I recently caught up with co-owner and marketing mastermind behind Boston co-retail space For Now, Kaity Cimo. She runs the space with friend and business partner Katharine ReQua. They opened a year ago and have played home to over 80 brands in that time.
No Website? No Worries! How to Sell on Instagram without a Website
While most of us know Instagram solely as an image and video sharing platform, few realize that Instagram actually moonlights as a viable ecommerce platform. Indeed, if you have some IG know how, it’s easy to set up an online store that runs entirely on the ‘gram.
Of course, not every business will do well running their store entirely on Instagram, but there are a few cases in which keeping your business operations concentrated on the platform makes a lot of cents.
In this guide, I’m going to go over why to sell on Instagram, how to sell on Instagram without a website, who should do so, and several ways to get your Insta-store up and running.
Whether you’re just starting out or you already have an established business, you’re sure to find some new ideas that can increase your revenue and help you expand into new markets.
Why should I sell on Instagram?
Let’s be clear: not everyone should be using each of these selling methods. While the social media platform does provide a unique way to sell your products, some methods have very specific use cases and are difficult to scale.
For the most part, Insta-selling provides three primary benefits:
Simplicity — for you
Selling on Instagram is about as simple as it gets. Assuming you’re already part of that #instalife, you can start by making a post and captioning it with “DM me to buy!” That’s it. Really.
Of course, there are other ways to sell on the platform, but it’s easy to see just how fast you can get a store off the ground. Usually, to start an ecommerce store you have to design a website, and while platforms like Shopify and plugins like WooCommerce make that easier than ever before, you’ll still encounter pitfalls along the way like slow loading times, site optimization, etc.
With Insta, if you already have an established profile with a fair number of followers, you can start making sales right away — no assembly required.
Simplicity — for your customers
It’s important to note that the Instagram sales experience is also very user friendly and streamlined for your customers — it’s an extremely direct connection between customer and seller that’s more reminiscent of buying from a local farmer’s market than a traditional ecommerce store in many cases.
Nowadays, customers can buy your products directly through Instagram without having to leave the app. That means they can make a purchase without interrupting their voracious content consumption and leaving the platform. In the words of the immortal Ariana Grande: “[They] see it, [they] like it, [they] want it, [they] got it.”
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This one’s a biggie. In fact, this point is exactly why influencers are able to make their entire living from the ‘gram. Instagram is first and foremost a social network, and that means that its primary purpose is to foster connections between its users.
Think about this: only 3% of people trust sales reps. If you’re an established Instagrammer with an engaged following, you’re likely already swimming in something that your everyday salesperson is totally lacking: trust.
Your followers are more likely to trust your personal recommendations — even if you’re recommending your own products — over some random site they come across online. Leveraging the trust your users have in you can lead to some massive returns, and once your users receive your product and enjoy it for themselves, your connection with them will flourish and likely lead to repeat sales down the line.
Who should sell on Instagram?
So, you know the “why”. Let’s go over the “who”.
As noted above, if you’re just starting out, Instagram can be a good way to get your feet wet without making too much of an investment. Similarly, anyone with a solid following can get up and running pretty quickly and decide whether they want to keep their business solely on the ‘gram or not later on. If you’re a fashion brand, selling clothing on Instagram can be particularly lucrative due to their visual nature.
Now, I want to make a quick distinction here between selling on Instagram through likes, comments, and DMs, and using Instagram’s built-in checkout or linking to external sales pages. Linking to your ecommerce store from your bio is a strategy that almost every online store should use — Instagram is a great way to promote your business, and there’s no reason to leave prospective customers in the dark as to how to actually make a purchase. Nowadays, Instagram even lets customers checkout directly through the app, which makes purchasing incredibly easy.
That said, selling on Instagram through likes, comments, and DMs usually won’t make sense for businesses that already have an established web presence — it’s simply too much work. There are some ways to automate the process that may come in handy (we’ll go over those later on), but you’ll need to weigh setting up a second sales platform against driving more traffic to the one you already have established.
If you’re an established business, you’ll likely want to focus on driving traffic to your site and using Instagram shoppable posts. Which brings us to our next section:
Instagram shoppable posts
Now, it’s time to move onto the “how” of selling on Instagram. First up, we’re going to take a look at Instagram shoppable posts. These posts connect directly to your Shopify or WooCommerce store and allow customers to make a purchase without ever leaving Instagram.
They look like this:
As you can see, the item is tagged. Tapping on the tag will bring you to this page:
And finally, when it’s time to check out, you’ll arrive at this page:
Now, that’s a seamless Instagram shopping experience if I’ve ever seen one! So, what are the pros and cons?
- Seamless movement through the sales funnel: When you’re selling, you want to move your customers through the sales funnel as quickly and seamlessly as possible. With shoppable posts, your customers can go from initial awareness to final purchase without even having to leave the app. That means less time to get distracted, get annoyed by a website that isn’t loading properly, or anything else that could lead to an abandoned cart. Instagram saves your customers payment and shipping info, so they won’t have to re-enter it on your site and potentially rethink their impulse purchases.
- Easy integration with your pre-existing store: Unlike selling through DMs or comments, you don’t need to do any extra work to make a sale — everything is totally automated. As long as you have a Shopify or WooCommerce store and a catalog set up with Facebook, you’re good to start letting your customers check out through Instagram.
- Not all platforms supported: If you’re not selling with Shopify or WooCommerce, you may run into trouble. Currently, BigCommerce is working on supporting shoppable posts, but it’s still in beta. Hopefully, we’ll see more support for other platforms in the future, but considering Shopify and WooCommerce are the two biggest ecommerce platforms, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem, not to mention you can always set up a shop on another platform solely for use with Instagram as well.
- Less traffic to your site: If you’re making sales through Instagram, you’re not going to bring your customers to your site. This isn’t necessarily problematic as you’ll still keep a connection through Instagram, but you can’t customize the checkout page to include any special offers, upsells, or email list opt-ins.
All in all, Instagram shoppable posts are a great asset for any business. If you want to get started, here’s what you’ll need:
- An Instagram business account
- Shopify or WooCommerce
- A Facebook page and catalog for your business
Now, let’s take a look at a few other types of Instagram sales strategies:
Selling on Instagram from comments
There are two ways to sell from the comments on your Instagram: by manually contacting everyone who comments and by using an automated tool like Soldsie.
Before getting deeper into either one, let’s take a look at what selling from comments looks like:
This is a bit of an old-fashioned Instagram sales procedure, and it was more popular before Instagram added their own checkout with Instagram feature. That said, if you don’t want to set up a separate website for your store, it can still be useful.
If you want to place all your orders manually, start by making a post with a caption that says something like “comment sold to purchase”. Then, for everyone comment that comments “sold” (or any other word you choose), reach out to the commenter and request their PayPal and shipping info. Send them an invoice, and once they’ve paid for it, send the product on its way.
Alternatively, you can make things a bit easier on yourself by using a tool like Soldsie. This will allow you to set a keyword and automatically send out emails to any user that comments with your keyword. However, to make this work, your customers will need to register with you first, and then they’ll need to check their email. All in all, it’s not saving them much time compared to just making an order on your site, and it might turn off some customers.
Here’s the good and bad:
- You don’t need a website: If you sell directly from the comments, you can sell on Instagram without a website. This can be useful for sellers that are just starting out.
- You foster a direct connection: If you’re manually filling every order, you’re going to have to actually speak with your customer to get their info. This gives you an opportunity to either upsell or chit chat and hopefully make a repeat buyer out of them.
- Not very user friendly: If you go the automated route, users will have to register with you before they make a purchase, which doesn’t end up saving them any time. If you fulfill every order manually, you might end up weirding out some of your customers, as they’ll need to send their shipping and payment information directly to you through a DM. This feels much less secure than transmitting that over a normal sales page.
- Time consuming: Manually contacting everyone who wants to buy and fulfilling their orders takes a lot of time. If you’re just selling a few items every now and then, this shouldn’t be too problematic, but if you’re planning to do some serious volume, this can quickly get overwhelming.
To sell through Instagram comments, you need:
- An Instagram account
- A way to receive payments and send invoices
- A way to fulfill orders
Selling on Instagram from DMs
Selling through DMs follows pretty much the same process as selling through comments: you’ll tell your customers to send you a DM if they want to make a purchase, and you’ll take things from there.
Let’s see what this looks like:
Pretty self-explanatory: you make a post that asks your customers to reach out to you to make a purchase. You can also mention in your bio that interested customers can DM you to purchase any items on your feed. From there, you’ll follow the same basic procedure as you would if you were selling through the comments: ask for their shipping and payment info and fulfill their order.
Overall, this strategy makes a lot of sense for local and exceedingly personalized businesses. For example: if you’re selling personalized bracelets, it would make sense to say something like “DM me to make a personalized order!” It’s a great sales tool for anything that you’d need to speak with a customer about before shipping off.
Similarly, it can also be a good way to sell services. If you’re a freelancer, you may be able to attract clients by posting your work and telling anyone who’s interested to DM you.
- Forces a connection with your customer: There’s no way around it — if you sell through DMs, your customer is going to need to speak with you to tell you what they want to buy and to give you their payment info. Because of this, you get an opportunity to foster a deeper connection and even to upsell them.
- Great for personalized items: If you need to discuss the item you’re selling with the purchaser before you ship it out, selling through DMs can be very convenient.
- Not very streamlined: Selling through DMs forces customers to reach out to you, and while some will welcome that connection, not everyone is so keen on being social — even on social media. Many customers will prefer checking out on a website or through the Instagram app and not having to deal with social interactions.
- Takes time and effort: There’s no way to automate this one. If you want to sell through your DMs, you’re going to need to manually fulfill every order.
To sell through DMs, you need:
- An Instagram account
- A way to receive payments and send invoices
- A way to fulfill orders
Selling on Instagram from a link in your bio
You could probably see this one coming — it is Instagram after all. Since Instagram’s inception, users have only had one way to link to external sites: their bio. There’s no way to put links in captions, so it’s common to see users captioning their posts with things like “link in bio” — this goes for products, too.
Although selling from a link in your bio is a bit less popular now that you can checkout on Instagram itself, it’s still useful for sellers that want to drive traffic to their store or aren’t using an ecommerce platform that supports Instagram checkout.
Here’s what it looks like:
If you look at their bio, you’ll see this:
And if you follow the link, you’ll end up here:
Boom. Pretty easy. All in all, this is still a very viable way to sell on Instagram — especially for products like art or anything else that isn’t produced on a massive scale. That said, most businesses will want to put their store’s link in their bio anyway, so the only real difference here is you’d need to actively direct interested customers there.
The biggest problem you’ll run into with this Instagram selling method is that it can be difficult to promote multiple products at the same time without using a link directory like Linktree, for example. While you can always post a link to your entire catalog in your bio, it can be useful to link directly to a page for a specific product — that way, when you say “buy link in bio”, your customers won’t have to look around to find the product they want.
But what do you do when you have multiple posts for different products that all say “link in bio”? That’s where link directories come in. Without going too deep into them, a link directory is an external webpage that easily directs your customers to the content their looking for. They look like this:
From there, your customers can click the product (or in this case, the recipe) they want to see, and get directed to it without having to look all around your site for it.
Related: If you’d like to learn more about Linktree, check out our recent review: Linktree: A Hands-on Review Through the Eyes of a Small Business
- Directs traffic to your site: Anytime someone wants to make a purchase, they’re going to need to go straight to your website. That gives you an opportunity to brand and customize their checkout experience — you can have them sign up for your email list or try to upsell them on other products.
- Familiar experience: Everyone’s bought a product from a website, so it’s a shopping experience they’re used to and trust. You won’t have to worry about customers being skeeved out by sending their payment and shipping info to some rando online.
- Not as easy as Instagram checkout: While directing your customers to a link in your bio is familiar and fairly easy, it’s not as seamless as checking out directly on Instagram. There’s a bit of a tradeoff here: you’ll direct traffic to your customized site, but you could lose a sale if it doesn’t load properly or your customer doesn’t want to enter all their info on your site. Overall, checking out without having to leave Instagram is much faster, especially considering Instagram saves their payment and shipping info. With a link-in-bio situation, there’s a lot more opportunities for your customer to rethink an impulse purchase.
To sell through a link in your bio, you’ll need:
- An Instagram account
- A website
- Optional: a link directory
Useful tools for selling on Instagram without a website
If you’re selling on Instagram, here are a couple tools that could be useful to you:
Like2Buy attempts to make the link-in-bio shopping process easier. The tool generates a link that leads to a gallery of all your products. From there, your customers can checkout off of Instagram.
We discussed this product above, but if you’re planning to sell through comments, don’t forget this one! It automatically sends emails to everyone that comments “sold” on your posts.
That about wraps it up! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck and happy selling!
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