I was a super early adopter of Etsy, starting out selling handmade cards on it while I was in college. Needless to say, I was a very early adopter of the platform and at the time I thought it was the bee’s knees. This was circa 2006-ish, if I remember correctly, so Etsy hadn’t grown in the handmade, on-retailer conglomerate that it is today. It was small, quaint, and very communal. I’d never seen or heard of anything like it since at the time eBay was the biggest thing going on and Amazon wasn’t far behind.
I found out about Etsy from a co-worker of mines from Bath & Body Works. She was a fellow college student, a year older than me and she was running her shop with her best friend. They opened their shop selling handmade cards and scrapbooking materials, like many of the sellers on Etsy were doing at the time. Naturally, I followed suit, because if you weren’t selling vintage items, jewelry, or supplies, then you sold handmade cards and other paper goods. Back then, you didn’t see people selling t-shirts, graphics, websites, or anything else super technological or commercial for that matter.
A New Beast
If you look at Etsy now, it’s an 180 from what I just described. It is an entirely different beast, and it takes a different kind of business owner to be able to make the most of it. I realized this coming back on Etsy in February of 2014, nearly 7-8 years later from when I first joined the site.
When I opened my current shop, Sweet Face Studio, on Etsy my main goal was to have it be a graphic design studio, in which I would sell an array of digital and printable graphic design items. These items included monogrammed binder covers, note cards, stationery, business card, social media, and pretty much anything else that appealed to a young, female, feminine, fun, and bright aesthetic. My target market was a preteen to young adult (under 30ish) woman, with a preppy and feminine style who appreciate all things monogrammed and pink.
Me & My Target Market
I did a pretty good job appealing to this market and I still do. For whatever reason, I found it easier to establish my target market for my Etsy shop than I did for Bliss & Faith. I believe the reason for this is because Sweet Face Studio is product based, and so when I’m designing, I’m pretty much designing for myself and others who appreciate a similar aesthetic.
If I could name one major awesome take away from owning an Etsy shop, it would be me learning how to find and appeal to my target market effectively in a product based market. When you’re doing services, the approach is similar, but it tends to require a longer thought process. The reason for this is because, when you’re thinking of products, you’re thinking of making things that people WANT (for the most part). Whereas with services, your are creating things that people NEED.
The Pluses & Minuses
Most of the products I sell in my Etsy are novelty one’s that people purchase because it makes them feel good and represents who they are. My target Etsy shop customer is someone who loves personalized and customized items, so they like a little flare and extra to the things they possess.I really enjoy serving this market and I’ve come across some really nice and gracious people in the process.Of course, it doesn’t go without being said that I’ve also occasionally come across those who aren’t so pleasant and have tried to test me and my business practices and values. Like with anything you have to take the good with the bad and in owning a business, you learn this very quickly. This leads me to the pros and cons of owning and running an Etsy shop, more specifically as a digital content seller.
Of course, it doesn’t go without being said that I’ve also occasionally come across those who aren’t so pleasant and have tried to test me and my business practices and values. Like with anything you have to take the good with the bad and in owning a business, you learn this very quickly. This leads me to the pros and cons of owning and running an Etsy shop, more specifically as a digital content seller.
- Large, established e-commerce platform
- Helpful community; forums
- Ability to advertise products for SEO
- Can list unlimited number of items in shop
- Company promotes handmade and entrepreneurial mindset
- Takes care of VAT tax for sellers
- Offer instant digital downloads (only up to 20Mb)
- In-house conversation feature
- Sale notifications
- Poor traffic and low views (since the beginning of the year; Etsy went public)
- Fees per listing (0.20 cent/listing) + PayPal fees if your shop accepts it
- Company tends to support customer only, so if you run into an issue, especially with customer feedback or communication they won’t be very helpful.
- Shop items can appear anywhere in the search results, and purchasing ads doesn’t always guarantee or translate into you being found and getting sales.
- Can’t integrated into your own website and customize with own branding
- Only allows you to upload a header as a way to brand your shop; no way to brand your on the platform
- Listing system is constantly changing and at times has been very cumbersome.
There are a few things that weren’t quite pros or cons, they fell somewhere in the middle. I’ll be sharing them below:
- Rating system
- Two separate mobile apps (one for selling and one for shopping)
- Shipment notification feature
As you can see, the amount of pros and cons were about even, with a few that were right down the middle for me. So, let’s get into my rationale for pros, cons, and all things in between. For my pros, those were all of the things that I really enjoy and like about Etsy, and feel really add to and differentiate it from competitors. While some of its competitors do have some of the same features, Etsy’s seamless and trailblazing integration of them makes them stand alone.
As far as the cons go, these are the things that I pretty much despise about Etsy and at times has made me want to close the doors to my shop. The platform itself has become extremely oversaturated and offer little ways to differentiate yourself as a seller from others.
The simple fact that most branding that Etsy will allow you to do is upload a custom header is silly when competitors like Storenvy (which I also sell on) allow you to completely customize your store. You can even customize your e-commerce space on Storenvy with custom coding, or use one of their premade themes. Unfortunately, they are still the little guy in the game and don’t drive the same amount of traffic overall that Etsy does.
Ever since Etsy decided to go public, which I think was the latter part of last year (that’s at least when the word got out), sales and shop views have significantly decreased across the board for sellers. If you visit the forums, you’ll see countless threads of sellers voicing their concerns about low views and sales. I’ve read accounts of sellers who have been on the platform since very early on, making a full-time living and now they can’t because of how low their sales have been.
It’s really disheartening and disconcerting, because yes while you should never put all your eggs in one basket, you can’t help but have faith in the one source of income you’ve had for nearly a decade. It’s just like someone working a full-time job outside the home, you don’t wake up every day expecting there to be a layoff or to get let go. If that’s the case, there would be a lot more disgruntled people in the world, in addition to an even worst economy than we have now, because no one would want to spend money.
The fees for Etsy can be quite high, especially if you are a higher volume seller and on top of that if you accept PayPal you’re paying fees to them. It cost 20 cents to list your product on Etsy and 3.5% of each sale that you make for a transaction fee. They can add up really quickly and before you know it, they’re a quarter of your monthly earnings. I’ve experienced this many times, and it really sucks to see revenue and expenses be nearly equal on Etsy, because of the fees.
So on top of fees for listing items and transaction sales, if you want to heighten the chances of your shop or items being found, you can purchases ads. The thing is that the ads appear just like a regular listing in the search results, with the exception of the word ad on the listing. They do appear on the front page of the search results, but it’s no guarantee that they will actually be clicked on since they’re in a sea of other regular listings.
Ads & Traffic
I purchased ads for a few months to drive traffic to my shop, and I did see pretty positive results during that time. However, there were other factors I believe contributed to my increase in sales and traffic at the time. One thing was that I had over 100 items in my shop, which is a known factor that contributes to your items coming up higher in Etsy search results. I was also promoting my items heavily on social media, tweeting and pinning them, and blogging about them.In addition, I renewed the items in my shop on a frequent basis, so that also pushed them to the top of the search results. After I felt my traffic and sales were in a pretty steady place, I ceased with the ads. When I stopped purchasing ads, I honestly didn’t see much of a difference in my traffic or sales. They remained relatively consistent until the sitewide decrease in sales and views started on Etsy after the new year.
In addition, I renewed the items in my shop on a frequent basis, so that also pushed them to the top of the search results. After I felt my traffic and sales were in a pretty steady place, I ceased with the ads. When I stopped purchasing ads, I honestly didn’t see much of a difference in my traffic or sales. They remained relatively consistent until the sitewide decrease in sales and views started on Etsy after the new year.
Etsy Apps & Mobile Selling
Etsy introduced two key features to facilitate mobile shopping and selling last year. One of the main things they did was create Sell On Etsy, which is Etsy’s standalone app for sellers. Prior to the creation of Sell On Etsy, sellers could manage their sales and list through the regular Etsy app, which personally I liked much better.The last thing I wanted to do was download yet another app on my phone to take up space for the same site. However, if I wanted to be able to access and manage any of the seller features, I had to download the Sell On Etsy app. I eventually deleted the regular Etsy app, and just visited the mobile Etsy site via my mobile device’s browser if I wanted to shop on Etsy on my iPhone or iPad.
The last thing I wanted to do was download yet another app on my phone to take up space for the same site. However, if I wanted to be able to access and manage any of the seller features, I had to download the Sell On Etsy app. I eventually deleted the regular Etsy app, and just visited the mobile Etsy site via my mobile device’s browser if I wanted to shop on Etsy on my iPhone or iPad.
The Sell On Etsy App has gone through major improvements since its initial release and I find it much more usual now than I did then. Etsy’s expanded the features on it and added more seller tools, so that we can literally process an entire order in the palm of our hands. This is one reason why I was split down the middle with considering the app a pro or con. I’m interested to see how much more robust they make the Sell On Etsy app in the future and as Etsy grows.
The other major thing they did was release a card reader that you could attach to your mobile phone. If you’ve ever seen the Square card reader, the Etsy one is the same concept, except it’s connected to your Etsy shop. It’s a great tool for those who are selling on the go at craft fairs or pretty much anywhere else. I was sent a card reader, but since my business is digital-based I haven’t had much use for it.
I gather if I were at a networking event that it’d be a good thing to have on hand so that I could sell the items in my shop that are instant downloads. In that sense, it would more of a convenience to the buyer than me, because they wouldn’t have to visit the actual Etsy website. If I ever end up using it, I’ll be sure to report back and let you all know about my experience and its functionality.
Shipping & Notifications
Etsy does a fairly good job of notifying both sellers and customers of sales and sending invoices via email. As a seller, I receive a detailed email of orders immediately after purchased. The invoice has all of the customer’s information, including any special notes that they may have included. The customer receives a similar confirmation email of their order as well.
The good thing about the invoices is that they include contact information that customers have on file with Etsy, so if I need to contact a customer about their order, I can click to email them or send them a message via the Etsy convo feature. I really like that I don’t have to jump through hoops to get in touch with customers and that they don’t have to do the same for me either.
As a seller of digital items, I don’t physically ship anything, but back when I sold handmade cards and jewelry, the shipping process was fairly straightforward and I never had any issues with it. I could print shipping labels directly from the customer’s receipt, stick it on the packaging and it was set to go. I purchased a scale from my local big box, so I could weigh the package at home, input the weight into Etsy, print the label and drop it in the mail.
I think if its one thing that Etsy’s worked on bettering over the years, its the shipping process. Part of the reason for this, I believe, is that the bulk of the complaints they get from buyers are their orders not arriving on time. While they don’t actually fulfill the orders themselves, they’ve given sellers the tools to ensure that they can fulfill and ship orders out efficiently.
So in a nutshell, my experience in selling on Etsy’s for nearly a decade has quite good. I don’t have any huge complaints and I appreciate the fact that it’s a large platform that I’m able to draw a small income from. When I rebranded to Bliss & Faith, I toggled with whether to keep my current shop open, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to do graphic design. In the end, my renewed love for design won out and I decided to keep it open and I’m glad I did.
If you’ve been on the fence about opening an Etsy shop, I highly recommend taking the dive. It’s a great platform to get started on and you have the built benefit of it being extremely popular. The fact that Etsy’s so popular means that it is getting tons of traffic every single day. Millions of people are visiting the site to find things they can’t get in the big box stores and support the small business industry.
Like I mentioned previously, the community on Etsy is awesome and allows you connect with other small business owners and like creatives. Once you get started on Etsy and build a name for your shop, you can always move it to your own domain, or still have both. So, I leave you with this; there’s very little to loose or at stake with starting a shop and the sky’s the limit for where you want to take it.
I’m happy I started my shop when I did because it gave me the experience I now use in running an entire business. That little shop on Etsy has taught me how to deal with customer service issues, price my products, and learn my target market. Those are all things that I’ve been able to bring over to Bliss & Faith and implement, even know they are very different. The same principles apply and thankfully I had to opportunity to make mistakes, get messy, and have fun before I made the major time and financial investment that I’ve now made with Bliss & Faith.
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Do you have an Etsy shop? – If so, what’s your experience been on the platform? If not, what’s been the one thing to hold you back from having one?
P.S: If you’re planning on opening a shop, you can do so using my invitation link. I’ll earn 40 free listings (full disclosure!) and you can too once you sign up and refer a few friends to open up Etsy shops too. That can save you a ton in getting your shop set up and not having to pay any listing fees.