2 years ago I created my own Etsy shop so I could sell the bags I was making. I had this idea that Etsy was a place that offered handmade goods from artists and designers like me. I also thought that if I just popped my stuff up onto Etsy, they would sell pretty quickly. Boy, was I ever wrong.
Where’s Waldo (Luanne)?
There are 1.9 million sellers* on Etsy right now. And those sellers are offering over 45 million products. That’s right. As a new Etsy seller I quickly realized that I’d just stepped into a Where’s Waldo world and I wasn’t even Waldo. I was a tiny button on the shirt hidden under Waldo’s striped sweater. That’s how easy it was to find my store and its products. I don’t exactly have a common name but its impossible to find me using Etsy’s search. Here’s what you get if you search on my oddball name:
What’s interesting about this is that even though I’m a seller and the name of my shop is LuanneSeymourDesign, Etsy’s search can’t find me. What’s even more interesting is that the 4th item in the search results is a book from a publishing company that my dad started, Dale Seymour Publications. No, he doesn’t have an Etsy shop. The search function for Etsy shops is a complete fail. What if you like a particular artist and are trying to find them? Good luck. When people ask me how to find my shop, I have to send them the link because nobody can find it using Etsy’s search.
You might be thinking, “Wow! Are there really that many artists and designers selling their handmade stuff on Etsy?” No. There aren’t 1.9 million artists selling handcrafted items on Etsy. Those 1.9 million include people who sell supplies, used and vintage items, and manufactured items. Many of the shops are based in parts of the world where cheap labor is easy to find. So I end up competing with people overseas who are offering their goods at much lower prices. This is the reality of the marketplace. But Etsy has cultivated an overall impression of the Etsy marketplace as being a place where buyers can find unique, handmade items. Buyers may think they are supporting a small business or struggling artist when they may actually be purchasing from a large company. Here’s an example:
I did a search for handmade linen bread bags and these items are part of the first search results. The lowest cost bags come from three of the companies — MagicLinen, StitchAndSaga, LovelyCraftsHome. They are all based in Vilnius, Lithuania. MagicLinen is a manufacturer of loads of various linen goods. LakeshoreLinen is a linen goods business based in Minnesota. These items were certainly not handmade by a small business owner in their home or studio. These were made by companies who manufacture linen products on a larger scale than a single artist can produce. This is the real competition for the artists and artisans who sell on Etsy. Here is Etsy’s mission statement:
Nickel & diming
The cost to post a product in your Etsy shop seems small at first. 20¢ to post a product for a 4-month period. If it doesn’t sell in 4 months, you can renew it for another 20¢. Not too bad as long as you don’t have to renew too many times. When you sell that item, Etsy takes 3.5%. So let’s do the math here. If I sell one of my $44 wool zipper pouches, my profit is reduced by $5 per bag for Etsy fees and, sometimes, shipping costs. Its further reduced by the cost of my supplies and I then end up making less than minimum wage. Most artists have resigned themselves to this fact and learn to live with it by seeking additional employment. But for some reason, there is a myth that persists amongst Etsy sellers that they can actually support themselves fully on their Etsy sales. I have no doubt there are a handful of people who are doing this. But for individual artists making handmade goods, don’t get your hopes up. Ignore the people who hype you up on this idea. 65% of Etsy sellers consider their shop income to be supplemental.
Am I an artist, a marketeer, a photographer, an accountant, or a…?
Here’s the thing you don’t realize till you start creating your shop — it takes an amazing amount of time to build and maintain your Etsy shop. Just setting up the shop initially takes days. You need multiple photos of each of your products. You need a brand. You need to write copy about who you are, your business mission statement, your business policies. You need descriptions of each product. You’ll need to do research on the hashtags you should use for each different product. I think it took me a month to set up my shop. I had to learn the Etsy ecosystem and then figure out how my products fit in. I created an inventory system to keep track of my products, prices, etc. I had to learn to use QuickBooks. I had to learn about shipping costs and regulations.
Once I launched the shop, I realized that my work as a businesswoman had only just begun. The shop needs to be maintained and I needed to promote it. I learned how to promote and market using Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. Doing this kind of marketing is a regular daily commitment. I see a noticeable drop in traffic to my shop when I don’t post on Instagram for a few days. As I continue to add new products to the shop, I’ve had to learn to become a better product photographer. Each new product needs to have at least 5 product shots that have been cropped, color-corrected, and retouched. I try to have more than 100 products in my shop at all times. That’s a lot of product photography!
Making peace with the devil called Etsy
A few months ago I joined a couple Facebook groups for Etsy sellers to see if I could figure out how to get more traffic to my shop. Wow! That became overwhelming pretty quickly. It was like going way back in time to when I worked at Adobe and Photoshop was brand new. All sorts of “experts” came out of the woodwork to help new users learn it. And the Etsy world is no different. There are hoards of hyper-active 25-year-old cheerleaders just waiting to knock your socks off with their vast Etsy experience! ACK!!!!!
I learned about an online app for Etsy sellers called Etsy Rank that helps sellers with analytics for their shops. It’ll tell you if you are using the right hashtags and title words. Its pretty handy, but super time-consuming. I spent hours and hours trying to rewrite all the product titles in my shop to help improve my SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Honestly, I started feeling that I could work full time just doing the daily marketing, photographing products, and optimizing my search words and titles. I was missing the days when I could just make the bags and pillows I sell.
You may be wondering why I stick with Etsy when it is so high-maintenance and frequently disappointing. There are a few pretty cool things about it that keep me there. First, I absolutely love the “cha-ching” sound that the Sell on Etsy phone app makes when I make a sale. Its genius! They use the sound an old-fashioned cash register makes when ringing up a sale. I realize that this is very Pavlovian but I love it! Second, Etsy has great shipping prices. It costs me much less to ship through Etsy than I could ever do on my own. And finally, I absolutely DO NOT want to lug my wares from store to store trying to get them to carry my products. I would rather spend my time making products than selling them. I’m a terrible salesperson and would rather sell my stuff on Etsy. I wish there was an online marketplace where individual artists could sell their handmade wares without being overshadowed by larger manufacturers. But for now, I have Etsy.
*Statistics from “57 Amazing Etsy Statistics…”