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Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo-sharing app popular with selfie-taking teenagers, has become something unexpected — a shopping site. Now, instead of merely following your favorite celebrities, friends, and family members, you can follow hip boutiques that offer followers the opportunity to purchase items through their feeds.

According to Instagram boutique owner, Amy Smets, “Instagram is the cooler version of Etsy.”

Etsy is a popular online marketplace where you can buy unique one-of-a- kind, often handmade or vintage items. Unlike Instagram, Etsy is set up for e-commerce and they charge users a set fee of $0.20 per listed item and takes 3.5% of the net sale.

As of now, Instagram doesn’t charge a fee for e-commerce and says it has no plans to do so.

Smets and friend Jessica Anderson are the brains behind the popular San Diego based Instagram boutique Splendid Treasures. Their store specializes in vintage housewares, children’s clothing, and handmade items. Their items range in price from $12-$25.

When Smets and Anderson got together to create their boutique they first considered doing pop-up boutiques every three to four months, but quickly abandoned the idea. Smets shares 1000 square feet with three children and her husband, while Anderson’s four-person family lives in a 950-square-foot house. “We had nowhere to store our stuff, so pop-up boutiques were out of the question. That’s why we decided on an Instagram shop. With Instagram we take a picture of [our items] and sometimes within minutes it’s sold. We don’t have to hold on to anything.”

Adds Smets, “We do have an Etsy site for items that don’t sell on Instagram but there are hundreds of thousands of boutiques on [Etsy] so it’s hard to sift through it all. People don’t always find our items. We prefer Instagram. We sell more on it than we do on Etsy and it’s more immediate.”

Since Instagram isn’t designed for e-commerce, stumbling upon a great Instagram boutique can feel like a terrific unexpected score, like finding a unique vintage dress among a sea of old lady moomoos at a thrift store. That’s what makes Instagram boutiques feel so special, in-between snap shots of your best friend’s weddings, pictures or military homecomings, or a friend’s new puppy are photos of unique, one-of-a-kind items up for sale. This gives Instagram boutiques a more natural and familiar feel.

Smets and Savage use the familiarity that Instagram breeds to their advantage, unlike many other Instagram boutiques, they take pictures of their children wearing the popular vintage dresses they sell. They post photos of each other on thrift-shopping excursions. Their store makes you feel as if you are on an adventure with them, and that is part of the charm.

“I have seen people take photos of something on a rack at a thrift store, it’s almost as if they aren’t going to buy it unless they get an offer for it on their Instagram feed. We don’t do that. We take the items home. If it’s a vintage dress we put it on our daughters and take photos of them in it,” says Smets.

“Having good photos really makes a difference,” Anderson adds. So do hashtags and keeping a well-stocked store. Because of this, the two ladies thrift shop for boutique items twice or sometimes three times, a week.

“Our most popular items are children’s vintage dresses, size 2T-4T,” says Smets.

“And the wooden arrows, that Amy’s husband makes,” adds Anderson

The best way to describe Splendid Treasures, and Instagram boutiques like theirs, is to imagine stumbling upon a garage sale that doesn’t have moth ball chewed blankets or musty shoes and old neck ties, instead it’s filled with funky hip items you’d want to have in your home or see worn by your children.

Says Anderson, “A lot of our clients would never step foot into a thrift store. They love our stuff because we can handpick items for them without them having to dig through stuff like we do.”

Currently Splendid Treasures has 1500 followers. They are allowed 3000.

“Unlike Etsy, on Instagram, people find us and decide they like our style and have the opportunity to follow us. It’s more customizable that way,” says Smets.

“At first it was hard to rack up followers. We went through and started following other boutiques like ours and the people who bought stuff from them. Most of the people that buy our items are other Instagram boutique owners.”

When Smets and Anderson started their boutique they did it as a way to cover the cost of their thrift store-shopping excursions. “We started Splendid Treasures as a way to afford our thrift shopping addiction. Now we are making enough to afford our own shopping and then some.”

As for advice to others thinking about starting an Instagram store, Smets and Anderson stress the importance of taking great photos, because really that’s what Instagram is — a photo-sharing site.

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