The Dos and Don'ts of Shopping on Instagram, According to Our Favourite Vintage Furniture Sellers

When it comes to bedroom décor, we believe the only thing as good a fresh set of sustainable linen bedding is a totally unique piece of vintage furniture or homeware. Right now, there's never been a better time to shop secondhand—not only does it help to reduce global waste but there is also a goldmine of sellers right at our fingertips. And in 2020, Instagram is the go-to shopfront for curated vintage wares.

On Instagram, you'll find a growing number of visually aesthetic, on-trend seller accounts. Behind the various handles are real people who happen to have an eye for vintage and the stamina required to hunt for treasure at all of the bigger online forums—Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Craigslist, eBay—as well as IRL op shops and auction houses. For the vintage décor obsessed, this is truly akin to God's work.

With physical distancing restrictions bringing more people online for more time each day, the allure of all of the must-have vintage gems that pop up in our feeds has never felt stronger. A Kartell mirror here, a Wassily chair there, and one incredible bouclé sofa after another: it's the stuff that dream homes are made of. So, whether you're happy window shopping or seriously in the market for a new-to-you vintage acquisition, consider the following advice.

We reached out to some of our favourite Australian vintage sellers on Instagram for their advice on social media thrifting. Here's what the dedicated sellers behind @aesthetic.vintage.shop@curated_spaces@__goodspace__@graciasmadre___@playground_________@sodaobjects, and @sauc.d had to say:

DO learn the rules

Not all Instagram sellers operate the same way, but there are some common rules of play that can help acclimatise you to this social media shopping experience. Seller Tessa Breen runs Aesthetic Vintage Shop using the same rules and lingo as many other Instagram sellers: "It's first come, first served, however I try to give the first enquiry some grace time to decide," Tessa says. "Payment that day is much appreciated, but I'm happy to wait if it's explicitly discussed." Basically, if you see an item you want to buy, comment "sold" on the post. If you need more information, send a DM.

DON'T assume the rules are always the same

It's true that some sellers are on Instagram exclusively and operate by the same conventions, but others are active across multiple platforms and even also in physical retail spaces. Don't assume the rules for one seller will automatically apply to another.

Pip Newell, who runs Melbourne-based Curated Spaces, outgrew the Instagram selling model since starting in 2015 and now processes all purchases through a website, using the store's Instagram account as more of a shopfront: "We used to sell only on Instagram but we have now moved online so we don't use the same rules that revolved around 'sold' 'nil' and all of that," Pip says. "It can get quite confusing out there for the buyers when they are wanting to buy an item and they don't know how to lock in the sale. Especially so for the buyers not accustomed to the lingo and that particular style of shopping."

"One of the great things about selling online, rather than only on Instagram, is there is no arguing with who commented first or any of that, which is great," she tells us. "After all, Instagram isn't actually set up to be a shop that has items sold in the comments—and this is why the whole process feels so clunky, chaotic and often unfair. One example of this is that the comments don't show up in chronological order—only the owner of the account can see comments in their right order. I'm so glad to see those days behind us as there were always a lot of broken hearts from shoppers who missed out!"

DO be okay with imperfections

If you're new to secondhand shopping, adjust your expectations and accept that whatever you buy probably won't be in as-new condition: "If you're someone that needs pristine items and so on, perhaps vintage isn't for you, and that's fine," says Aesthetic Vintage Shop's Tessa Breen. "But these items have all had a previous life, which, to me, is part of their charm. Vintage is vintage. Sellers do their best to be accurate about condition, but if you need more info, just ask."

DON'T forget about sustainability

"When you buy sustainable items it's one small way to help reduce waste in the world" says Aesthetic Vintage Shop's Tessa Breen. "Something like a mattress, those genuinely wear out and you need to replace new every so often. But a table? Chairs? Those can last 50 or more years and be as beautiful and functional as anything new. Comparing items like that to most mass produced and modern flatpack furniture which might last five years before breaking or looking seriously shabby."

Seller Manuela Leigh created Gracias Madre in accordance with permaculture principles: earth care, people care and future care. For this reason, she has implemented a number of practices into her selling method to uphold those principals: "All my packaging is secondhand and I always ask my buyers to dispose of it properly—I'm a big fan of RedCycle and I always ask buyers to either keep and reuse, or to recycle."

In addition, Manuela also donates a percentage of sales to charity: "All product drops have a certain percentage donated to different charities, which means I am able to consistently give back," she says. "I want all of us to take care of Mother Earth and I want Gracias Madre to embody all the values I have around love and respect for Pacha Mamma."

DO shop local where possible

Even though shopping secondhand helps to reduce waste, keep in mind the environmental cost of shipping and seek out sellers who operate locally to you: "I wanted to make sure when I started Gracias Madre that it would be as carbon-friendly as possible," says Manuela Leigh. "Thus far I don't bring in anything from overseas and everything is local, NSW-based."

DO engage

Even if you're not intending on buying an item, don't be afraid to drop a comment of appreciation: "We love engaging with our audience," says Curated Spaces' Pip Newell. "They are always supporting us and guiding us which makes the whole process feel rewarding. It always feels quite personal being able to interact with them. If Instagram didn't exist I think that would be the aspect I would miss the most."

Likewise, PlayGround's Georgia Smedley encourages people to engage with her in the comments: "I'm not hell-bent on selling to you! Let design be the thing that connects us and show me what inspires you."

Athena and Haidee, who run Sauc.d exclusively on Instagram, agree: "It’s so personal through instagram," Haidee says. "People tell us what they like and how they want to style their homes and when they buy something they send us photos of it in their own space, which we adore!"

DO read the captions

It's good to engage, but if you're reaching out to ask a question when the answer is already included in the caption, it could rub sellers the wrong way and waste their time. Most sellers will provide all of the information they have in the post, or on their website: "We've learned that it's good to be overly transparent about the items upfront," says Sam McClaren of Adelaide-based SODA Objects. "This means plenty of quality images, details about condition, size, price, what it is, and where it's from—essentially answering any question that would be asked to avoid excessive time on DMs." And if there's something you still want to know, of course just drop a comment or send a DM.

DO communicate

Sauc.d's Haidee Lorenz says what she and values most in buyers is commitment: "When we post something online it sells to the first person who decides to buy it. I don'’t think that people realise just how many 'next in line' DMs we get! So, if someone is lagging a bit on their commitment to an item it slows down the whole process for the next person that may want the item."

Even if you've already excitedly commented "sold", most sellers won't mind if you decide to back out—as long as you let them know: "One thing that really helps is to let the seller know if you've changed your mind about an enquiry," says PlayGround's Georgia Smedley. "It's no big deal at all and helps a lot with the management of other enquiries, but also for feedback purposes if something wasn't as expected."

DON'T forget, sellers are people too

"As with any interaction with anyone be kind, sellers on Instagram are often sole traders or small business so it's important to remember that when engaging with them," says Steph, one half of the duo behind Goodspace. "Things take time."

"Selling on Instagram is both a full time job and a passion project for us," Steph says. "It was really important to both of us to find a way to be able to balance working, while also being able to focus on mama life. As solo mums we really wanted to be able to sustain ourselves and our girls financially but also have the flexibility of being our own bosses."

One encounter in particular taught Aesthetic Vintage Shop's Tessa Breen that some people will turn an inch into a mile, if given the chance: "A lot of the time if I don't have what someone wants, I'll send them along to another seller I know that has or might have something," she explains. "One time I had someone ask what other sellers I like, and who has similar items to me, so I gave them a list. They went on to purchase an item from another seller, and when that seller didn't instantly respond to them—on a Sunday—they started interrogating me about that seller! I was like, they're not dodgy and can you please chill and give them more than half an hour to respond?"

"I suppose I'd like to remind people that some of these accounts are a one person show," Tessa says. "Expecting an instant response at 11:30pm or on a Sunday is unreasonable. We clock up a lot of screen-time but can't be available 24/7! Ultimately, I just hope people remember that I'm a one-woman band, and it is also my livelihood, so any time you make a purchase, I'm bloody thrilled."

In Sydney? You can say hello to Manuela at the Gracias Madre artist/maker market this Saturday 19 September in Petersham—find out more at @graciasmadre___.

Enjoyed this? Here's how to style vintage furniture, according to an expert.

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