Tuesday, 4 May 2010

A little bit of Etsy

Hello all Blog Friends, old and new!

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.

In this shop, I sell my handmade Books, a few Sock Dolls, various Papercrafting accessories and soon, I hope, some stitched items, such as fabric shopping bags and perhaps aprons, pin-cushions... still planning! 

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) -

and generally had a good time finding out about this great opportunity for those who wish to expand their horizons and offer their handmade (or vintage) items for sale online.

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!

Japanese Star Moss Scarf by Xenotees and Wonderful Waterworld etching by MariannJohansenEllis

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. 

Of course, so long as you can get access to a postal service, to send out items and order in supplies, an online business can be run from any place in the world.  It helps to be able to speak English fairly well, as listings are done in English and it's tricky to make sales if your buyers can't understand what you need to tell them about your products. 

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).

Leather Journal by Baghy, Silk Embroidered Leather Book by Red Pumpkin Studio

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.

Flip Notebooks by Buchertiger, Plum Blossoms Blank Book by Parkside Harmony
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).

There are other features available, such as "Pounce" which displays shops that are new, or have recently made a sale, or just random selections for you to look at, or "Shop Local" - a search that is done by location (hint to sellers, fill in your Location properly on your information page - "somewhere in fairlyand" doesn't work on Shop Local!).  So many features, that I can't really list them all here... Links with other software - sites where you can get "add-ons" for use with Etsy, or tools to follow your listings and shop traffic more closely, find out if your items are featured in any Treasuries, or on the coveted Front Page slots, link to Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites... You name it, it's probably there somewhere, in the vast, Ethereal Cloud that is the Net!

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So, a bit of a summary of Etsy is above.  What about me and my Etsy shop? I've made a few remarks about my shop and how I see it, so I don't have much else to say.  However, I do want to say that it's one of the best things I have ever done.  I don't set the business world alight, by any means. My shop is still at the "hobby job" stage and looks like remaining that way for a while, because of my home / family commitments; but I love to have access to this huge network of sellers and buyers, who all appreciate the various issues connected with trying to get one's work "seen" and finding buyers when it's difficult to go out and about, selling oneself in the big wide world.  Every sale gives me a great feeling of satisfaction.  I won't get rich from this, but it's teaching me so much and giving me a chance to reach an audience that I would never, ever have reached by any other means.  If I had the time (and more drive, determination etc), I know that I could make my Etsy business pay me a "proper wage", even a full-time wage.  There are folks out there who do just that. 

Monotype (untitled - fish) by DeanDymentStudios, His 'n Hers Needlefelted Wedding Cake Topper by FeltMeUpDesigns

Would I recommend Etsy to others? Absolutely.  With caveats, however; you need to research, read and learn. You need to find out how Etsy works, subscribe to the newsletters and "Etsy Success" posts, read them, learn from them, participate - at least at a basic level - in the Etsy community.  People are generous with their advice and experience. A wise seller will take full advantage of all the information that is out there, in the Etsy community, waiting for you to read it, use it, benefit from it.  I still have so much to find out and learn!

An Etsy shop is not something where you can just "stick a few items in", with crummy photos and a brief description, then wait for someone to buy.  If that's all you do, don't be surprised when nothing happens.  That would be like sitting in the street, outside the big shopping centre, with a bit of old sheet on the ground, plonking a few items on the sheet and waiting for a sale - it won't happen (and you'd likely be moved on by the police!).  If you were serious about selling your items, you'd at least try to sell them somewhere where they could be seen by prospective customers. You'd present them as well as you could (ie. decent photos on Etsy). You'd make your display attractive and think about your prices. You would engage with your customer, package their purchase nicely, ask them to call again. 

An Etsy shop is a great opportunity - but that is all it is, until you make it work. And the only way it will work, is if you make it happen - by your own effort.

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Three Sock Amigos and West Highland Terrier Sock Dolls by LizzieMade


  1. I love etsy! I find all sorts of neat gifts there. I have/had a small crochet shop there but haven't put anything new in it in months

  2. I am new to etsy. I have seen it mentioned before but haven't had a chance to check it out.

  3. Lizzie thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed post about etsy. I have made only one purchase at etsy but I'm looking forward to expanding my horizons in the future as I love the idea of handmade gifts and special pieces in our home :-)

  4. Lizzie,
    Thank you for a really interesting and informative post. I've thought about etsy several times but figured it would be a bigger commitment than I'm ready for.

  5. thanks for all this detail. I'd forgotten about the shop local feature but will use it for upcoming set of birthday gift buying

  6. great blog post, thanks for including my tweets... gosh you are right etsy, like any new business venture, takes a whole heap of work but it has real rewards... not just financially I'm really grateful to etsy for all the friendships I have forged and connections I have made. I'm hoping to go full time crafter this year *gulp

  7. Such an interesting post, Lizzie :-) I've bought a few things from etsy but it tends to be by following a link from a blog rather than by browsing the etsy site, I think I find it a bit overwhelming! It's really interesting to see this from the seller's point of view xx

  8. What a fascinating post! I'm going to come back and have another read again when I've got even more time to enjoy it. I hadn't really thought about etsy having a blog and all that behind the scenes kind of stuff; it's interesting! Thanks Lizzie

  9. Great intro to Etsy, Lizzie! It's a great venue even with its problems. Wishing you continued success!

  10. This is really useful, as i hav been thinking of setting up an online shop for my jewellery. i was put off by Etsy though because it is US-based. Do you know anything about Misi?

  11. Never looked at Etsy although my daughter has. Thanks for such an interesting blog - will definitely be having a look at your shop and having a browse on other ones too.

  12. A very comprehensive post Lizzie! One of the things I like about Etsy is that you can be as active/busy (or not) as you want to be, so if you need to close shop for a month, that's OK. You get out of it what you put in. Thanks for including my notebooks in your post!

  13. You included some lovely links to some pretty fantastic Etsy finds (I am a HUGE Etsy fan)!!!

    Thanks sweet pea!

  14. What a terrific post! When I am ready to open my etsy shop I will go back and read it again. Great advice!

  15. Well, I added this comment on 5th May, in answer to Kirsty's questions, but it vanished... Here it is again, copied from my e-mail to Kirsty! It's a bit long, but I hope it may be useful...

    Thanks for dropping by my blog and reading the post about Etsy - also for your comment.

    In answer to your question, no, I don't really know a lot about Misi. I have visited there, but didn't open an account. I did find that it was difficult to locate the handmade books for sale, because there was no specific category for them - they are listed as "Gifts", which isn't very helpful and when I did look, I found mostly bookmarks and craft supplies, listed as "Books". This did put me off as I was afraid I might put in a lot of work to set up a shop, offer items for sale, but get no attention at all, as no-one would find my books.

    Apart from that, I don't know anything about Misi, I'm afraid. It may well be a great place (and I could be missing an opportunity). I don't know anyone with a Misi shop, so can't really advise you, other than to hang around there, look at their forums and the items for sale (and those sold, if you think you want to be a seller there). Try to gauge whether the sort of stuff you want to buy/sell is there, in what volumes and how well it sellls, for what sort of prices (do they suit you) etc.

    There are a number of online Marketplace sites now - Misi is one, Artfire is another, 1000Markets is a US only one... there are more, but I can't remember them! I did come across another European one, based in Holland (I think), but can't remember its name.

    As far as Etsy is concerned, I was a little unsure about it being US-based, but went ahead anyway. If you want to be a seller, it's good to have a Paypal account and to set it up to accept sales as well as to buy things. It's a good plan to look at postage rates for the kind of stuff you would be selling, check about customs if you can etc. However, I haven't had any problems so far. As I mostly sell books, I can often send them as "Printed Paper", which is less expensive and my packages tend to be small. I'd say that at least half my sales so far, have been to people in USA or Canada, with a couple to other countries abroad.

    There is a huge US and Canada presence on the site and they seem to be happy to buy from UK, which I think is definitely an advantage. Etsy is the biggest site of its kind just now too, which can be good, although you need to research prices properly and read the advice in the Etsy Forum and Blog (Storque) carefully, to get the most out of your opportunity. When there are so many sellers, you have to make sure you get your stuff seen!

    So far, I'm pretty happy with Etsy. They have a great team of tecchies, working hard behind the scenes, to keep the site running smoothly. They come up with some great ideas to improve it and keep members informed of what's going on. You can subscribe to newsletters etc, follow the news items on the blog and look in the forums, to keep up with what's happening. Occasionally there are changes which the community are not sure about, but there's a good communication link between "them" and "us" - the Etsy admin people do seem to really care about the community and regard themselves as a part of it. They do pay attention to comments, requests etc and "people power" does work.

    On the whole, I'd recommend Etsy, if you want an online shop. However, as I said in my blog, you have to put in the work, to get the results - but this applies to any online shop, on any online marketplace site, as well as to a "real" bricks-and-mortar shop or market stall!

    Good luck!


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