How Instagram has spearheaded South-Asian fashion e-commerce.
By Anu Ramakrishnan, creator of finddesiwear.com
Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that Instagram is more than just a photo sharing application. It has emerged into an ecosystem of highly diverse user-generated content, spanning across several domains — food & travel, celebrity lifestyle, photography, beauty and fashion, to name a few. The mere simplicity of the application from an accessibility and usability standpoint has burgeoned several uncharted territories by being the biggest exploiter of the C2C (or user-to-user) business model. And where this has the highest impact, is in rapidly developing economies, allowing small business owners and self-starters to thrive.
We already saw the Indian fashion industry moving online in a slow, yet steady pace, with the popularity of Facebook in the early to mid 2000’s (and with the coming of online retailers like Jabong, Myntra and Amazon in India some years after). It was common to find small business owners, mom & pop shops and literally anyone with a desire to sell to find a way to do so through Facebook, for little to no overhead of developing and maintaining and online presence. Several upcoming designers, wholesalers and independent retailers found ways to reach their target audience through word-of-mouth advertising, one Facebook post at a time.
With the rise of Instagram, there’s not just the advantage of reaching a broader, more content-hungry audience, but there now remains a platform for everyone, big or small, to coexist.
And this is where I believe Instagram has opened up a great opportunity for South-Asian fashion to thrive, for buyers and sellers alike. Besides being the fastest growing app of the year in general, the product design and some of the most used features have organically paved way for e-commerce to thrive, particularly in the South-Asian fashion & retail space. So how exactly has Instagram led to this success?
Free advertising through the Explore algorithm
The ‘explore’ section on Instagram was created with the intent of improving content discovery, and with the recent addition of categories, it’s gotten so much easier to find more of what you love. As a user, if you were already someone who consistently engaged with fashion or beauty content, the new explore feed makes it easier to find content in a more organized, tailored way.
And why is this important for e-commerce? Free advertising! For small business owners that do not have the capital to invest in Facebook ads or promoted posts, the explore feed serves as a ‘free’ platform to increase discovery. By following some simple yet key steps to organically boost posts, sellers (i.e. users) can get to potential buyers (i.e. other users) with relative ease.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Instagram introduced a shopping category onto their explore page soon, given all the other cool features they’ve introduced for users of Instagram Business.
Direct line of communication between vendors & customers
Another aspect that makes Instagram interesting, particularly for South-Asian e-commerce, is the ability to get directly in touch with customers through Instagram’s communication channels. Of course, there’s the ability to add email and phone-number hot links to your profile, but it’s really the ability to leverage direct-messaging and interaction tools like stories to really build a ‘connection’ with the customer — which is really what all brands should be about! Instagram stories are packed with hidden features that are powerful modes of engaging with users, eventually resulting in those conversions (i.e. purchases).
Moreover, most South-Asian small business owners get away with owning and maintaining a website, and take orders & manage payments with customers through Instagram direct messaging. Conversations between vendors and customers are often carried over to Whatsapp or other modes of communication and payments are typically handled through PayPal, Xoom and other e-payment methods.
This is an absolute no-brainer when it comes to selling on Instagram. The ability to buy-and sell without owning an online-store and/or employing additional resources to maintain the site, is a model that has worked across several platforms such as Facebook and Etsy. It’s even true that the Facebook Marketplace app came about because buy-and-sell groups were the most active and engaged groups on the platform. Users capitalized on this aspect of Instagram which simplifies the process of maintaining a product catalogue (because Instagram is, technically an e-catalogue!), instead of having to land on the user’s Facebook page and find photo albums featuring their products.
Some vendors provide details on price and shipping costs within the post, but most others refrain from providing those details and instead encourage users to direct-message their inquiries to pave way for that one-on-one customer interaction.
Everyone gets to coexist
The great thing about why Instagram’s e-commerce business model, particularly for South-Asian fashion is super useful is because everyone gets to coexist. Business owners can help other business owners by featuring each other’s products, through mentions, and by collaborating with influencers who help promote products and exemplify “word of mouth” advertising.
In summary, as far as the South-Asian shopping community is concerned, Instagram is a great place to find the latest and greatest fashion trends and products. By allowing users to leverage native tools, Instagram has surely helped bring South-Asian fashion to members of the community world over.
If you’re interested in South-Asian fashion & e-commerce and are curious to find vendors and stores selling ethnic clothes & jewelry, head over to www.finddesiwear.com.
Disclaimer: The links and photos shared in this article are purely for informational purposes and are not sponsored or affiliated to me in any way, with the exception of www.finddesiwear.com, which is a website I own and manage.