Antiques dealer and writer Edd Thomas looks at how social media and particularly Instagram is changing the way antique dealers sell their wares.
These days it’s hard to ignore the sea of social media missionaries out there, hands wrapped round their smartphones, urging us for the sake of progress to engage more online. Whether its Facebook, Twitter or another platform, our every thought and effort should now be recorded and shared instantly online for humanity to comment, like or smiley-face over.
As a bit of an introvert at heart, I often roll my eyes at the endless parade of shameless selfies and inspirational quotes I find myself scrolling through, and admit that until recently I never saw the direct relevance of social media to my business life as an antique dealer. That is until I was cajoled onto Instagram.
To those who don’t know it, Instagram is a simple phone-based app that lets you upload photos for the world to see, like and comment upon. It’s a simple formula and one that attracts plenty of fame-seeking wannabees, but perhaps unusually from our perspective, it has also become one of the unlikely new hotspots through which to peddle your antiques. Intrigued, I grabbed my phone and contacted three young dealers I know to find out more.
Follow the leaders
Matthew Wise runs Cubbit Antiques, an antique shop along the bustling Lillie Road in London. Despite having a traditional retail space packed full of mid-century antiques and comfy vintage armchairs, Matt is an Instagram lover. With just over 2,500 followers acquired over 2 years he considers that about 15% of his business now comes in directly via the app. “I’m a very visual person and for me that’s what antiques are about,” explains Matt. “You know sometimes I will give people my Instagram account rather than a business card, so when they are on their phone they can see everything they need to know about me and my stock. And as soon as they start following you, they get to be reminded of you every time you upload a new photo.”
Matt’s savvy response was something all marketing professionals would applaud, but also touched on a pertinent point I found myself noticing almost instantly. When ‘the next great shot’ is always in the back of your head, it can’t help but influence the types of items you’re buying to resell.
Joe of Joseph Berry Interiors has been on Instagram for just over two years and has around 2000 followers. He mostly trades online and thinks that around 50% of his business is currently coming directly from Instagram. “The reason I love the site is because it is so fast-paced. You can add a photo of an item one minute and sell it 5 minutes later via the private direct chat option. Unlike traditional methods there is no slow negotiating back and forth via email maybe waiting days for a response. I know of dealers who can add stock images as they unload their van and will have sold most of it before the van is empty!”
Like Matt, Joe recognises the chemistry of Instagram. “You can appeal to people’s basic instincts. They get to know your style and then when they see something they like pop-up, they instantly decide to buy it.” I understand what he is saying as traditionally online dealers have lacked the dynamic space that fairs or auctioneers have always enjoyed which mixes peer pressure and time constraint to help secure a sale. Instagram seems to offer a sense of this. And are people naturally constrained by size or collecting field I wondered? “The other day I sold a stuffed zebra head on there” admitted Joe wryly. Clearly not then!
Ismael Khan is considered a bit of a rock star in the world of antiques on Instagram. Selling antique jewellery, Ish has already clocked up over 18,500 loyal followers in just over two years and believes that over 95% of his sales are via Instagram. “I have an Etsy shop and when I started selling I saw that other sellers were using Instagram to drive traffic to their shops. I’m a very visual person and something clicked where it just worked for me. Now Instagram is my main retail platform.”
With such phenomenal success, I wondered what gave him the edge? “Jewellery now is a very popular, visual, and international market and I always try to keep the images natural yet classical. I also try to keep my prices very keen which I hope helps. And it’s important to project your personality a little to show people they are interacting with another real person and not just a brand.”
What struck me when chatting to each of the three dealers was just how nonchalantly astute they each were of the potential power of Instagram to help their businesses.
Far from approaching Social Media as either a hedonistic exercise or as an additional chore to their daily workload, they were all very carefully tapping into our basic human instincts that surely drive any sale. They were creative in the way they displayed their goods, savvy in the site’s ability to mould their brand, and at the same time genuinely interested and engaged with other people in the Instagram community.
“Where else as a relatively new dealer can you mail out your stock list to over 2000 like-minded people for free?” summed up Joe Berry. And it’s precisely this aspect of the site that makes it so appealing from the dealer’s perspective. Free from the heavy weight of commission, subscriptions or monthly rent, you are left free (for now) to showcase your stock, skill, knowledge and visual creativity to the onlooking world. It’s the kind of marketplace I love exploring for real, except this time…. it’s all from the comfort of my own phone!
Follow Antique Collecting on Instagram here, then tell us about other Instagram antiques and arts accounts that we need to know about in the comments section below.