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Selfies and sales: Instagram users employ app to peddle wares

SALT LAKE CITY — Instagram announced last week that the app now has 150 million users who have uploaded more than 16 billion photos since its launch three years ago.

While the typical person utilizes Instagram to immortalize today’s lunch, celebrate “Selfie Sunday” and post filtered sunsets marked #nofilter, some users are busy making money and purchases.

Over the past year, some Instagram users — often stay-at-home moms and Millennials — started creating “closet shop” accounts, which are virtual shops for secondhand and high-end clothing, vintage accessories and handmade jewelry. Buyers see the postings by following Instagram shops, “dropping by” shops they know about or searching a slew of hashtags like #shopmycloset, #igsale and #igshop.

“It’s like a glorified garage sale,” said Nicole Christensen, a Pleasant Grove woman who runs @shopkelsey with six friends. “It’s the new and improved way to do a garage sale. It’s so neat because you can stay at home, clean out your house, take pictures and people want your stuff.”

Christensen first tried selling some of her clothes on a friend’s Instagram shop. She was blown away by the success and started @shopkelsey six months ago to make some extra money and spring clean new and gently used items.

“I’ve sold hundreds and hundreds of items: clothes, shoes, jewelry, shams, home décor for local people who can come pick it up,” Christensen said.

Recently she and fellow Small Fry Blog bloggers have been helping a clothing vendor sell off its samples on @smallfryshop. Because people have been buying items so quickly, they started having people make bids for the items. At the end of the day, the best offer wins, and the user is sent an invoice through PayPal.

“For me it’s not a business. It’s just for fun, but it turned into a really successful thing,” Christensen said.

The success of Instagram shops seems to have blossomed over the past six months. Karla Reed knew of only one other shop a year ago when she started her Instagram shop, @chicthrifty.

“Now there are a million shops, I feel like,” Reed said. “It’s gone really well for me, and it’s a fun outlet and an easy way to make some money.”

Reed created the account when she was overwhelmed by her thrift shopping success — a hobby she discovered in Chicago and was pleasantly surprised to find even more successful in Salt Lake City when she and her family relocated.

“I made the @chicthrifty account because I was finding so much when I was thrifting,” Reed said. “I started the shop to sell what I didn’t want to keep.”

Reed said she sells only things she would wear. She tries to stay consistent with her preppy style and sticks to certain brands like J.Crew and Ralph Lauren. She posts three to four times a week after she goes “thrifting,”and the items usually sell within 15 minutes of being posted.

Like most Instagram shops, whoever emails her first wins the item as long as the person follows through on the PayPal payment within a couple of hours. Some shops ask users to comment with their own PayPal email, but Reed said this can lead to fraudulent activity — people pretending to be a seller and then sending invoices to the buyer.

She said she likes using her Instagram shop more than eBay because it’s simpler, more lucrative and not dependent on customer feedback.

“The only fees I pay are through PayPal, which is maybe 5 percent on each invoice, which is pretty low,” Reed said. “I found out with eBay it all depends on your feedback. And there are some really mean people out there that will attack you. I have a good product, an audience that trusts me … and (Instagram shops) cut out any negative feedback.”

Like Reed, Shalice Brawner of Chicago said she enjoys running her hippie-chic Instagram shop, @herchicboutique, as a hobby, but also as a way to make some extra money and to fund her shopping habits.

“My gift is thrifting,” Brawner said. “I can find a needle in a haystack. I’ll go to a thrift store, and I’ll find things that are literally in Nordstrom right now.”

To aspiring sellers, however, she offered the caution that having an Instagram shop isn’t easy. Besides finding the time — Brawner has four children under the age of 5 — it’s difficult to take good pictures, and it’s time consuming to deal with emails and shipping.

“If you’re selling, it’s just about having really high standards for yourself,” Brawner said. “There’s an art to doing it well. The market’s almost getting really saturated … and you have to stay competitive.”

However, she said it’s worth it because it’s her passion. Brawner has built up her followers and ships all over, even to Guam and Canada. As a self-proclaimed virtual stylist, she’s built a relationship with a few of her consistent buyers and even feels like she can shop specifically for them while still sticking to her style.

Eventually, she said, she wants to use her Instagram shop to raise money and send proceeds to a charity.