Where do you shop and sell stuff online? Well, plenty of places, – and while Ebay, Etsy, and Craigslist remain mainstream, people are turning to social sites like Facebook and Twitter to peddle their wares. And while it remains a smaller service, Instagram is gaining steam as a digital marketplace (especially for really dumb drug dealers). And if you want to buy or sell stuff using Instagram, a new service called Hashbag streamlines the process, collecting all of the photographs of stuff for sale into one place and making it easy to find whatever you’re looking for.
Hashbag creator Mike Bodge decided to make the most of this new use for Instagram. “I started to notice the trend of more and more stores, brands, and people posting things on Instagram. I did a quick search on the #forsale hashtag to see how many people were selling stuff and based on the number of updates I calculated it to be well over two million a year,” he says. “I clicked through these posts and noticed that it was kind of a wild west of e-commerce. Some people wanted you to leave a comment to make an offer, some wanted you to email them or send a text, others wanted you to send them a message on WhatsApp. I realized there was no standard and trusted way to allow people to sell their stuff. I had a few ideas on how it could be created and iterated on the idea for a few months until we came up with the system.”
The site trawls Instagram for pictures tagged #forsale and adds them to a database. When you search for something, like #cars, all of the photos of cars tagged #forsale will appear. If the seller has signed up for a Hashbag account, you’ll be able to make a purchase via Paypal directly through the Hashbag site. But since it’s a very young service, most of the Instagram users haven’t signed up for a Hashbag account, in which case the site will reroute you to Instagram and then you’ll have to contact the seller by leaving them a comment.
Why not just search for the stuff you want within the native app? Because it’s just not set up to handle buying and selling. Yes, Instagram added video (and ads are on their way), but for the most part the photo-sharing app remains a simple platform. You can post pictures or videos and like or comment on the pictures and videos of others. There are no status updates, and profiles are minimal. There’s only one stream of images — not a lot of hoopla. Instagram works because of this emphasis on sharing photos, but some users have developed ways to use the network for more than just a repository for selfies, and it’s now a thriving marketplace, particularly for international users. Bodge noted that selling is extremely popular in Thailand, and Kuwait as well.
Since Hashbag is so new, it isn’t widely used, so it doesn’t make it much easier to find things you want on sale than just going to the Instagram app on your phone and doing a search, or using Webstagram on desktop. But if people selling stuff on Instagram start using Hashbag, it will be an extremely useful service, since it will significantly streamline the process of buying and selling. Buyers can pay sellers directly via PayPal, although the company plans on expanding payment options in the future. Hashbag collects 99 cents from sellers for each transaction, but listing items and buying them is free.
Hashbag says it’s only a marketplace for legal stuff on Instagram, but right now, if you look up stuff like #kush or #guns, contraband still appears, so the site may risk facilitating illegal purchases (although it doesn’t look like anyone selling this stuff has signed up for the service).
Hashbag has an easy-to-use format and a well-designed website, and the concept makes sense… now all it needs is a robust user base to make the experience worthwhile. Bodge is considering expanding Hashbag to include other places on the social web, like Twitter, and he says a mobile app is the next step, so as the service continues to expand, it could become a mainstream marketplace, although right now, it’s definitely still a small operation.