Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Good, The Bad And The Etsy

In October of 2007 I was hitching a ride down the virtual highway on a turnip truck, when I fell off and landed on the front page of Etsy. I remember being utterly enthralled with it. An entire site devoted to shops for people who make things! How fabulous is that!? I looked at the site quite a bit, there was so much to offer. So many pretty pictures of amazing things people were making. I signed up right away but I didn't open a shop. I noticed that most things were on the lower end of the price scale and I was doing pretty well on ebay at that point. For some inexplicable reason I thought it would be a conflict of interest to sell there as well.

A few months went by and ebay decided to change their policies and pricing. A lot of people were unhappy with the new changes and chose to leave the site. That combined with a personal problem I was having with a scam artist that they couldn't have cared less about caused me to leave as well. So I went that same day and set up my shop on Etsy thinking this was going to be great! I noticed there weren't a lot of bear artists selling there yet, but I knew they would come in time. As time went on they did come.

After setting up my shop...nothing happened. I thought that was rather odd, but I figured people couldn't find me there yet. So I waited...nothing happened. More bear artists came and a team was set up dedicated to us, and I thought NOW people will start finding out that we are there! They will start to be comfortable with higher priced things for sale since Etsy was growing and more types of people were selling their wares. Nothing happened, but not just for me. Nothing happened for most of the bear artists. Not even bear artists who have shops that sell out the minute they do a personal website update.

We set about trying to get a category for ourselves because there really wasn't an appropriate place for us. We were finally given a sub category under the dolls and miniatures section. Sadly there is no indication from looking at the front page that we are there. But we are! We moved our stuff to the new category full of hope. In the interim I bought two main showcase spots, started going into the forums to use the promotions section, using twitter for promotions, and pretty much doing everything I could to get not only attention for my own work...but the work of all bear artists on Etsy. I even changed my photos two times, because on some level I was certain I was doing something wrong. Nothing happened.

I finally decided to really make a concerted effort to find out why we weren't selling. After doing the showcase spots I discovered no one sells very well by buying them. This is probably because they are only accessed by a small unobtrusive link on the front page. So I started studying the people who are successful, the way Etsy promotes people in the Storque, the treasuries that make the front page, the gift guides, etc. Slowly but surely I started noticing things. Many of the kinds of things Etsy tends to promote are hip and trendy and aimed at younger buyers. Ok...there is nothing wrong with that, but not every buyer on Etsy is going to have those tastes. They don't really feature as broad of selection in their promotional venues as they could. I have never once seen an artist teddy bear featured on the front page. There may have been, but I have never seen one. I look at the front page a few times a day since I am doing this research.

They have about six types of items that they have made into stars. Everyone says that the treasuries are controlled by the users and not the site, but a lot of people caught on pretty quick and started including those six types of items in their treasuries in the hopes of getting their treasury to the front page. It's working because I never, EVER see a treasury on the front page that doesn't include at least one of those six types of items. So this all became very interesting to me. I have been watching for about two and a half months now. But I still wasn't certain the lack of promotional love and being buried in the doll category was what was keeping bear artists from selling on there.

At long last, today I have hit upon that answer due to many posts in a thread made in the forums. Apparently the media touts Etsy as being a place to get a good deal. They have been compared to an online flea market, a bargain basement, and worst of all...a place where you can buy fine handmade goods for less than Walmart prices!!! Etsy has done nothing to dispel that notion, in fact they have embraced it and perpetuated that idea. This weekend they have given promotional space to people who have discounted their items by having sales or free shipping. They created a sense of peer pressure for sellers to discount already fair or even low prices in order to get featured. They had hundreds of people signing up to do sales in hopes of getting some exposure because they can't get it from Etsy any other way, and then they only featured a couple dozen who chose to take the biggest discounts. While I don't believe that was their intention, I also don't believe they stepped back to look at the big picture and the future ramifications of that type of thinking.

Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having an occasional sale. I chose to do it this weekend as well. It had nothing to do with Etsy and more to do with with rewarding people with a little break in prices who chose to stay safely in their homes on the busiest shopping days of the year. But if you are someone who is already making very little if any profit on your work and you discount 30% you are not only cheating yourself, you are under cutting and cheating every other seller out there who feels they have to compete. That didn't really happen with bears because sales aren't really something that has ever been the custom in the bear world. But I saw it happen to many other types of vendors. The next time they choose to have people sign up in order to get featured I am sure people will offer even bigger discounts to the point of taking a loss on their items in order to get that coveted exposure.

There was a time in this country when people took pride in their skills at making things. As a bear artist I still take pride in being able to make something that I know will last, that I have put my heart and soul into and that is unique and special in a way that can't be bought at department stores. The cost of supplies for making a bear are not cheap, they are also very labor intensive. My prices are very fair for what I make and you get what you pay for. Sadly artisans with that mindset are not being recognized by Etsy. All the bargain basement hype is detrimental to us all.

I fully understand that Etsy is a business and they want to make money and have a slick looking homepage to draw shoppers in. There is nothing wrong with that. But their mission statement is to provide a place where people can make a living selling handmade. I don't know why they aren't supporting their own concept by taking their promotional efforts in a different direction, or at very least many directions to support all types of artists and crafters, professionals and hobbyists alike. They never seem to focus on the fact that handmade items are usually unique and well crafted by people who put a great deal of time and hard work into their creations rather than saying that handmade is a bargain that can be had for a song. I am not going to close down my Etsy shop because I have already paid for an ad coming out on the 8th on Craft Cult. I am not saying that my lack of sales are completely their fault, I am sure part of the fault still lies with my shop in some way. Nor am I quite ready to give up on them because I hope maybe they will figure this out and do something about it. However, I am going to stop wasting so much of my time and effort to support them if they don't want to return to the favor to so many of us.

It makes me very sad that such a wonderful concept got so far off track. I could easily make one of those six items they love so much, and I am sure I could make a lot of sales if I sold them cheaply. But that isn't what I am about. I have worked too long and too hard to devalue my skill set or my work.

Edit: I wanted to add the link to the article and a thought to this. We are given the choice as to how we run our business, we are given a choice whether we want to sell on Etsy or not. We have not been given a choice as a majority on how we want Etsy to promote the arts and crafts industry as a collective. That is a very large issue we have no control over unless we make our wishes known to them by speaking out.

Article Link


Connie Owens Art said...

Wow, if I changed just a few words here and there, you've just written most of my Etsy experience too!!! I do love Etsy and all the wonderful artist there, but I can see that I'm eventually not going to "fit in" with the direction of the current one. I just don't get all the eclectic items constantly promoted on Etsy, I just shake my head and think "this stuff really actually sells?" And I certaintly don't feel I should not be true to my own craft by making nonsense items just to try to be "hip" and make sales. I am offering free shipping until tonight, and then tomorrow, through my Etsy team a 20% off sale. It's been so dissapointing. I have made an account with ArtFire, so I will be getting that going later on too. Thanks for writing this article for me!! Connie

Kelly said...

I chose to write this post not as a rant but because I do know that there are MANY people in the same situation as we are Connie. For some reason Etsy just doesn't seem to be getting it yet. I am hopeful they will.

Like you though I have chosen to expand the venue's I sell in. Lollishops opened today and it's a juried site. Sadie, who owns it has done things in a different way with different perspective on her sellers. She is working to make sure that people are treated fairly and applauded for the work they put into their items.

Thank you for your comment!

Claire said...

I thought the Free Shipping Gift Guide was more of a result of the media driven vortex that we find our economy in right now. This holiday season is challenging to say the least. I am not offering free shipping nor any discounts. My prices are my prices and I refuse to lose money hand over fist, if any sale I offered were even to have a positive effect on sales. I am offering a free gift with every purchase as part of the EtsyNJ Street Team Cyber Monday sale we are having tomorrow.
I have recently opened a shop on and I am happy to be in on the ground floor. I believe it will become very popular when they bring the site out of "sneak preview" mode. The admin are tech-based, receptive to suggestions, ask for suggestions, and push us as artisans to improve our photos, products, and customer service to become the best we can be. This is inspiring and something that is sadly missing at Etsy.

Connie Owens Art said...

What you said Claire, makes perfect sense. I think, after this next sale, I'm going to do what my gut instinct says. Which is, no more sales, and stick with my orginial business plan concept: offer high quailty art and handmade gifts at reasonable prices. Oh well, we live and learn! Connie

Kelly said...

There is nothing wrong with having an occasional promotion to reward loyal customers and draw in new ones. But it comes down to why you're doing it. If it's your choice and you're not going to be losing money then everybody wins. But if people are doing it because they feel pressured into it and that they should because everyone else is doing it, or because they are simply trying to get featured and losing any profit of any type on their work then no, you should not be offering sales until you are in a position to do that.

I also believe that Etsy thinks they are simply doing this type of promotion to benefit people. What they don't realize is they are cheapening the entire handmade genre by indavertently putting people on the spot to lower their prices. Etsy isn't mainstream quite yet but with the upcrop of new sites along the same lines this will become a mainstream concept for selling soon. What these sites do or don't do can have an impact on the perception people have of every artist's work whether they are selling on the site or not.

Longfellow said...

I haven't lost any money by offering my free shipping because no one has been taking me up on it. Its so hard to stay on top at Etsy and have any kind of impact that I'm even starting to lose interest in doing my treasuries.

I don't really believe in promoting on the forums because you're just talking to other sellers like yourself, and right now Twitter is the same way. I mean I love talking to sellers, ie here for example, but it's not time spent getting the word out there.

I'm curious what those 6 items are!

Kelly said...

Longfellow you're right, it is hard to make any kind of impact on Etsy. But there are sites out there that have figured out ways to be much more fair to their sellers in the area of exposure. It's not really that hard.

As for the six items...I purposely didn't say what they were because I don't want to cast aspersions on anyone's work. There is nothing wrong with those types of items in and of themselves, and many of them are beautifully done. But if you start checking the front page a couple times a day and making a mental note of what you see over and over you will figure out pretty quickly what they are.

It's working that people are buying these items. However for me personally...realizing that they keep getting promoted over other types of sellers has kind of caused me to have an aversion to them and I don't want to buy any. So it can have a detrimental effect to the sellers of those products too. I am not the only one sick of seeing them. I cannot guess as to why these specific six types of items are so favored by the admins over all others. I am not sure if it's personal preference or if they feel this is a strategic marketing trend. Either way it would be nice to see them mix it up a little more. There are so many types of items that just never get any promotional play. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say at some point they had a market analyst come in and figure out where they should be aiming for a target audience. But IF that is what they did, then they are going for the same buyers that most large stores shoot for and that isn't the handmade audience. It's great to introduce a new generation to the handmade movement and get them interested, but not to the point of being exclusionary to people who would and could shell out money for quality items.

asfjh said...

great blog post. when i first found etsy, i was so excited. until i started looking at what people sell their work for.. i was shocked. most of it is really underpriced. i was sceptical about setting up my own shop as there's no way i can compete with etsy prices. i can't give away things for free, or PAY people to take things from me... well i could, but it wouldn't make any sense.

my friend who had no idea what etsy was looked at etsy thinking everything on there was mine (!), and told me, my god eva, it's all really nice, but it's SO underpriced!

i still did open up a shop, as i love the concept of etsy, i just wish more people would value their work proper.

Lori P said...

Love the post and totally agree with you.

JessicaVanDen said...

Very insightful post - thank you for putting in the time to write it!

Cyndie Smith Designs said...

As a high end artist, I tend to agree with your theory here. In my opinion, Etsy has gone from promoting artists to promoting bargain crafts. There is a difference between what I consider a "crafty" item and what I consider art. I'm not knocking the crafters (maybe I should be saying hobbyists) because I dabble at other mediums for fun too. But the influx of folks, all selling the same things and undercutting each other has begun to frustrate me. I see shops selling silver jewelry for under $20 just to boost the sales numbers. Come on! That's just plain dumb. And it hurts all of us...and Etsy doesn't do anything to discourage it. My sales were fine until the sudden increase in shops doing this, and I'm not going to play the game. I'll renew and list until cyber Monday is over, and then I'm just going to back off. I'm not leaving Etsy, but I'll look for other venues.
Thanks for expressing your speak for many of us.

Shalana, the funky felter said...

Very well written article! I agree on some things and disagree on others, but I certainly understand your view point. I thought along those exact same lines for a long time, and it can be frustrating, but then I realized that there was a lot more that I could be doing to promote my Etsy shop and my product/brand in general. Now I think of Etsy as just a place to host my online shop. I do my best to advertise it along with my entire brand. I've realized that it really does help to advertise on your own and promote your own brand to the right target market. I'd also like to branch out to some other online selling venues too. I also have dawanda, mintd, and handmadefuzion shops which I plan to develop eventually. It is just so time consuming though to do so. Most of the time I'd rather be felting and creating than stuck online.

Best wishes to you and your lovely bears :)

Kelly said...

I really want to thank everyone who has taken time to read my very long post, and for those who took even more time to comment.

I certainly don't put all my eggs in the Etsy basket. I just really wanted to understand why this particular venue wasn't working for so many people.

In fact a few posts back I talked about how time consuming all the promotion and everything else involved in online selling is. To the point that I am going to make some very big changes for my own peace of mind after the first of the year. I plan to just start advertising again.

I wrote this post because so many people are like me and had no idea why they weren't selling on Etsy when they were selling well in other areas.

Thanks again, Kelly

Jody said...

I read this with great interest. I've found the same thing, quirky products sell well to younger crowds while good handmade items don't seem to. I've only been on Etsy for about a month, no sales yet. I make good, sturdy, interesting jewelry that sells well IRL, but here? Nothing. Twitter and a blog have not helped, getting in a Treasury hasn't helped. And, yeah, I did the free shipping thing this weekend because I felt pressured to do it. I may just use Etsy to be a nice, cheap online portfolio in the future....we'll see.

Jody said...

Oh, I also wanted to say that my stuff sells generally to the '40+ professional woman/retired ladies' market, and that is just NOT Etsy's cup of tea at all. I find that really sad, because the ladies that generally buy my work would LOVE other well-made, unique items. Etsy is really missing out on a huge market by ignoring them.

ceevee said...

Great blog posting. I am a painter who got sucked into the sale thing. Nothing worked. I realize the economy is bad and people are buying practical things. But I do see a trendy, hip look on the front pages that I don't happen to do. I am looking for other venues. I wish I knew where. Until then I will remain.

Unknown said...

I got sucked into this sale weekend because I opened shop last Monday and thought it might draw some people in. It worked for me, but I might be part of that hip and trendy crowd you mentioned. Not because I came into it wanting to appeal to that crowd, though. Just because I paint what I love to paint and apparently/luckily it's well liked. I agonized for MONTHS over whether to sell on Etsy because, after doing a lot of research, there are very few painters who make many sales there (especially since you can't exactly sell a painting for a bargain price), but I finally took the plunge. So far, I'm glad I did.

But everything that you've written about in your article is something that I worry about coming around to bite me in the butt. But hey, I'll look on the bright side! I sold three paintings so even if it doesn't work out, it's not a total loss!

Gege Crochet said...

Well, I am still new to etsy, so I'm still trying to find my footing and find ways to get people to actually go to my store. However, I agree with jewelbabe- I have seen so many items on etsy that are more "crafty" rather than "art." As a crocheter, I see it A LOT. My bags are very eye catching and I know that people are interested in them. I agonized with pricing them, but I know what my time is worth and I know that high-end boutiques would sell them for twice what I'm charging. They are well made and a lot of time and effort go into each of them, so I'm not going to price them lower. I just need to find the higher end market that is willing to pay for them. If I still don't get any sales, I will try other venues. For me, I figure, being so new, I just have to be patient.

Alicia said...

I just wanted to say that was a very well written post in general I would have to say I agree with most of what you have written. I have started to think of my shop in a completely different light, I think of it as a storefront as a web presence. I tried all the blogging, and promoting until I was blue in the face I really don't have the time for all that. Right now I am spending time with family and relaxing I have a whole new game plan for the new year which only factors etsy in as a web presence. I'm really excited for this change as it will allow me more time doing what I love. Oh and I am done renewing all the time!!!! Good Luck with future endeavors and your bears are gorgeous unfortunately my daughter is only 2 and I would hate to think of the trauma she would put one through.

prkc said...

I enjoyed your blog! I'm new to selling on Etsy and was excited to sell 2 of my dolls within the first 2 weeks. However, the person who purchased them was already a customer of mine. Since then, nothing. I was looking for a site where I could sell my dolls for more, not less. I hope Etsy works out, but I'm not willing to under price my work.

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