We’ve all heard the truism “a picture is worth 1,000 words”. But this truism isn’t just confined to pictures; it applies to all visual data, from logos to digital graphics. Ecommerce startups understand how important an image is to a product’s sellability. In fact, an image can be the difference between a sale and non-sale because the nature of ecommerce means customers cannot physically touch a product or see it in person prior to purchasing. Perhaps one of the key reasons why Instagram has become a popular tool for ecommerce startups is because it’s a purely visual platform, allowing businesses to truly harness the power of the image.
Today, ecommerce businesses are using Instagram to not only showcase their best products, but also to establish strong communities around their brands. Forbes contributor Lydia Dishman even called Instagram ‘the world’s most powerful selling tool’. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that Instagram followers and ‘likes’ will eventuate in sales. It is very much a social platform. You can ‘sell’ a message on Instagram, but Instagram won’t take a potential customer to the checkout. This is where inSelly comes in, a startup founded by husband-wife team Ksenia and Alex Rostova.
Headquartered in Riga, Latvia, inSelly allows people to actually sell the products they’re showcasing on Instagram. When a user connects their Instagram account to inSelly, inSelly then instantly becomes the user’s ecommerce store. To put it in steps, the Instagram user snaps pictures of items for sale; uploads these pictures onto Instagram; adds product descriptions and relevant hashtags (including #inselly); signs into inselly.com using their Instagram details; and they’re ready to sell as soon as they add a price tag, their contact information and PayPal email.
The idea for inSelly spawned from CEO Ksenia’s frustration with Instagram. Although she’s an avid user of Instagram, she felt it has too many limitations. For example, Instagram doesn’t allow for clickable links (except for one in the bio), has no private chat feature and certainly does not offer any buying and selling functionalities.
“One day I realised how many awesome shops there are hidden inside this social network and how hard it is to discover them using poor Instagram hashtag search. There were no existing tools that would facilitate the selling/ buying process on Instagram or at least a site where I could find all of these sales offers that neatly organised and easy to search through. So, creating one was an obvious decision,” says Ksenia.
She adds that inSelly isn’t solely for small or micro businesses who don’t have the time nor skills to create and maintain a standalone ecommerce site, but also for non-tech savvy individuals who want to embrace ‘social selling’ on an occasional basis.
Social selling sceptics argue that you can’t hard sell or close a deal on social media platforms – or in other words, social media traction doesn’t convert to dollars. But Kissmetrics says this isn’t the purpose of social selling, instead describing social selling as “leveraging digital social networks to create and nurture relationships which enhance your sales efforts” or “a way to enhance the process to talking to prospects to an expanded set of tools and to make the live interaction more meaningful and personal”.
Aberdeen Group conducted a study on social selling and found that sales reps are likely to sell more when they use online social networks. If inSelly is able to take potential customers from Instagram to the checkout, then social media can become a more powerful selling tool. At the moment, the only way to know whether a product is for sale on Instagram is if the seller adds the #inselly hashtag. But given inSelly is still in its infancy, not all Instagrammers will understand the meaning of the hashtag. Currently, it’s only on inSelly.com that people can search for products on sale. But this isn’t all that different from searching on a standalone ecommerce store.
Like with all startups, once inSelly becomes ‘sticky’, its value will multiply. At the moment, inSelly’s greatest value lies in the way that it allows people without up-and-running ecommerce stores to sell. Instagram is simply a way to snap pictures of, and showcase, a product. The only problem is that Instagram does not allow sellers to divert potential customers to a new page from Instagram. As such, it’s up to customers to find and purchase products of interest on inselly.com. The searching and purchasing process is still fairly easy, but isn’t automatic. If inSelly scales as the founders hope, then it could very well be acquired by Instagram.
The startup has been in public Beta since August last year, and has gained over 2,500 registered sellers. This number is growing at a rate of 20 percent per month, according to Ksenia. If executed well, inSelly’s potential is quite big. In the Democratization of Ecommerce report, Australian software company Bigcommerce predicted that global B2C (Business-to-Consumer) ecommerce revenues will reach US$2 trillion this year, with US SMB ecommerce revenues expected to exceed both eBay and Amazon combined (estimated $100 billion in 2015).
Ksenia is cognisant of the fact that inSelly is trying to break into a crowded marketplace. Ecommerce, as the statistics above suggest, is a massive industry. Even making the smallest dent in the industry is an all-consuming challenge.
“A marketplace business is a tough one mainly because you have to have both supply and demand in place. It’s the famous ‘chicken and egg’ problem. For us, supply is not an issue, but we are working hard to make our platform an attractive shopping destination and help our sellers to gain more exposure. Competition is high, so this is and always will be, a challenge,” says Ksenia.
inSelly has raised BGN50,000 in angel investment from an accelerator in Bulgaria and LVL50,000 in in pre-seed round from Latvian VC. The startup will likely raise further rounds once it hits some key milestones.
The startup isn’t generating revenue at the moment, focusing their efforts on growth prior to implementing a Freemium model. Occasional sellers who only need basic features will be able to use inSelly for free and frequent sellers will have the option to upgrade to a Premium account that will offers a set of advanced features.
Although the startup is based in Latvia, a majority of its users are from the US, with Canada, Australia and the UK being its next biggest markets. Ksenia attributes user growth to word-of-mouth referrals.
“If the product meets certain needs and users are satisfied, they will spread a word in social media, on blogs, in online communities. That’s what happens in our case. We also collaborate with fashion bloggers who have a lot of influence on Instagram and help to raise awareness about inSelly and our solution,” says Ksenia.
The company’s key areas of focus this year will be organic growth, monetisation and establishing strategic partnerships.