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Insta capitalism

2 min read

Fascinating story about Instagram dropshippers by Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic:

Ganon searches out some lion-themed objects, including the one that he anticipates making the most money from, a gold-plated lion bracelet that he puts on sale for $0. He gives some tips for finding popular dropshippable items, too. He sorts Shopify-hosted sites by traffic with myip.ms, and then digs below the most popular stores, which generally sell products they make themselves. Deeper into the top 1000 stores, there are dropshippers reselling Aliexpress goods, just like Ganon is, so if can ferret out what products are selling at high-performing stores, he can siphon off some of those dollars. All he’d need to do was do reverse image searches to find the listings in Aliexpress, suck those products in with Oberlo, and he could effectively clone the store in a few minutes.

There's nothing particularly new about any of this, but I've seen an uptick in ads for these Everlane-lite products in my Instagram feed and had wondered what the model is.

I'm curious about the effectiveness of the storytelling involved: one store discusses a founder who "had a constant desire to present himself well but didn’t believe fashion and style should come with such a high price". I don't think I could count the number of times I've seen an online store with a founder story like this. It never came across as authentic, but over time the bullshit factor surely becomes overpowering.

Also, importantly: the cross-platform techniques described aren't going to work under the GDPR, because they heavily depend on targeted advertising. Embedding a Facebook pixel in your Shopify site is going to necessarily be a thing of the past, at least in Europe. So hounding someone with ads because they happened to visit a product page on a website may become a thing of the past, forcing marketers to find more authentic and user-friendly ways of reaching potential customers.

This seems like such a soulless way to build a business, and if these aren't technically scams, they sit on the very blurry edge of the border of scamland. I won't be sad if, through a combination of legislation, better privacy features, and new business models, this kind of dropshipping becomes a footnote in the history of social media; just one more reason why targeted advertising is insanely bad.