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How Innovative Retailers Are Turning Instagram into an E-Commerce Platform

A few clever fashion brands are already selling stuff via Instagram. Here's how.

When it comes to fashion and fashion brands, Instagram is arguably the most complementary social platform. As the advent of the selfie has proven, brands can use Instagram to aggregate user-generated content, which in turn can often drive sales. But Instagram ceo and cofounder Kevin Systrom believes the photo-sharing app has way more sartorial potential.

On Monday, Systrom attended the Burberry runway show with Facebook's head of advertising sales—the company plans on launching Instagram ads some time in the next year, according to TechCrunch—and on Tuesday, he made an appearance at the National Portrait Gallery where he talked the future of Instagram with model Lily Cole. (I'm assuming they were paired together because of the modeling industry's obsession with #selfies?)

Anyway, Systrom talked a lot about Instagram, fashion, advertising and the intersection thereof, but the biggest takeaway was his mention of how brands can get users to actually buy stuff. "I’ve seen plenty of times when a brand, whether it’s Kate Spade or Cole Haan, they’ll post an image of some shoes, and the comments are 50 people asking, 'Where do I get these?' 'What sizes do they come in?' 'Do they come in this other color?' 'When are they available?'" said Systrom. "And that's awesome."

What's even more awesome is that some smaller retailers are already taking that idea a step further and offering loyal customers the ability to actually purchase something by commenting. Brooklyn-based vintage boutique chain Fox and Fawn began holding Instagram sales—handle: Foxandfawn—about a year ago. "People started calling about the items we were posting on Instagram," explains co-owner Beverly Hames. "So we decided to create a system where they wouldn't even have to call."

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It's a pretty simple process, but it does take some initial effort. Anyone interested in purchasing something directly from Fox and Fawn's Instagram account must first call the store and divulge her credit card information. The store puts her address, payment info, Instagram handle and phone number into a secure file. If she sees something on the Fox and Fawn Instagram that she's interested in buying, she must be the first commenter to type "Ring me up!" If everything checks out on Fox and Fawn's end, the item is shipped to the commenter for a small fee.

A year after launching Instagram sales, an average 25% of Fox and Fawn's daily sales are made via the platform. (On a bad-weather day, it could be 40%.) Fox and Fawn currently has just over 2,300 followers on Instagram, so those who are engaged are really engaged. In fact, the success that Fox and Fawn has experienced over the past year gave Hames and her co-owner, Marissa Johnson, the confidence to open another brick-and-mortar store earlier this month. (Fox and Fawn Bushwick has its own Instagram handle, by the way: Foxandfawnbushwick.) "It really took away an element of risk and fear for us," said Hames. "We had over 2,000 people we could tell about the store." The Bushwick handle already has over 800 followers.

While Fox and Fawn's makeshift e-commerce play might be more difficult for a larger operation to pull off, it is an interesting case study. Much like e-commerce made it possible for local boutiques to have a national presence, Instagram could provide that gaming element that's missing in a lot of online shopping, save for eBay. Shopping is, to many, a sport, and Fox and Fawn is making purchasing a competition. Instagram should take note.