Until 2005, handmade and digital didn’t have much interaction with each other, as authentic craft goods were more the provenance of the local art show, craft fair or farmers’ market. But Etsy, intentionally named with a nonsense word to denote its founder’s dedication to building everything on the site “from scratch,” that year built the marketplace that connected the world’s knitters, essential oil makers, antique gurus, folk artists, crochet masters and assorted other handmaking mavens to a single digital destination.
Flash-forward 12 years and 1.2 million sellers, about 60 million or so users and an IPO later, and Etsy is now pretty much synonymous with handmade eCommerce. The world of 2017 is very different from the nascent eCommerce into which environment Etsy first stepped out, as marketplaces that were then a novelty are now what everyone seems to be trying to build. And Etsy has some large and scary competition in the form of Handmade At Amazon — the mere launch of which was enough to trim Etsy’s stock price notably.
But Etsy remains committed to battling back and last week announced the launch of its secondary marketplace aimed at serving the sellers on its platform. Craft supplies aren’t entirely new to Etsy, but about a year ago the site decided to develop a distinct marketplace for them. Etsy Studio is the culmination of that effort, and the eCommerce marketplace is tracking toward a digital portal offering 8 million products as opposed to the 33,000 that many big-box retailers make available.
The question, of course, remains as to whether Etsy can keep its grip on the hearts and minds of the handmade crafter and independent entrepreneur as Amazon pushes ever deeper into their territory. So we decided to ask a few Etsy merchants how they felt.
It’s Not Entirely Either Or
In the small cohort of merchants with whom we spoke, the most common and ongoing theme was that as smaller sellers, they were mostly happy to have more venues to sell as opposed to fewer. One noted that few people think much of anything about her jam businesses appearing at a different farmers’ market every weekend between June and October — and with digital, it is much the same issue — and as for the store owner, she wants to be wherever there are customers.
Which isn’t to say there isn’t a different feel to the marketplaces — since most sellers did not describe a personal affinity for Etsy, or what many referred to as the community.
“Amazon feels much more like a bazaar,” Deb Castellano of the Mermaid and the Crow shop noted. “Etsy has always felt more like a community for sellers, and so I think it isn’t a matter of sellers [abandoning] one platform over the other.”
All of the merchants we spoke to were small — and selling online is a sideline occupation rather than a full-time calling.
“I think the goal is to do this full-time — it used to be to open like a store, but that has faded more and more,” Castellano said. “I don’t think this is ever going to be the only thing I do, but I hope that it will be something that I do that makes money even if it isn’t enough to form a whole career on.”
That meant ease of use for their platform was noted as their greatest desire — and the issue they found lacking in their experiences online with both Etsy and Handmade At Amazon. Marketplaces make it easier — most of our digital merchants noted that the availability of a marketplace that made it comparatively easy to hang a shingle on has been a life-changing boon to their ambitions — but easier and easy aren’t the same thing.
And standing out is always an issue — especially with so many similar goods and services proliferating.
“Etsy is a great place to refer your customers to — and to make it easy for people to buy from you from wherever,” Dinah Aneson of Losborne jewelry told us. “But getting found on Etsy — for very small merchants like me, that’s very much harder.”
All of our merchants noted being “intrigued” by the concept of Etsy Studio, if not entirely sold, because how useful it is depends so completely on what it makes available for purchase. Finding material is always an issue in the handmade world, Etsy’s crafters told us, but depending on what it is one makes, the odds of it being available in a marketplace (even with 8 million goods available) seems unlikely.
But all of our crafters were encouraged by the growing interest in handmade and unique goods and were happy to see Etsy get competition, because more venues are basically good news.
Now if someone could just make customer discovery easier, they said, there would be almost nothing left to ask for.