Thursday, April 15, 2010


Recently I've been in contact with a number of old classmates (Yeah Sweethome Class of 74'!!) who, upon noticing my Etsy Shop, have asked me about selling there.

After nearly 4 years on the site, what do I tell them?  Without going into the gory details, the struggles, and all the hard work, I've decided to come up with a list of things to keep in mind if you want to sell on Etsy.

1.  Look around the site, particularly the categories you want to list in.  Read the rules regarding what is allowed on the site.  I would recommend staying away from the forums.  It is a huge time suck, and 99% of the questions you may have can be answered by reading the FAQ's.  If you can't find an answer to your question and you know someone else on the site with a shop, send them a message.  You can also send an email to, though the wait time on answers can be long. 

2.  Etsy is a place to buy handmade, vintage and supplies.  Understand that handmade encompasses everything from obtaining your own raw materials and processing them yourself into a finished product to commercially, mass produced items 'put together' to form a finished product.  Vintage is anything (and I mean anything) that is 20 years old, or older.  Supplies can either be commercially made, or handmade.  This is the only place that mass produced items belong, as long as they are a craft supply that is used in the making of a finished product.

3.  Etsy has a hard time enforcing their own rules.  The handmade ethos has kind of flown out the window.  You can still find wonderful handmade products by talented artisans, but the site is also overrun with resellers selling mass produced clothing, jewelry and handbags (among other things) so this has tainted many a seller and buyer's experience.

4.  Etsy has it's own idea of what is popular.  Etsy has a reputation for being 'hipster'.  That's ok folks, I never heard of that term before either.  Consequently, the shops that have that cool, edgy, urban vibe tend to be the ones that get face time on Etsy.

5.  Etsy plays favorites.  Because of this tendency toward favoring a certain look and feel, there is a lot of repetition with front page features and blog articles of the same people and the same items.  Some people have made the front page hundreds of times, often multiple times daily and weekly.

6.  Etsy is clunky,  From the listing process, to search, to checkout.  It takes 5 pages to list an item.  If you don't hit 'finish' you lose your listing to the inactive section.  Choosing categories and tags is difficult because the category system setup is illogical.  Tags are subjective so tag abuse is rampant which messes up the search.  Paypal is your only option for credit card payments and is not integrated with Etsy, so people can 'buy' an item and take it out of your shop (goes into sold section) without actually paying for it.  Sure, you can relist the item and cancel the transaction to get a refund on your listing and final value fees and try and hunt your customer down to try and find out if they just changed their mind or they can't figure out how to pay.

7.  Etsy does no outside advertising.  Etsy has always espoused the 'viral marketing' concept.  You tell two friends and they tell two friends and so on and so on.  Etsy sellers are expected to advertise for themselves which in turn brings more customers to Etsy.  Most of the articles written about Etsy and features done by people such as Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray and The View have emphasized the selling aspect more than the buying aspect and as a result, there are over 200,000 shops on Etsy and more than 5 million listings.  While Etsy may have a measure of built in foot traffic, don't count on it as a way to make consistent sales.  Especially if you're not one of the 'chosen few' that Etsy likes to feature.

8.  Etsy is not really cheap.  Sure, each listing is .20 for 4 months.  Sounds like a bargain, doesn't it?  Until you realize that sellers have learned to game the system by renewing listings daily, at a cost of .20 per renewal.  Why would people do that if a listing lasts 4 months?  Because Etsy search is based on recency and not on relevancy.  So prepare to absorb or tack on an extra dollar or two to each item you list so that you can renew items often.  Just remember, thousands of other sellers are also renewing all the time so it's constant pile on that you're never on top of for more than a few seconds.  The final value fee is 3.5% of the selling price.  Pretty reasonable until you read #9.

9.  Etsy has no tools for you to offer sales, discounts, gift certificates or coupon codes.  Sure, you can work around most of these things by having the customer send you a convo before purchasing so you can adjust a listing to reflect a discount, but that is tedious and time consuming and really deters those impulse purchases.  You can refund them the amount of the discount price via Paypal, but you will still pay the final value fee on the sold price, not the discounted price.

10.  Etsy does not 'care' about you.  There is a common misconception that Etsy is a community of sellers who support each other and that Etsy is our friend.  While up to a point it may be true, Etsy is first and foremost a business and their first priority is to make money and be profitable.  They have investors and venture capital.  This means that at some point, these investors want to see a return on their investment.  It also means that at some point Etsy will go public.  They will do what they have to to continue to make money, even if those of us who use Etsy disagree with their choices.  We can suggest and request for the things we want, but ultimately Etsy will decide if and when they will implement any given suggestion.  This is logical for most, but for others it has been a bitter pill to swallow to realize that Etsy is not their 'friend'.

Does that mean that I don't recommend Etsy?  no, not at all.  If you can accept it for what it is, keep your expectations reasonable, diversify so that you have other outlets in which to sell and realize that selling anywhere, regardless of how much foot traffic they have, requires work on your part then you should have minimal frustrations with Etsy.


WindyRiver said...

Very reasonable and well thought out assessment of the situation. I don't like to play the renew game, so yes, my sales are sporadic. Ultimately, I think most people who sell on etsy should look to it as one facet of your business - in my case I make a lot more sales at craft shows than I ever will at etsy. I think if you go on etsy expecting instant sales, or a lot of sales without a lot of renewing and paying for your own advertising you are most likely bound for disappointment - one of the main reasons I get so frustrated by the QYDJ (quit your day job) articles - I have seen that the average sale on etsy is for a 17 dollar item, so take away time, materials, listing fees, etc you would have to sell an awful lot of items to make any sort of living. I think many of us entered into etsy with an unreasonable expectation of success. And I completely agree with you about the forums - I tend to only look at the business section to get helpful hints, but only post now and then. Nicely done article!

LovelyEccentric said...

My sales are zero right now. I don't play the games and stuff. I entered into selling on Etsy, apparently with an unreasonable idea of what was truely going to happen. I'm incredibly disappointed. Lost money, thank the stars above it wasn't much lost money.

miss la wren said...

Just thought I would pop in and let you know that #9 no longer applies. :)

and also this...

Yay for improvements :)

-miss la wren

Kristofer Mcginty said...

Thank you for the tips! All of them are relevant, especially for Etsy beginners. Many are mistaken into thinking that setting an online shop already means business. They neglect to notice that maintaining their own online store requires as much time and effort in having their own brick and mortar shop. For example, they neglect to promote their store through social media. So it's no wonder they're not getting any sales.

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