Entrepreneur Group Interview: Etsy.com Shop Sellers

A couple weeks ago, I was looking to interview a reader who sells on the handmade online marketplace, Etsy.com. I was surprised to get over 30 inquiries, and so I made up a short questionnaire to help better understand what it’s like to sell goods on the site. 16 shopowners responded, with folks selling everything from soap to jewelry to vintage fabric.

Here are my questions and a compilation of all their responses.

How did you get started with Etsy? When?
There was a wide range of dates given, the earliest being April 2006 and the most recent being September 2009 (The site first launched in June 2005). Most respondents indicated that they were already active in their craft area beforehand, and Etsy simply offered them a new (and often better) way to sell their goods. Competitor sites that were mentioned include eBay, Artfire, and JustBeads.

Primarily, people learned about Etsy via word-of-mouth from discussion forums, other crafters, or friends. A couple of folks mentioned magazine articles.

What is your top-selling item? Why do you think it is so popular?
I asked this because I wanted to see a good representation of popular items. Positive features mentioned included that their item appealed to a broad crowd, was priced fairly, and made a great gift idea. Below is one item from each seller, along with a link to their store (in order of e-mail response). Many sellers sell one-of-a-kind items, so the item may be sold, but you can look around for similar items. Item prices range from $2 up to around $40. I love the variety!

What is your revenue per month?

I promised to only share this information in aggregate. But my first impression was – Wow! Some people making serious money. Of course, at the other end, there are many people who are just starting out or are just treating it as a hobby. I forgot to ask if this was gross or net, but the fees are at most 10% of the gross, so it’s still very impressive.

Do you think the Etsy fee structure is fair? (20 cents non-refundable listing fee + 3.5% flat of each sale.) What would you do to improve it, or how does it change your behavior?
Interestingly, every single respondent felt that the fee structure was at least fair and reasonable. The fee can be significant, especially if you realize that it does not include PayPal transaction fees of 2.9% + 30 cents. You will notice that most items are at least $2, otherwise the Etsy/PayPal fees would kill all chance of profit.

Of course, people who really don’t like the price structure aren’t going to be Etsy sellers. However, many people noted that the fees were much cheaper than eBay. Also, selling items through a retail “brick and mortar” store or art gallery usually means giving up 30-50% of the retail price.

* Special Note: Re-listing Items
One common theme that I didn’t know about is the concept of “listing” and “re-listing”. Apparently, the search results on the Etsy site are sorted by how recently you listed the item. Therefore, there is pressure to “re-list” items regularly so that your stuff shows up higher on search results and brings more exposure. If you have 10 of one item, it is better to re-list a single item over and over as they sell. Others complain that re-listing sometimes doesn’t work properly, with items either taking a very long time to show up, or a bunch of items all showing up at once.

Is this a hobby, part-time job, or full-time job?
Most folks were split between hobbyists (sales are erratic and not required to live on) and folks who treat it as a full-time job. Most full-timers said that Etsy was a big part of their income as artisans, but not the only part.

— End of interview questions —

Most shopowners seemed very happy to talk about their products and experiences. I think part of this is that this is a labor of love that you have to really want to get into. It’s not like being a receptionist where you’re just working so that you can eat while doing your passion. This probably is your passion.

In general, there were a lot of common views with entrepreneurs from around the world. Etsy shop owners love that they see a direct relationship between hard work and results, unlike some 9-5 jobs. Customer service is important. It can take a long time to build up sales and a brand, but many see improvement each month. Networking with other Etsy sellers is very helpful.

A more specific tip would be that taking good pictures is very important. Got more questions? Leave a comment! I will let the sellers know about this post.

Comments

  1. With the right promotion, this could become a very powerful website for artists and designers.

    Great article, the pie chart was stunning… such a large fraction of people that can make a living just selling things!

  2. Thank you for including my shop, and I totally agree with the summary. Thanks !

  3. Kevin hit the nail on the head!! We sellers have been waiting patiently for Etsy administration to make the big move to mass advertising. I suppose it won’t happen until the site revenues and membership growth goes flat.

  4. Thank you for a great article and it’s nice to see so many friends and peers featured! :D

    Kevin Khachatryan, I appreciate your comment, too! Please note that most of us who make a living on etsy do so by not only “just selling things” that are already made…we design/create each item by hand and THEN find our target audience, market our made-by-us products and somehow make it work! It’s way more than “just selling things!” :)

    Celeste (Crickets)

  5. Craig Younkins says:

    The pie chart $100 – $1000 section says $1000 – $1000. What software did you use to make the pie chart?

  6. Very informative piece! I’m checking out all the other sellers right now.

    Thanks again for featuring my store (GatoRanch)!

    Take care.

  7. Wow the items featured are awesome! I especially love the Nightmare Snatcher (little monster thingy), very unique! And the Map pendants and Coffee Cozy are great too.
    good luck everyone!! I know how hard it is to run a crafting business in this economy, but glad to see a lot of people are doing well with sales.

  8. Typo in your pie chart – wedge should have “100-1000″ rather than “1000-1000″.

  9. Fixed the typo, thanks. I use Microsoft Excel for Mac.

    I really enjoyed learning about the people that make Etsy so great, and would like to do something like “A day in the life of an Etsy shop owner”.

  10. A day in the life sounds fun, Jonathan! I’d be game if you’re lookin’ for a candidate (selling my handmade items on etsy is my fulltime job and I’m the 5th top seller in the Knitting category). :)

  11. Great feature/interview.Thanks for including my shop!

  12. Wow, I enjoyed hearing a summary of all the interviews.

    There is one more thing about that I had forgotten to mention. A large amount of my work comes for Etsy’s Alchemy. Buyers can post requests for custom handmade items, and then sellers bid on the opportunity to make the goods. I am not sure if any of the other sellers mentioned it.

    Some items that I see most often are wedding dresses, costumes, logos and stationary, t-shirt printing, and jewelry. Some people ask for crazy items. Anything is possible… hence the title Alchemy.

    Check it out here:
    http://www.etsy.com/alchemy/

  13. Pinky monkey says:

    Thanks let my shop on !!!
    I am so happy~~~~(dancing)

    On-line selling just took a lot of time and heart to it…

    Me ?! Might not a power seller at all, but I am enjoy my handmade making and took the pics while I got a nice day under the sun !

  14. Thank you so much for sharing this information with your readers. Like Celeste said, it’s not things we sell, these are creations we’ve made with with our own skills and talents, and have successfully marketed to our target audience. I’m thankful to be a part of this amazing pool of talent!

  15. Great article. Hey if you ever want to do some sort of other interviews/story look me up :)

  16. Great post. On a related note, we operate an interesting alternative to etsy’s now de-commissioned Alchemy product. CustomMade.com is a website that links customers up with custom makers of all kinds (jewelry, woodworking, metal work, glass, etc)

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