repost them. This will earn you new follows, and your current followers will appreciate them."
Bob Bentz suggests picking a good "handle" or name on Instagram. If your desired name is taken, don't go with Instagram's suggestion to put "a series of meaningless numbers after it such as "MainLinePia3253." It is better to choose the business name plus a period and then a location or product name such as MainLinePizza.WaynePA. This is superior for branding and also for SEO purposes."
The bottom line is expressed by Lisa Chu of Black N Bianco Kids Clothing, who calls Instagram "a vital piece of the sales puzzle," and encourages merchants on Instagram to do some social marketing.
"The best way to attract more customers is through your current satisfied customers," she says. "Offering current customers incentives to share their photos of your product will help build the popularity of your brand. Especially influential users on social media - they have the potential to make your brand go viral."