Selling on Etsy
There are three options for those who want to sell online:
- Open a merchant account and have a shopping cart on a personally hosted site.
- Use Pay Pal to install payment buttons on products on our site.
- Use a marketplace to host our items. (eBay, Etsy, Big Cartel, and others).
Of these, hosting your own shopping cart on your own site would be ideal. However, self-hosting invites barriers which can overwhelm some people: monthly fees, SSL certificates for secure shopping, and inventory management all demand a certain amount of technical ability, financial investment and discipline. Joining a marketplace might make more sense for smaller shops or for those who want to use the inbuilt tools offered on that site.
Half of our TAFA Members have shops on Etsy and I have encouraged newbie sellers to use Etsy as I believe that it offers the best tools for the most affordable price. As with anything else, there are positives and negatives about being there. Let’s take a look at some of the things to consider.
Etsy was launched in 2005, making it eight years old. In it’s first years, it truly felt like a handmade community. It positioned itself as the top handmade market online and it truly had an impressive impact on the Do-It-Yourself and Handmade movement. The mission has become a bit vague nowadays:
[quote author=”Etsy Mission” image=”” w=”” h=”” image_align=””]
Etsy is the marketplace we make together.
Our mission is to re-imagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world.
- We are a mindful, transparent, and humane business.
- We plan and build for the long term.
- We value craftsmanship in all we make.
- We believe fun should be part of everything we do.
- We keep it real, always.
Their team has grown in size and if you take a look at their pics, you will see a young, fun group: Etsy’s Team. For a long time, that youthful zeal translated into experimental strategies for the site and ignored important seller tools. New leadership has brought maturity and sellers now have access to information and data that can help improve strategies and decision-making. Etsy has always avoided direct marketing but instead, chose to focus on building community and growing its reach through word-of-mouth. Overall sales are robust. Here is their June 2013 report:
[quote author=”Etsy Blog” image=”” w=”” h=”” image_align=””]
We’ve got your summer reading list right here! Check out the monthly stats for a dose of knowledge, such as a 51.5% increase from June 2012′s to June 2013′s total of dollars of goods sold. (At the same time, items sold were up 38.1% year over year.)
- $93.8 million of goods (after refunds and cancellations) were sold by our community in June, 8.8% lower than May’s $102.9
- That represents 4,074,923 items sold for the month, 7.2% lower than May’s 4,391,101
- 2,613,652 items were listed in the month, 8.5% lower than May’s 2,855,505
- 922,443 new members joined the Etsy community in the month, 5.6% lower than May’s 977,061
- 1.62 billion page views were recorded on the site in June*
Bloggers, magazines, trend setters, shop owners, and designers are among some of its audience that come searching for new, fresh products. Recently, Etsy has started a Wholesale program and has partnered with Kiva to provide loans for its sellers. Etsy’s reach goes beyond selling products, it aims to change how the world creates and sells. Without a doubt, Etsy has played a key role in defining craftivism and the Handmade Revolution.
Etsy’s fees have not changed much since they launched and are affordable. They charge $.20 per listing for a four month viewing and another 3.5% of the item’s price when it sells. (Details here.) Add in another 3 or 4% for PayPal fees and you can estimate that a sold product will have 7.5% deducted in cost. I pay PayPal $30/month for TAFA’s shopping cart, plus other yearly hosting and SSL fees, so when comparing, take those fees into consideration. If listing fees on Etsy went over $30/month, one could start evaluating which option has more advantages and whether paying Etsy for the extra fees is worth it. Most of our members probably fall way under the $30/month fees.
Sellers on Etsy have several great tools at their disposal:
- Easy listing process. When they first started, you had to click through four pages to list an item and they did not have a copy function. Now it’s all on one page and similar items can be copied which makes the process much faster.
- Etsy Mini: a great widget, this code can be used on blogs and websites. There are two sizes, thumbnail and gallery, and two choices of what can be shown, your own products or your favorites. The products are live images that link to the listing, a great way to bring in traffic from other sites. Here is the one we use for our TAFA Team:
- Traffic data: Etsy provides good stats on which shop items are being seen, where the traffic came from, who is adding them to their favorites, etc.
- About Page: Etsy recently added an About page where the seller can tell their story in a visual way and have outbound links to their other sites. Until then, only internal links were live on Etsy and having this has really helped sellers with their presentation and with bringing their audience from Etsy on over to their sites.
- Tutorials: Etsy has always prioritized offering its sellers good advice in how to improve shop appearance, product development, customer service, etc. They offer guidance through their blogs and videos. In the early days, the forum was a vibrant place of discussion and many sellers also took leadership roles, helping less knowledgeable sellers with technical advice and feedback. Unfortunately, the forum has been greatly reduced and no longer has the sense of camaraderie it once had. Still, a novice shop owner has access to great resources through Etsy.
Etsy’s emphasis on community has been largely successful. They state:
[quote author=”Etsy Community Page” image=”” w=”” h=”” image_align=””]
Etsy is more than a marketplace: we’re a community of artists, creators, collectors, thinkers and doers.
We’ve mentioned their blog and tutorials, but Etsy also has hands on interaction with sellers and buyers through workshops at their base in Brooklyn and through live events around the world. Although most of their efforts have focused on the United States, they have recently been doing a better job of doing more in Europe and of making the site more user friendly for the non-English speaking audience.
About three years ago, they launched the concept of “Teams”. Any group of people can form a “Team” around a concept or topic. Teams have formed based on common interests such as location, language, type of product, technique, and so on. TAFA has its TAFA Team. We have a private forum on Etsy, a Team blog, the team mini (shown above), and a TAFA destination on Etsy. Being able to organize like this has huge potential. Our members use TAFA Team as a tag and if you type TAFA into Etsy’s search, you will see our member’s products. And, it’s especially nice that you can add keywords to narrow down the search. We currently have around 4,000 items using our TAFA tag. Here is an example of a search result using TAFA Pillow:
The potential is enormous, especially if all of the Team members promote these links on their sites and blogs.
Etsy’s front page showcases a treasury or curated selection of items that somebody put together. Anyone with an Etsy account, both sellers and buyers, can create a Treasury. This has been one of Etsy’s big successes in terms of creating something that its users truly enjoy. The rules are basically that you cannot promote your own items in the treasury nor more than one of any one seller. It’s altruistic, encouraging the community to explore, share what they like and network with each other. Of the thousands that are created, Etsy staff picks which ones make it to the front page, a goal that many treasury makers desire.
Many of our TAFA members enjoy putting treasuries together, sometimes featuring only TAFA members, other times mixing them with another team they might belong to. Once again, a TAFA search on the treasury page pulls up those treasuries using our keyword: TAFA Treasuries.
Some teams do a great job of organizing weekly themes which their members might contribute to. The idea is to share the treasury elsewhere, on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and bring an audience to further explore those represented.
Teams and Treasuries are just a couple of ways the Etsy community organizes and expresses itself. An effective team will develop a loyal following which will benefit all of its members.
Having all shops look alike using a minimalist design is one of the reasons I think Etsy has succeeded in retaining its appeal. On eBay, shops have control over their fonts, their layouts and the result can be truly horrific. The Etsy community invests a great deal into photography and the layout allows photos to pop. It’s attractive, easy on the eyes, and makes for an enjoyable experience. One problem has been its automatic cropping of photos to fit into its thumbnail sizes, which is compounded by having two different dimensions. Gallery images are slightly wider than thumbnail images. The solution is to crop images to a square, leaving room for cropping on the borders. Looking at a page of dolls with all of their heads cut off can give one the shivers!
If one chooses to self-host a shopping cart, consideration of the design needs to be taken into account. Several TAFA members use software that seems outdated in this photo-hungry age of Pinterest trend-setters. Product images are tiny and hard to see, fonts and links might be unattractive, and the navigation clunky. Since Pinterest went through the roof, I have seen other sites adopt similar layouts, including some of Etsy’s search pages, Google+, Flickr, and many others. Interestingly enough, Pinterest has responsive design while Etsy still does not. This means that the site will rearrange itself depending of the size of viewing screen. Responsive sites use building blocks, called grid design, which will move around when viewed on a cell phone screen, notebook or desktop. A responsive design eliminates the need to scroll across the screen to see all of the content. Instead, one only needs to scroll down.
Etsy has grown immensely in the last three years, which means, “good news and bad news”… Here is a report from Etsy’s CEO, Chad Dickerson, from earlier this year:
[quote author=”Chad” image=”” w=”” h=”” image_align=””]
It’s been two years since I stepped into the CEO role, and we’ve made a lot of positive progress. At the beginning of July 2011, Etsy was on the verge of passing 10 million members, but not quite there. 95% of payments on Etsy were processed by a third party, and Etsy was an English-only website with no mobile apps.
Fast forward to today, and Etsy has surpassed 30 million members. We’ve made Etsy available in nine languages, with payments capabilities across the world. In each of the past holiday seasons, the year-over-year growth rate of sales in the community has accelerated, bringing opportunity to more people than ever before. The company has become an award-winning leader in the B Corp movement, setting an example for other companies that you can both prioritize social good and run a strong business.
The 900,000 independent businesses on Etsy are selling their unique goods to millions of people around the world, and the sense of connection comes from real human interaction, not slick marketing. There are over 8,000 self-organized Etsy Teams supporting and empowering each other. One of the beautiful things about Etsy is that as we grow, we are only a larger collection of many smaller things, an umbrella for many communities. Thank you for being part of what we are creating together!
Good news? Etsy has a thriving purchasing audience.
Bad news? Competition is fierce.
I opened my shop on Etsy a year after it launched and did well there until I launched TAFA in 2010. I still have a nice shop stocked with almost 100 items, but as I have zero time to promote it, very little action happens there. This is the thing that most people who open a shop on Etsy don’t realize: You have to work it in order to make it work! People think that they can list a few items and that the sales will come pouring in. A shop on Etsy needs the same dedication and promotion as a stand-alone site would demand. Sure, we can hope for internal traffic to find us, but the bigger it gets, the more unlikely it is that you will be “found”.
CraftCount keeps a tally on Etsy’s top sellers and the results are quite telling:
My shop actually made the top sellers list in the vintage category a couple of years ago. I’ve had 1,651 sales there since I opened (meaning that I’ve probably taken over 4,000 photos as I try to have 3-5 photos per item!), but this year, my total sales have been around $1,200 or $150/month, not quite enough to live on, eh? And, I normally have at least one item featured in a treasury every week. Again, I have not been promoting my shop, so actually, this is better than one could expect.
Etsy sellers are allowed to sell Handmade (meaning you made it yourself), Vintage (over 20 years old) and Supplies (almost anything under the sun). The top sellers are all Supplies and they far surpass the other categories. Granted, this is a count for number of items, not total value of goods sold. CLBeads has over 6,000 items listed and a huge number of them are under $5. They opened their shop exactly five years ago, so let’s assume they are selling 48,674.40 a year with an average of $5 per sale. That’s $243,372 income a year. Sounds good, but take away the fees, paying for staff (there is no way this is a two person operation!), warehousing costs (no, inventory will NOT fit in that cupboard in the living room) and it’s a decent income for several hard working people.
Etsy launched with the goal of giving artists a marketplace and access to visibility. Supplies and vintage were allowed in because they were seen as complimentary to the lifestyle of makers who re-use and are eco-conscious. Now the marketplace is so big that it is impossible to control what is sold. They do have an Etsy police, out looking for violators and shutting down shops, but I see stuff all the time that is listed that I know is newly made and not by whomever was selling it. And, by having both Supplies and Vintage so broadly defined, factory made products far outnumber the handmade ones. Anything found at a thrift store might be pawned off as vintage without any kind of authentication:
Do these look older than twenty years to you? Hard to know, but I believe that Etsy made a huge mistake in not having some kind of a vetting process to weed out sellers who bring in junk. Sure, one person’s trash, another person’s riches, but still…. Etsy could have been truly amazing! It still is, in many ways, but not as a purveyor of all things handmade.
There are two specific things that really bother me about Etsy:
1. We are not allowed to sell handmade items that are made by somebody else (unless they are vintage). In the past, I bought wholesale from fair traders and re-sold their products on eBay. There are many small scale artisan groups who do not have access to technology, to banking systems, or to reliable postal systems, so people like me could really help them access larger markets. Or, one of our TAFA members wanted to represent a group of disabled quilters and she was turned down by Etsy’s staff. Etsy should be at the forefront of making these possibilities happen for all of the disenfranchised groups and people who truly depend on selling their handicrafts and art for their livelihood. Etsy has long expected each seller to do everything: make (or buy), photograph, list, market, sell, ship, and do customer service. It’s neither a realistic nor fair model. I think that a big reason has been lack of maturity and exposure of Etsy staff. Most are quite young, have exposure only to their local indie markets and don’t have the knowledge or understanding to identify products that would benefit or damage the larger vision.
2. Etsy can close your shop at any time. This is a major fear inducer. You do NOT own your shop on Etsy, Etsy does. Three of our member’s shops have been closed down for crazy reasons. No warning, just “prove who you are” after the fact. This is scary business as listing 100 items is a significant investment of time and energy. I highly recommend downloading a copy of your inventory on Etsy on a regular basis.
Etsy is not the perfect solution for evverybody, but it is an excellent option for those of us who need a shopping cart or who want a presence there. I have seen many Etsy sellers succeed and move out of Etsy to set up their own shopping carts. Many retain a presence on Etsy and sell their seconds or sale items there as a hook to bring its audience on over to their self-hosted sites. There are other options out there, too, and quite a few of our members have shops in several places. I find it hard to manage more than one, but I do think that if you have the capacity to spread things around, it’s a good way to ensure that when things are slow in one place, they might be better in another. Each person who uses Etsy needs to decide how to engage with its community. It’s a great place to learn new skills, to make new friends and to mature as a seller, but it can also be extremely time-consuming.
Half of our members have shops on Etsy and I believe that we can become a major destination there. Our members are vetted in based on their professionalism and while many of us still have much to learn, most have top quality textiles and fiber art along with excellent supplies and vintage items. If TAFA can become known for the best of these on Etsy, we will save a lot of people quite a bit of aggravation from searching through the junk and baubles that now flood the site.
YOU can help us get there! Send your people to Shop TAFA on Etsy!
Type TAFA into Etsy’s search bar or here is the link:
What about you?
Do you have a shop on Etsy? Anything we missed or that you would like to share? How has your experience been, both as a shopper or seller?
Feel free to leave your shop links as a comment so that we can take a look at them! Whatever you decide to do, we live in an amazing time with many choices where we can access the whole world. But, it’s so much easier when we have a supportive community to help reach that audience that we need. Our motto here on TAFA:
Together we can do great things!
About Rachel Biel
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