I opened my Etsy shop on July 3, 2005. At that time setting up an independent ecommerce shop was an onerous task that required technical skills I didn’t have. Etsy was like a miracle. A week later I made my first sale. I’d been sewing plush toys for months and was desperate for a way to sell them online. Now I was finally in business. I loved Etsy.
A lot about the online landscape has changed in the ten years that have passed since then. Etsy is still here, but whether it’s really a miracle is doubtful to a lot of makers. In fact, it’s fair to say that complaining about Etsy has become almost ubiquitous in the craft community. Walk into a room of Etsy sellers and bring up the recent site redesign, or the 2012 decision to allow manufacturing partners, and you’ll be showered in a cacophony of grievances.
I get it. Etsy is far from perfect. The company faces some enormous challenges and has definitely stumbled over the years in dealing with them. When I look at all of those challenges, though, for me the biggest one is this deep-seated feeling of discontent among its customer base – the sellers.
Stepping out from the crowd of vocally frustrated Etsy sellers, I’d like to explain why I don’t agree that Etsy is the enemy. After a decade as a seller, I still love Etsy.
What the people at Etsy realized earlier than most of the rest of us is that the key to selling online is traffic. And the ticket to building traffic is building familiarity among average consumers. Etsy worked tirelessly for a decade to become a recognized household name and I would say that they have achieved that goal now. Like eBay and Google and Facebook, almost everyone has heard of Etsy and has a general sense of what it’s all about. The value of being well-known cannot be understated. It is Etsy’s most valuable asset, and by selling on Etsy, you get a piece of it.
My younger sister, Rachel, is a lawyer. She’s creative and artistic, but she works full-time and has a 1-year-old baby so she’s also really busy. In October of this year Rachel began thinking about a Halloween costume for her daughter. She didn’t want to just buy something at Target. She wanted a handmade costume, but she didn’t want to make it herself.
She sat down at her computer, logged onto Etsy, and typed “toddler Halloween costume” into the search bar. After scrolling through the thousands of images that came up, she clicked on a few top contenders, read the reviews, and chose one.
On Halloween Rachel sent me some adorable pictures of my niece trick-or-treating. When I asked where she got the costume she said, “On Etsy.”
This entire transaction would really rile many Etsy sellers, and for good reason.
I see all the problems that Rachel’s experience reveals from a seller’s perspective. I am also aware of several more problems that this particular transaction didn’t touch on.
Here’s a short list of the problems with Etsy:
- All Etsy shops look the same. It’s not possible for sellers to customize their shops enough to convey their brand and unique identity.
- Etsy search is flawed and skews toward particular types of products.
- Etsy is flooded with resellers. It’s very difficult for customers to distinguish between cheap factory made goods and things that are truly handmade. Very often the cheaper option wins. This is a long-standing issue and Etsy doesn’t seem to do anything about it.
- It’s so easy to set up an Etsy shop that anyone can do it which means Etsy is full of poorly made goods and items that are woefully under-priced. This hurts everyone. It’s become incredibly challenging for customers to find the well-made, fairly priced items.
- The one hand-curated part of the site, the homepage, has now been replaced with an individualized homepage based on a user’s past activity.
- Etsy changes the site layout at will, confusing potential customers and at times seeming to hide information that buyers need, including categories and shipping prices.
- Etsy severely moderates its forums, deleting comments and shutting down conversations at will.
These are some of the biggest gripes that sellers have with the site, but the list goes on. It’s really easy to complain about Etsy.
I get it. I see these issues and they are real and important. I am not dismissing them. But I also see something else that’s incredibly significant and way too easy to take for granted – my sister bought something handmade online from someone she didn’t know and it wasn’t a big decision for her. She knew immediately where to look: Etsy. And she’ll do it again.That’s not to say she won’t shop online for handmade items elsewhere, too, but when she isn’t sure where to look, she will always turn to Etsy.
Etsy made the connection between my sister and a maker, as it does hundreds of thousands of times every day for other buyers and sellers.
From a seller’s perspective, the biggest change in selling online from Etsy’s inception in 2005 to now is the amount of good choices makers have for setting up shop. Now there are dozens of free and low-cost options that are just as easy and quick as Etsy. There’s no need to choose Etsy. It’s existence isn’t the miracle that it once was.
Many makers choose not to use Etsy for a whole host of reasons, and it’s awesome that they can make that choice now. Yet over a million makers have stayed on Etsy, even if staying provokes them to persistently complain. Why stay?
Because it works.
Lasts spring I set up my online shop here on my blog using WooCommerce, a WordPress plugin. Since setting it up every bit of promotion that I do for the items I sell links back to my own shop, including blog posts, newsletter links, Instagram photos, Facebook posts, and tweets. I have a following on each of those platforms in the thousands and combined they are an effective marketing strategy. The only thing I actively do to drive traffic to my Etsy shop is that sidebar widget you see over there and this is the first time I’ve mentioned it all year.
My third quarter sales numbers tell a very revealing story. I earned $4,046.70 from my own shop and $3,370 from my Etsy shop. I did the work to bring in every single customer who bought from my WooCommerce shop and it did well, but my Etsy shop did nearly as well. Who did the work to bring those customers to my Etsy shop? Etsy did. That is incredibly valuable to my business.
Besides all of the commonly sited frustrations with Etsy, there’s one more I’d like to add. Etsy is a very expensive way to sell online. I paid $185 in listing and transaction fees to Etsy in the third quarter. Running my own shop has no fees associated with it since I’m already paying for hosting for this blog.
Why pay for Etsy? Because they brought 60,000 eyes to my products.
I see my Etsy fees as a smart form of advertising. I can’t think of anywhere else that I could place an ad for $185 and earn $3,370 in sales from it. Being on Etsy is like advertising.
Etsy is an incredibly effective way for me to bring in new customers who have the potential of becoming repeat customers and loyal followers. But it only happens if I take over responsibility for them once they’ve made a purchase.
So I send each Etsy customer an email with a coupon code, a thank you, and an invitation to sign up for my newsletter. Then they got a newsletter from me every Wednesday with useful and interesting information. Through my newsletter they got to know me better. Over time, that familiarity means they’re likely to make their next purchase from me from my independent shop.
None of this is to say, “Stop complaining about Etsy!” I actually think the opposite is true. Raise your voice and let Etsy know what you dissatisfied with. Keep on them because the high level of dissatisfaction among their customer base, the sellers, should be of serious concern for them at this point.
But also keep in mind that Etsy is a business, not a democracy. They are under no obligation to listen to your voice and you definitely do not have a vote when it comes to the decisions that they make. You do, however, have complete control over your own business decisions. Use Etsy as a tool, but channel your real energy into what you’re building yourself.