I have been thinking for a while, that I would write a Post about my Etsy shop - with a bit about Etsy in general too. Now seems a good time to do this, so here goes...
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Those who have known me for a while, will know about my online shop, LizzieMade, on the shopping site Etsy.Com.
I started my shop in January 2009, so I've been going for 15 months now. During this time, I've read a lot of stuff, met a lot of great people, joined a "Team" on Etsy - Bookbinding Etsy Street Team (or BEST for short) -
Etsy has been around for approaching five years. It is, at its most basic level, a "Shopping Site" (I think Etsy prefer the word "Marketplace" to "Shopping"), where people can set up an online "Etsy Shop" and offer their handmade or vintage items for sale, and where other people (with or without a shop of their own) can buy these items and have them sent directly to their homes.
You don't have to be a seller to buy from an Etsy shop (though you do need to register as a buyer, with a Username - unchangeable, so think about it before you start! - and a password); neither do you have to be a buyer to have an Etsy shop of your own - but I would challenge anyone not to be very, very tempted by the huge array of items offered for sale!
Etsy contains, at present (6 April 2010), some 215,788 Members, with items for sale in a shop and many, many more who are either "dormant" sellers, or registered as buyers only (sadly, my attempts to find out the total number of registered Etsy members has been unsuccessful so far. Etsy used to list it on the Front Page, but for some reason they have taken this away and seem a bit cagey about telling me..).
Not all sellers' shops are active at any one point, but 216,000 active sellers is still a huge number of people. Currently over 200,000 new members sign up to Etsy each month, more than 2 million new items are listed for sale, with over 1.3 million items being sold monthly! That represents more than $20 million worth of sales per month. Certainly not small beer!
I have seen/read criticism of Etsy - it's too big, it's complicated, you can't get your items seen because there are just too many shops/items/people there... But clearly it is working for many, many people.
I too am listing items in my shop, making sales and taking orders - not on a big scale, you understand, as currently this is not more than a "hobby job" for me - I just don't have time to make more of it, though I do try.
Butterfly Japanese stab-bound Notebook by LizzieMade
However, for many, Etsy is providing a bigger source of income, often combined with showing their work at craft shows or sales, selling through local shops, making custom orders, filling consignments for larger companies etc etc. Some people can (apparently!) earn their living from their Etsy shops - but it is not an easy option and requires a lot of work, to set up and maintain such an enterprise, besides whatever work is necessary to produce or procure the goods to list in the first place. I must admit that I hold these people in awe, somewhat, as I can't imagine how I could get to that stage. It must be through sheer hard work, guts, determination - and probably a good dollop of luck too, I would think!
I'm not sure if there could be said to be a "typical Etsy Seller" either. I've come across people of all kinds on Etsy - male and female, young and old (including a few children - my DS has an item listed in my shop - and lots of older ladies and gents, earning extra in their (semi) retirement. Sellers are based, literally, all over the world, in U.S.A. and Canada, South America, U.K. and Eire, all parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, various smaller islands... pretty much everywhere has people selling on Etsy.
There is only one monetary unit in use on Etsy just now, which is US Dollars. This is obviously a bit tricky - and even off-putting - for many people, but it does make it easier to handle your money. Of course, sellers outside USA are at risk of problems from fluctuations in Exchange Rates, which may make it necessary to "tweak" prices occasionally, or to re-calculate postage charges, but in the end, it's still money and as long as you work out your pricing carefully, you should be okay.
Pricing is another interesting subject, actually. I was recently reading an exchange of messages, between members of BEST (see above!), about the pricing of peoples' books. One Book Artist, who is a professional, rather than a "hobbyist", commented that it's all very well, those who have shops to make "hobby sales" setting their prices quite low, just to cover their costs; however they felt that this was a bad idea, as it was not just those sellers who were affected by such a policy.
Christmas Scrap Album by LizzieMade, Berry Pocket Notebooks by Prairie Peasant
Pricing to cover costs, but not to include other factors, such as time spent and overheads, encourages buyers to see hand-made, crafted items, such as our books, as less valuable than they really are. It gives the wrong impression. It perhaps discourages them from taking the "real artists" seriously. This was the general argument being put forward - that "undervaluing" an item is also undervaluing the person who created it and, by implication, all others who create similar items (I will add here, that no photos shown in this post are placed to imply that any person was involved in this discussion, or that I do or don't support their views - or necessarily know their views - on the subject).
Others may argue, of course, that small, inexpensive items encourage buyers to return, perhaps when they have more to spend, or are looking for something "more special" - at which point they may well turn to the higher-priced, professional artist-made items, because they will get a more exclusive, higher quality product - made with materials such as leather, expensive papers, hand-decoration and embellishing etc, etc.
Personally, I try to fall in between these two extremes. I don't believe in undervaluing my time, to the extent of ignoring it when calculating prices. I'm not so desperate to make sales, that I will sell "at cost" to just cover my materials and postage expenses. However, I don't kid myself that my products are of the same quality or craftsmanship, as those Professional Bookbinders that I meet. That is not to say my books are no good - they are, in themselves, great little items. I would be ashamed to offer anything for sale, that I didn't believe was of good quality and well-made. I try to "be professional" in my attitude and workmanship, even if I can't do this full-time.
Snow Blossoms Stab-bound Journal and Paper Flower and Bunting Set by LizzieMade
I believe in doing a job properly - if it's worth doing, then I will do my best. I take pride in my work and make the best items I can possibly make, with my current level of skills and the materials I have. I love to make my books and other items, and get much pleasure from each and every sale - especially when the customer is as pleased with my work as I was when I finished it! In fact, I tend to worry about the quality of my items, especially when I know something is intended for a special occasion or as a gift. I would feel dreadful, should I get feedback that one of my books was not up to its intended purpose - that it fell apart, perhaps, or the cover was not substantial, or the paper inside was of poor quality... So far, so good - everyone seems to have been more than happy with their books, so I am happy too!
Commission: Baby Scrapbook Photo Album by LizzieMade
Over the past year, Etsy has just about doubled in size. European memberships have grown so much, and so quickly, that Etsy have opened new branch offices in Europe and set up special sections on the Etsy Blog, for UK, French and German buyers and sellers.
Besides the obvious, "front end services", offered by the Etsy site, there is a huge structure of other benefits and tools. There is an Etsy Blog, (called "The Storque", but don't ask me why!), which is contributed to by various members of the Etsy organisation teams, both in USA and Europe. There are posts about many, many subjects, from Sales statistics, to "How-To" and Tutorial posts, to News, Featured Sellers, general information... you name your subject, it's somewhere in The Storque! It really is a huge treasure-trove of information for Etsians, both sellers and buyers alike.
There is also a Community structure, where you can: join in online, live discussions, Q&A sessions, or tutorials, in specially structured "Virtual Labs" rooms; forums to raise queries or problems for other Etsians to help with or comment on; chat rooms for general chit-chat and networking; join Teams of like-minded artists, craftspeople, artisans, sellers, vintage-junkies... whatever your calling (the BEST team is an example of this); have a bit of a moan about changes you don't like, or problems you're having - or a bit of a cheer about good stuff that you want to share.. The Etsy World is your Oyster!
There are Search facilities, so buyers and sellers can easily look for what they want. This is especially helpful for the buyers, as you can use keywords, or search on Tags that sellers include in their listings. For example, if you wanted to find stuff offered for sale by BEST members, you could search on the tag "Bookbindingteam" and up would come a list of items from the various Team members. Or you could search for "shoes", "dress", "red", "red dress", "spring", "Mothers Day"... whatever you want to find. Sellers who spend time finding out about tagging their items can greatly increase their chances of being "found" buy would-be buyers - after all, with millions of listings, you need to give yourself as much chance as possible!
Etsy also has a structure known as "Treasuries". These are basically lists of favourite findings, set up by Etsy members, for other members to share. You can "snag" a Treasury and set up 12 items (plus 4 spares, to fill gaps where items are sold). The items are displayed in a grid formation, with the main picture from their listings. You give your Treasury a title and can add comments to it. Viewers of the Treasury can access the items directly, by clicking on them, or go to the sellers' shops, by clicking on the seller-names. They can also comment on the Treasury, giving feedback on your hard work!
Etsy Admin choose Treasuries from these lists, which they then set up on the Etsy Front Page, for about an hour or two at a time. It is considered a great achievement to "make the front page"! (it is also of great value to anyone who is included in one of those Front Page treasuries, as it can bring in a huge volume of traffic to your shop).