OPINION: The Dilemma of Shopping on Instagram


Hailey Stessman

If you’re going to shop on Instagram, shop from small businesses rather than large corporations. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

If you asked me a couple of months ago what my least favorite social media app was, I would have replied with Instagram without missing a beat. You probably would have listened to me complain about the lack of personal connection, the toxic façades blatantly displayed on my feed, and the overwhelming influence of consumerism on the app’s framework. I most likely would have added that, despite all of these issues, I can never seem to delete the little fuschia colored block from my homescreen.

I’m aware that it makes me a sort of hypocrite: “Hailey, if you hate the app so much, why don’t you just log out of your account and be done with it? It’s simple.”

Yet, it really isn’t that simple. I’ve fallen into the trap of obsessing over how my profile looks by using a high standard for aesthetics while contributing to the chaotic digital clutter that is the story feature. I’m stuck in the firm grasp of the algorithm, and I can’t get out.

When Instagram announced its new layout for catering to businesses and shoppers in November of 2020, I was, frankly, disgusted. The updated design is confusing, not user friendly, and was a reflection of the app’s growing distance from its original purpose of being a platform to share your life in a convenient and visual manner. Now, it was just another cog in the capitalist machine.

However, I have a confession to make. While present-Hailey would still agree with her previous remarks about Instagram’s poorly executed structure, there has been a development.

Recently, I have been using Instagram to shop. But not exactly in the way Instagram wants me to shop. Not once have I utilized the “Shop” function situated at the bottom of the screen or clicked on a sponsored ad on my feed. Rather, I have found that the way I go about my shopping endeavors on Instagram reflect a deeper appreciation for small businesses and the products they offer.

It all began with a 1950s silver tea strainer placed perfectly atop a dainty teacup that immediately caught my attention. Amidst the distracting array of content on the Explore page, that visibly worn and loved small tea strainer would be the fuel that ignited my new love for antiques and obscure objects.

Normally, I would take a trip to the Antique Annex in the Old Market or visit a local thrift store to peruse their selection of antiques or decor. But due to the severity of COVID-19, my beloved trips came to a halt. Although my wallet was thanking me, I was sad that I would have to take a break from my antique outings.

However, that tea strainer changed everything. I quickly learned that there was a whole community of antique businesses on Instagram that posted their items to their feed. None of the current small shops and businesses utilize the Shop page to sell their antiques. Rather, their setup resembles a sort of brick-and-mortar technique. They offer anecdotes or historical facts about their items in the caption, take followers along on their thrifting trips through posting Stories and interact with curious customers through direct messages. Unlike the superficial undertones of the Shop page, the business-to-customer relationships of these antique and vintage stores are personal and direct.

So as we push forward in this pandemic period, I encourage you to support local or small businesses on Instagram as a way to accommodate with restrictions rather than settling to use the Shop page for engaging in fast consumerism. Try to treat it as if you were physically walking into the brick-and-mortar store and striking up a conversation with the owner. Not only will you be helping small businesses, but your online shopping will feel more genuine and authentic.