If you’re artsy, you may have heard of Etsy.
If you haven’t, then you’re missing out on one of the largest websites for buying and selling handmade items including art, photography, clothing, jewelry, edibles, bath and beauty products, vintage items, and craft supplies. It’s been described as a “crafty cross between Amazon.com and eBay,” and it’s taking the online creative world by storm.
The Etsy Experience
Launched in 2005, Etsy (etsy.com) has grown to tens of thousands of sellers, and five times more buyers. In late 2007 alone, Etsy buyers spent $4.3 million, purchasing 300,000 items.
Jessica Benassi is a jewelry and accessory artist and the former owner of Hey Lola in Peoria, where she sold her jewelry, along with vintage clothing and home décor. After a string of personal events, including the close of the store and the choice to go back to school, she returned to her artistic roots and discovered Etsy. “I heard about Etsy through the grapevine,” she explains. “Crafty people tell other crafty people about crafty things. And it was definitely an idea whose time had come.”
Getting her products on Etsy was easy. “Setting up an Etsy ‘store’ requires just an email address. You create a store announcement that gives a basic description of what you sell—and keywords are vital. If you sell recycled, vintage-inspired jewelry, make sure those terms are in your description so search engines like Google can find you.”
She continues, “Etsy costs 20 cents a listing for four months. With that listing you get five photos, a description and 14 tags, or keywords. If your listing sells, Etsy takes a commission of 3.5 percent.”
Erin Robert is a 2D artist who works mainly with collage and mixed media, and has recently started a jewelry line. Her creations can be viewed at bohemianpearl.com. Like Benassi, she learned of Etsy through word of mouth, but says it is unique because it focuses only on handmade and vintage items. “I really enjoy selling on Etsy—it’s easy and a great (and economical) alternative to opening your own shop. Some people make a living by selling on Etsy alone; I use it as a secondary site to selling my wares at shows. But it’s as successful as you make it.”
Supporting local craftsmen and women is quite popular these days, and even the worldwide website Etsy.com gives patrons this option.
To shop at local storefronts on the site, click on “Buy” at the top of Etsy’s homepage. Then click “Shop Local,” about halfway down the page. When the search box comes up, type in “Peoria, IL” and all of the Etsy.com storefronts registered to sellers in Peoria will pop up. To widen the search a bit, try entering “Central Illinois.”
By shopping at local storefronts on Etsy, patrons are often able to bypass shipping charges, as many artists offer the option for local buyers to pick their items up in person. If it’s not listed as a choice on a seller’s page, use the link to contact them and ask—it may save you some money and get your items to you faster.
Promotion, Promotion, Promotion
Both artists agree that it can be time-consuming in order to make a profit. Robert says, “The hardest thing for me is keeping up with the inventory. There are so many people selling on there now, and so many options. In order to stand out, you have to have good photos and descriptions of each of your items. For each item I make, I spend at least the same amount of time prepping the work for a sale.”
Benassi echoes Robert’s thoughts. “There is a lot of competition on Etsy. You do have to constantly reinvent yourself to make sure that you stand out from the crowd.” And she has some recommendations for those who want to venture into the Etsy world. “If you’re serious about selling online and Etsy is your chosen venue, give yourself two years. Build up your inventory, learn how to take good photos, educate yourself about SEO (search engine optimization), integrate yourself into several online communities and establish a solid web presence.”
Benassi promotes her online shop on her website (loveheylola.com), on Twitter, through Facebook and in the Etsy forums—and it has paid off. “I was featured in the L.A. Times, alongside Stella McCartney and Ferragamo. That was huge for me and generated a lot of business.” But again, promotion is key. “My husband and I started Blue (a recently opened bar/restaurant on Main Street in Peoria), and that took precedence over my online store. Even though I kept merchandise in it, I wasn’t promoting it, and my sales suffered as a result.”
Like any online store, competition is fierce. “There are a lot of people selling on Etsy, so you have to be willing to do the work and get yourself recognized and drive people to your site,” says Robert. “But it’s a great tool for me to display my work, and a number of customers who have seen me on Etsy have contacted me for custom orders.” Benassi adds that potential buyers of Etsy products need to do their homework, just like on any online store site. “If you’re looking for a turquoise bracelet and you find an absolutely gorgeous one on Etsy for $8, what you’re buying probably isn’t handmade. It is a case of ‘if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.’”
Etsy Plays in Peoria
If you do want to shop “locally” on Etsy, there is a feature that allows that, for buyers as well as sellers. “I’ve noticed there are more seminars and groups popping up that focus on local Etsy sellers,” Robert says, “and there are a lot of local artists who are selling on Etsy. Just recently I connected with two other jewelry artists, and we created a group called Elemental Divaz, which we formed in order to better understand Etsy and to provide each other with motivation, advice and support.”
Both women agree that nothing beats selling in person. But in this economy, a brick and mortar storefront isn’t always feasible. “I’ve never had a lot of luck in retail stores unless I’m the person selling the product,” explains Benassi. “I can tell you where each component of each piece came from, how I made it and why…I love what I do and think it’s obvious when you meet me. That in itself is a huge selling point to someone looking for handmade goods.” As an alternative, translating that enthusiasm on Etsy seems to work for both artists. “Etsy is a user-friendly site with a great built-in base of people who are looking to buy,” says Robert.
For more information about Etsy, visit their website at etsy.com. In addition, ci|creative and the Peoria Art Guild have offered classes designed for people who are utilizing or looking at utilizing their creative business through sites such as Etsy. To inquire about future classes, contact Amy Lambert at cicreative.org, or Erin Robert at [email protected] a&s
Amy Kennard is a freelance writer and the owner of Kennard Communications (kennardcommunications.com), a marketing and media business in Peoria, Illinois. She is also the connection director and ci|stories editor for ci|creative, a local networking organization for the creative community in central Illinois.