The bus rolled down the hill as the evening rose over Lake Zurich. My friend and classmate, Akbar, informed me that he would be going into the city, and not accompanying me on the rest of my commute. The reason, he said, was to deliver shoes to a “client” in town. Hearing this, I thought to myself, ninth graders don’t usually have “clients.”
Akbar is a new type of entrepreneur. He imports shoes and 3D pens from China and sells them on the internet. He advertises products on Instagram and people contact him directly to order. There is no selling platform, like eBay, between him and his buyers; he is literally a phone call away. Akbar has been selling to classmates since 7th grade, but using Instagram was something he recently learned from a friend. At the time of that bus ride, Akbar’s ‘insta-shop’ was five days old.
Earlier that week, Akbar received a text from a teenager in Zurich. Akbar ships internationally, but the kid requested to have his shoes hand-delivered. They arranged to meet at a train station a few days later.
After I left Akbar standing on the platform that afternoon, he hopped on a train into the city. Twenty minutes before the alleged meeting time, he received a call from the kid. They decided on a rendezvous, and hung up.
Akbar approached three guys, all of whom were young adults. They were wearing ripped jeans and flat caps. One of them stepped up, there was a short introduction, and Akbar removed the shoes from his bag. The boy took off his own sneakers and tried on the ones Akbar was selling; black, with gray laces and a vertical pattern on the sole. The boy, pleased with the new sneakers, bought them and left with his friends. A week after the sale the same kid contacted Akbar, intending to buy more shoes.
Using Instagram as a storefront allows anyone, anywhere to directly sell their products. As a student, this is an ideal way to manage a small business. Normally, ‘insta-shop’s’ receive messages from a buyer, which are followed by a short back and forth conversation. After deciding on a product or color, a sale is made. For payment, a service like PayPal or bank transfer is used. Once the seller receives the money, the product is shipped. In-person sales are exceptions.
Akbar excels at finding products for specific markets. He was interviewed for a publication, ‘Student Empires,’ about tips and tricks for running a successful business on Instagram. His ‘insta-shop,’ @yeezy_replica_shop, has been active for around three weeks and has completed twenty transactions. This may be an outlier, but it shows the possibilities for rapid success.
If you are interested in starting an ‘insta-shop,’ consider selling something that is missing in your community. Feature your products with simple photos (think Apple or online clothing stores), follow ideal buyers, and offer trackable shipping. Using a social network for selling can form a robust community around your services. The simplicity and high usage of Instagram allows for an effective connection with buyers in a digital age.
Recent Update: I followed up with Akbar after our initial discussions, to ask how his ‘insta shop’ was going. “It was getting out of hand” he wrote. After further inquiry, I learned that Akbar had been receiving many international orders. The problem was, he had lost connection with a Chinese distributor and could not satisfy his clients.
After this disruption, Akbar has found a new source for his products. Sales are increasing, but the amount of orders are manageable. He has also changed the name to @yeezy_replica_zurich.
Written by: Brennan Bates (’19)