Friday, November 22, 2013

Etsy: no longer the best source for handmade

Once upon a time, Etsy used to be the "go-to" website for handmade or vintage items.  While it is still a good source for vintage items, it has ceased to be the best place for buying/selling handmade arts and crafts.

There are several problems with the 'handmade' side of Etsy which anyone considering opening a shop there should be aware of before they starting their shop; many of these same problems are also issues that those shopping on Etsy need to know.

Issue #1: the size 

The site has simply gotten too large, and while this is great for Etsy it makes things very frustrating for sellers there as getting found through any site search has now gotten to be very difficult.  The vast amount of sellers there can also be rather overwhelming to shoppers as it makes it very easy to get distracted from what you went there to find, or you do a search and come up with thousands of results (no exaggeration, I did a simple search for 'Steampunk bracelet" under handmade and came up with 12,435 listings) that you simply can't go through them all to find exactly what you're looking for.

Issue #2: the quality

Now this is not so much an Etsy problem as it is a problem with any online marketplace, but if you are planning on buying/selling on any such site it is something you need to know.  With all such sites you will get a massive range of quality.  You will have well-made quality work, and you will have poorly constructed work.  There will be work from experienced artists and craftsmen, and there will be work from those who are just starting to learn their craft.  There will be work that is very expensive, and there will be work that is extremely inexpensive (even, and quite often, underpriced).

This is something that both seller and buyer need to be aware of when starting a shop on an online marketplace, or when looking to buy something off on of these sites. Why? Well, if you are looking to sell there (or on any other marketplace style website), it is good to know how your prices, workmanship, etc. line up with what else is on the site.  Not that you have to change anything to be the same as what is already there, but if you find that your work is well below or well above the other stores there it may make it harder for your work to actually sell.  Or, even in terms of what you make/techniques/materials you use, the site may not be the best fit for you. For example, a site that largely has upper expensive metalworking, may not be the best place for beaded jewelry and vice versa.

So it makes sense as to why this may be an issue for a seller, but how does it affect the buyers?  For buyers this can be an issue because the difference in prices of similarly made pieces can cause issues. Why is this bracelet/hat/scarf/sculpture/etc. so much more/less than this other one? Is there something wrong with it that it costs less than these other stores? When you have higher-priced next to a similar lower-priced piece it can be confusing as to why there is a price difference. Is one over-pricing, is the other under-pricing? Is the lower priced piece not as well made? Well, sometimes yes. Sometimes, the difference in pricing of similar pieces is simply the difference between the artists cost/time into their work, higher business costs, etc. or simply the difference between those doing their art/craft for a living and those doing it for a hobby, as quite often (but not always), those who sell purely as a hobby tend to underprice their work by comparisons to those who do so as their business. However, other times, it is indeed the case of 'you get what you pay for' and there may actually be a difference in quality of the work for sale. Buyers need to know that this situation exists on sites like Etsy (and why) so they aren't taken by surprise when they see it, and instead let it help them when making their decision of what to buy.

Issue #3: the cost

Issue #3 is one that really only affects those that sell on Etsy.  At first glance, the fees for Etsy may not sound so bad, but they add up very quickly.  Etsy charges $.20 per listing. However, it's not just per listing, it is also per quantity for each listing.  So even if you only list one item, but you state you have a quantity of 20 of that item Etsy will charge you for each one of those as if they were a separate listing.  There is also a $.20 relisting fee which, again, is also per quanitity.  On top of the listing/relisting fees, Etsy also charges a commission of 3.5% on all sales.  Also, if that sale was paid using Etsy's payment processing platform (called Direct Checkout) they apply a processing fee which varies depending on the location of your bank. With all of these fees, operating an Etsy store can get very costly very quickly.

Issue #4: the eavesdropping

Eavesdropping? Yup, you read it right.  Etsy monitors all of the private messages that are sent between Etsy accounts. Why? I have no idea, but it is more than a little disconcerting to know that someone other than the intended recipient is reading any message you send another site member.   And if you are using the private messages to just talk as friends with other site members and not strictly for asking a buyer/seller a business related question you can get in trouble with Etsy for it and even have your account(s) closed. 

Issue: #5: censuring of all complaints again Etsy policies and practices

Etsy has become well known for making sudden policy changes, and not for the better. However, while most sites welcome suggestions as to how to improve the site or about how their changes aren't being so well received and should be changed back, Etsy does not.  Etsy has in fact even closed down the entire forum section regarding website changes so that the threads about complaints get buried quickly. It doesn't matter if these are complaints from buyers or sellers, Etsy is not really all that interested in addressing them. Sometimes these complaints are even regarded by Etsy as 'inappropriate behaviour' and the poster given a warning that if they continue their account(s) may be closed.

Issue: #6: censuring of all references to other marketplace websites

Etsy will not allow any posts that promote another marketplace style website.  If they find any of these posts, they are often quick to delete them. Yes, these other sites are competition for them, but Etsy is several times the size of these other sites, still growing, and is significantly more known to buyers than most of these other sites. So really, they aren't that much of a threat to Etsy, yet just about any thread that is started in the forums that suggests another site for people to use, they either lock or delete entirely.  They even send 'warnings' for members that make a posts recommending another site telling them than their 'conduct is inappropriate.' If these members continue making such posts they may even get their accounts closed. So why is Etsy trying so hard the silence the existence of these websites? If Etsy is so great, why would any buyer/seller want to leave their account on Etsy to take a chance on another (and lesser known) site? Keep reading and I'll tell you why so many handmade art/craft sellers on Etsy are jumping ship.

Issue: #7: Etsy is allowing resellers and manufactured

That's right. The site that started as a venue for promoting handmade and vintage goods is now allowing stores that resell someone else's handmade goods.  They are also beginning to allow manufactured goods.  Etsy will tell you that they are only allowing stores to sell manufactured work that they (the shop owner) designed themselves even if they didn't actually make it themselves calling it 'handmade in spirit'. Put another way, this new 'handmade in spirit' policy means that you can ask a factory in China to mass manufacture your product and ship your product for you, but if you came up the design you can still sell it as handmade on Etsy.  How is having a factory make your work for you in anyway handmade? But this isn't even all.  There is also the selling/reselling of commercially available products that aren't even 'handmade in spirit', but outright mass production.

Now, if Etsy has decided that they want to allow non-handmade products on their site and that this is what is best for their business, that's fine, it's their business and they need to do what they think is best for it.  However, they need to be upfront about this with both buyers and sellers, and they have not been.  When buyers go to Etsy they are looking for vintage items or for something that is truly unique and that the seller not only designed themselves, but they actually made it themselves.  They are not looking for manufactured or 'handmade in spirit', because they can find that in just about any department store.

This, is the biggest reason why sellers and buyers alike are leaving Etsy.  They will not listen to their members, and they are still trying to appear supportive of handmade and a 'handmade/vintage only' website while at the same time allowing in various forms of manufacturing because they decided to redefine what handmade means. (Is it really that hard to know what handmade means? Handmade = 'made by hand', not 'made by machine' or 'my idea but I didn't actually make it').

If Etsy wants to offer both handmade and manufactured, they need to make it publicly known and to keep them separate on the website so that buyers know exactly what they are looking at and so that the sellers of handmade items have a better chance of success. Because if the sellers aren't doing well there or are unhappy with Etsy's policies, they will leave and set up store somewhere else and if the sellers leave, so will the buyers.

-Still want to sell on Etsy?

If after reading all of this (and I hope you did), do you still want to take the chance and buy/sell on Etsy?  If yes and you are a buyer, happy hunting! There are still some great handmade finds on Etsy and I wish those stores the best.  If yes and you are a seller, good luck to you!  It won't be easy, and likely will just get harder if Etsy keeps up with its current practices, but I hope you will be one of the few that manage to do well there (yes, such stores do still exist on Etsy).

However, if after reading all this and you think you might want to shop around first before deciding where to set up shop or where to buy from, then I hope you'll come back to read my follow-up blog article 'The Etsy Alternative' which I plan on posting next week!