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Above: One of the many items at Pink Parchment Soaps on Etsy.com
Article by Jeanne Lesinski

With more and more people wanting to buy directly from artisans and home-based entrepreneurs, Etsy (www.etsy.com) was a logical development and is a win-win for both groups. All vendors at this website, founded in 2005, assemble a selection of items for their individual shops. At the end of 2010, more than 4,500 vendors were based in Michigan, up a hundred fold since this time last year. And the numbers continue to grow.

What kinds of products do they offer? Although the selection of items has changed over time, the current wide variety of handcrafted items ranges from fine paintings, drawings and photographs to pottery, booklets, stickers, magnets, jewelry, writing implements, soaps, candles, dolls, music, handmade books, stationery, and sewn items of all kinds. Handmade is the imperative qualification, though vintage, non-handcrafted items and arts and crafts supplies have joined the other items for sale at the site.

Google crawls the site, so if you know that  someone has an Etsy store, but you can't remember the exact store name, just search that person's name plus Etsy. An internal search engine allows shoppers to search by vendor's shop name or physical location, as well as by the type of items for sale, much like in a department store; yet where the department store fails is in including Geekery, which includes the subcategories, Kitsch, Magic, Robot, Taxidermy, Videogame and Weird.  More serendipitous search engines allow for the kind of haphazard search that buyers thrive on at real-life locations. Ways to Shop include Color, Time Machine (recently listed items), Alchemy (custom-made items) and Editors' Picks that change on a frequent basis. Etsy is no typical shopping mall

Starting a store at Etsy is relatively easy if you consider what it would take to operate a physical storefront. Selling through Etsy requires creating a user profile, registering a store name, setting up a Paypal account, uploading photos of merchandize, pricing the items and paying a modest per-item fee. This process might seem daunting to the non-computer savvy, but it could be worth the initial learning curve.

What's not so easy, however, is determining if Etsy surfers are likely buyers for particular works. For example, Heather Townsend of Flint has sold crocheted hats, blankets, and dog sweaters through her shop Townsendmade and  Pink Parchment Soaps has made over 900 sales of its handmade soaps, garnering some 700 positive comments in its feedback section. But other artists and craftspeople have had more limited success. It appears that as with any business venture, market analysis and some good luck also play roles at Etsy stores, as in the case of Patrick Szymanek (www.etsy.com/shop/ausgezeichnet). Because of Etsy, this French artist sold more than 40 his own drawings and paintings to American buyers, as well as buying works from artists in the United States and Cech Republic. Would he have had such easy access to international markets without an Internet-based site? Not likely.

Etsy allows opportunities unheard of in the pre-Internet era. As a buyer, you might find that perfect artwork or fashion accessory—all the while knowing that you're supporting the maker of this original item. In addition to PayPal, Etsy allows buyers to use major credit cards. Simple. Easy. As an artist and vendor, you might attract buyers from unsuspected locations—providing income for yourself and satisfaction for the buyer. Some charities also use Etsy as a creative way to raise funds. Win, win, and win. 

Exposure on the Internet may lead to exciting developments for buyers and sellers alike, yet there is no guarantee of success for either. Hedge your bet by making your store the best it can be. 

  • Create an interesting user profile
  • Label your work well
  • Use simple keywords as search terms
  • Make sure to have enough inventory to cover sales
  • Make sure that your photos do justice to your work
  • Price your work at comparable rates
  • Provide fast shipping in good packaging
  • Publicize your storefront through social network sites, blogs and word of mouth
  • Check Etsy's user community bulletin board for tips from other vendors 

If you're fortunate, you might be selected for a vendor interview and have some of your items become Editors' Picks. These days buyers often want to have a personal connection to the artisan—it adds value to the work—so take the time to tweak that profile and make your store as attractive as possible. These efforts may pay off in ways that you never imagined.

© Jeanne Lesinski, 2010