Thursday, January 21, 2021
News, analysis and commentary by UBC Journalism students


Serena Susmnjar at her shop Far Out Vintage on East Cordova Street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

How Vancouver’s secondhand shops have become successful social-media retailers

High property taxes and COVID-19 restrictions have made social media the new virtual storefront for some Vancouver businesses.


 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vancouver’s secondhand stores have found success by turning to social-media platforms like Instagram to sell their products.

“I found that pretty much right away there was a big boost in people buying stuff off of Instagram,” said Serena Susmnjar, owner of Far Out Vintage on East Cordova Street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Susmnjar’s brick-and-mortar shop has been operating at reduced hours since mid-March due to the pandemic. She began selling her products partly on social media to keep her business alive.

“With Instagram sales, there’s certain things that everyone will fight over and then there’s certain things that you just need a store to sell, so … it’s tricky. You’ll easily sell the heavy hitters or like, the popular items,” she said.

So while items like accessories are easier to sell virtually, some customers may still need to try clothing on before purchasing.

Still, a quick Instagram post or story can virtually reach hundreds, if not thousands, of potential customers. And with people stuck at home during the pandemic, demand has exploded.

In a study conducted by Statistics Canada, online shopping sales have nearly doubled — up 99.3 per cent — since the start of the pandemic, reaching a record $3.9 billion in May.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a sharp rise in ecommerce sales and slight drop in in-store sales from February to May 2020. Image: Statistics Canada.

Vancouver’s secondhand and vintage retailers are now capitalizing on this exploding virtual market.

And while retailers like Susmnjar prefer not to give up their storefronts, others have thrived by selling their secondhand and vintage pieces exclusively online.

With more than 14,000 Instagram followers, Alma Home Vintage, for instance, has quickly become one of the most popular digital retailers selling vintage furniture, handmade items, plants, and seasonal décor solely through Instagram and the ecommerce website Etsy.

Alisa Stephenson, owner of Alma Home Vintage, said that virtual demand has spiked because of the pandemic.

“I’ve definitely seen an increase in the cheaper priced items and I think people are definitely trying to support local – which is awesome – and also secondhand,” she said.

With its easy-to-use interface, Instagram has become a one-stop shop for digital-only secondhand retailers like Stephenson.

“I’m not very good with social media. I just post and then the picture or item does the work,” she said. “I’m grateful for that because I don’t have to make these crazy captions and have like, really cool content.”

Scrolling through @almahomevintage’s Instagram page. Owner, Alisa Stephenson, sells vintage furniture, plants, and seasonal décor on Instagram and hand-made items on Etsy.

Amy Robinson, founder and director of LOCO BC, a non-profit organization that supports and promotes locally owned businesses around B.C., said that since the pandemic began she has “seen more of the smallest businesses, designers, etc. with social [media] stores.”

“Some of the brick-and-mortar retail stores who I’ve heard be very successful during the pandemic really worked their customer base,” Robinson said, “reaching out by email, offering shopping by appointment, using social to showcase their inventory and new products.”

Instagram has responded to this demand by adding “shop” feature to the platform.

“Businesses can truly leverage the full ecosystem of Instagram Shopping features to build experiences that drive awareness and transactions all in one,” said Instagram’s business team in a post describing the update.