Alert the Fashion Police — the Instagram fashion marketplace is catching heat again with the latest Instascam circulating on social media. Instagram boutiques are getting caught selling Shein and AliExpress products for a huge hike in price, and ripped-off consumers are taking to Twitter to say, basically, "Y'all a bunch of scammers!"
Shein is notorious for selling plastic pleather jackets and ill-fitting sequin smocks at prices so low, surely someone must think, "Is this too good to be true?" Preying on the optimistic bargain hunter, Shein ships out products that could be comparable to something you'd receive from Wish, or might buy from the dollar store. And that's to say nothing of the labor issues and knockoff allegations that have surfaced around the brand.
Imagine the horror, then, of the online shopper willing to dish out more dough for higher quality garments, buying from an aspirational-looking Instagram brand, only to receive Shein stuff in the mail. Kyra Gainous was expecting something high quality and exclusive when she spent $80 on an outfit she'd found through a Los Angeles-based Instagram boutique. Instead, as Gainous tweeted, she received clothing with Shein labels still attached. The tweet has nearly 40K Likes, and the replies are filled with people who've experienced similar shopping shenanigans via Instagram.
Gainous reached out to Fashion Bartique, the account she'd purchased from and mentioned the Shein tag. The Fashion Bartique reply? "I have a wholesale license, we can buy from anything and resell love (sic). Shein is a wholesale website." Gainous said over Twitter messenger that she'd also exchanged DM's with another disgruntled customer who'd been similarly surprised by the Shein bait-and-switch. On the boutique's Instagram page, there are numerous posts with the comments disabled, and the clothing they're selling is modeled on one woman, rather than with recognizable product imagery from the Shein page. Shein isn't mentioned anywhere in the description; rather, the website boasts "Quality fashion tailored to your body type." Also, some items are described as "designer," and display logos of couture brands like Dior and Yves Saint Laurent.
Anytime you see them, disabled comments betray trouble: It's a go-to whenever celebrities step in it, brands misfire, and, in cases like this, when scammy accounts have caught flak for sketchy tactics. Fashion Bartique has not responded to requests for comment. One Twitter user in Gainous's replies summed it up thusly: "I'm sorry but buying clothes off Shein and selling them on Instagram and calling yourselves a 'boutique' is not a small business."
Souk & Sepia is another Instagram boutique that's been called out. Twitter user Proxima Midnight tweeted a photo of the same blazer being sold from both Shein and Souk & Sepia, with an up-charge from the latter. Twitter user The Telfar Don posted a fiery email penned to Souk & Sepia customer service after spending $139 on a dress that never arrived.
What's the opposite of a stan account? Souk & Sepia has one on Twitter. The bio reads "Plot twist! This is a hate account. This company is scamming left and right and we're gonna expose them." The account retweets posts that call out the Instagram Boutique for being a dropshipping resale site.
Souk & Sepia responded to an Instagram DM asking for comment with this message: "Hi there! Thanks for reaching out to us. For all collaborations/partnerships please email [email protected]" So far, no one from the brand has replied to our email.
Last year, literary agent Anna Sproul-Latimer tweeted "Good morning! Instagram/Facebook clothing company scams are getting so sophisticated that if you don't want to fall for one, you basically just can't buy from digital brands you've never heard of. Signed, bozo who fell for the 'Mark & Morten' 'going out of business sale.'" Although it appears that Mark & Morton has since logged off of Instagram, their site is still going strong and offering that store-closing sale a year after Sproul-Latimer fell for it. She wasn't wrong in saying the scams have a sophistication to them. Some of the sites do look legit, with snazzy professional graphic design that could fool the best of us. When Sproul-Latimer tweeted again after finally receiving her leather jacket, which she thought she'd scored at an epic markdown, it was pleather from Shein.
The Instagram fashion marketplace is no stranger to controversy. The ads are tailored so specifically that people perpetually post on social media that they've felt like the app was spying on them. In September 2020, Instagram was sued for allegedly spying on users through their iPhone cameras, something the company has chalked up to being a glitch. Then there's the endless spam coming from fashion brands looking for ambassadors on Instagram: "Hey cutie, I love your style, let's collab." The brand-ambassador scheme preys on influencer hopefuls, who are then offered a small discount to purchase items, model them, and then tag the company in the posts. It's basically another way for sellers to trick people into buying and marketing their products.
Fancy Girl Official, a boutique that touts its brand as an international label and uses the Vogue magazine logo with product images, is accused of both the ambassador scam and the Shein scheme in the tweet below. "So I just got a 'dm for collab' comment on one of my selfies on Instagram. It's not the first time I've gotten one but I am 100% sure this account is part of a scam bc this is literally Shein but much more expensive," posts one Twitter user. When reaching out to Fancy Girl for comment, the boutique replied offering discount codes, free ambassador-only jewelry (with purchase) and 50 "authentic" Instagram followers from a Fancy Girl Instagram affiliate team. When pressed to address suspicion of scammy behavior, Fancy Girl replied, "I don't believe that's the case. We have a bunch of items that can only be found in our store and not in Shein. I can understand where your (sic) coming from lovely but if you check out our tagged photos they are of plenty of different women, I do understand we are a relatively new brand but we are aiming to provide a great relationship with our customers and communities."
While Instagram Head of Fashion Eva Chen told Elle that Instagram was headed toward less curation and more authenticity, the social media giant has shifted from its strictly photo-sharing origins to becoming an online shopping app that's made impulse click-buys as easy as a double-tap like. And big Insta boss Adam Mosseri made clear his retail-oriented vision for the app, telling Financial Times he planned to tap into users' desire to "indulge in window-shopping." InStyle reached out to Chen and other Instagram Shopping stakeholders for comment and, as of press time, had heard from Anne Yeh who works in communications for Instagram. She offered: "For anyone who doesn't have a good experience with a business, we recommend that they report this business to us from within the app," sharing the platform's Help page on how to make such a report.
The app's new identity as more or less a mall has opened it up to the kind of schemes inherent to online marketplaces where shifty sellers look to make an easy, sleazy buck. For Insta-shoppers who want engage in a little tap-buying but want to avoid these fishy fashion scenarios, Consumer Reports recommends checking out online reviews with a quick google search, or like we did, a Twitter search. AARP says to keep an eye out for discounts exceeding 55%, and that if the bargain seems too good to be true, it probably is.
One brand that's taken Instagram by storm is JBD Apparel, with exclusive knit-wear pieces designed by Saudia Islam which have been given the Kim K- and Dua Lipa seal of approval. JBD Apparel brand representative Lucky Fischer told InStyle that clarity and transparency are key when differentiating between legitimate and bogus brands. "Instagram is a marketplace where you can have access to a lot of people without necessarily having to do as much footwork. It's a great tool," Fischer says, emphasizing that the brand showcases its originality through captions, product descriptions, and in the handmade products themselves. "JBD is a smaller brand, and we do our best to communicate. Communication is important between the brand and the customer, that's how trust is built."
And first comes trust, then comes shopping, right?
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