Massive corporations rule the world of trade, and it can sometimes be difficult to find anywhere to put our “votes” – those lovely little currency notes that determine which businesses succeed and which fail – that’s not just the same old coffers. That is, unless you’re part of a growing movement to support independent artists, individual retailers and other talented people throughout the internet. One of the best places to get great products and lend support to these people is on Etsy.
By now, if you’ve never heard the name “Etsy” then you’re likely living under a rock – or maybe just steering well clear of major news organizations and social media. It’s fair to say that the site has come a long way over the last few years, and sellers are enjoying a growing pool of buyers.
Basically, Etsy is a vast online mall dedicated to handmade and vintage items, plus some supplies thrown in. It’s important to note that some wholesalers and such do creep in under the bar, so keep your eyes open when you’re making purchase decisions. For the most part, you’re dealing with dedicated artists from all over the world, and can specify if you only want to shop within a given country or region.
Anyone who wants to open a store can, provided they have qualifying personally handcrafted, vintage or supply items. As of 2015, it costs .20 per 4-month listing to get the store going with no additional monthly fees. There are on-site options for paid search listings that cost extra, but nothing mandatory. When someone buys the item, the seller pays a small percentage of the sale. Payments can be made through Paypal or credit/debit card, and cash from sales can be deposited into either a Paypal account or conventional bank account.
The Etsy homepage offers a selection of sleek, modern-looking items designed to set the mood and whet the appetite. These are chosen from treasuries that are created by Etsy members. Once upon a time, treasuries were severely limited in their quantity and scope. Now any Etsy member can make one and it never expires – which means there’s a lot more for you to browse, but they’re not necessarily the high-quality, well-kept collections they used to be.
On your left, a series of navigation bars allow you to browse by category, region, color, or other such parameters. Alternatively, just type in what you’re looking for in the search bar at the top of the page.
The entire site is clean, intuitive and easy to use. Now that you’ve completed your search or browse criteria, though, the experience varies widely according to your specific needs and desires. You might have to dig a little and you definitely have to keep an eye out for wholesalers pretending to be individual artists, but it’s an awesome experience if you’re willing to look past that particular drawback.
Etsy is my first stop for holiday gift shopping for two reasons. First, as long as you know how to avoid the plethora of wholesalers masquerading as handcrafters and artists, you’ll always find something truly unique to give people. Second, a lot of sellers are willing to accept trades for their items. For instance, one year I was able to give six different family members a gift basket valued at $100 each, but paid about $30 out-of-pocket overall. I paid the rest out of my own surplus supply. All of the items were of superb quality and well above anything I could have paid for in cash.
Overall, high-rated sellers on Etsy truly deserve the rating. They’re collectively friendly, punctual and responsive to questions. Obviously, there are always going to be some bad ones in any bunch, but I find that the bad ones tend to be driven off pretty quickly. Here are a few shops with which I’ve personally had great experiences:
I’ll add more here as time goes on. This is by no means a comprehensive list (obviously), and I’ll add shops as I complete orders with more who deserve some extra coverage. As you can see even from this tiny sampling, the options on Etsy are extremely varied and generally of exceptional quality.
Before anything, I’d like to put in my shameless plug for my own shop right here. I’m not even going to hide the self-promotion, because who wouldn’t like extra shoppers and admirers dropping by? Check out Wyoming Beads & Such for a little background on what I’ve built in the process of formulating the following comments.
I first came to Etsy because of the low fees. Dozens of artists told me that that’s the place to be for recognition and sales (this was in 2007, and it’s improved dramatically since). My large eBay store took up a lot of my time and that point, but it also took up a lot of my money, so Etsy seemed worth the try. Since then, I’ve closed my eBay store and never looked back.
Etsy provides a place where I can sell my handcrafted micro-macrame and bead-woven items at a decent price to customers who specifically want quality and top-notch customer service. I love the fact that people don’t constantly ask why my items are “so expensive” compared to select third-world items. People here appreciate my years of experience in designing and creating my jewelry and accessories, and are always happy to pay whatever it takes for customizations or other such options.
All that said, bear in mind that Etsy is an extremely competitive marketplace. It is tough to gain recognition. I’ve spent a lot of time tweaking my descriptions for better search engine visibility, my photos to be clearer and more eye-catching, and my social media campaigns to bring in people who are already bombarded with hundreds of messages a day. If you just list and expect to sell without any extra effort, you’ll likely be disappointed. Bring your A-game, because this has to look professional when you’re done or you won’t be able to make it worth your time.
In short, if you’re searching out high-quality, unique items, Etsy is the right place for you. If you’re a crafter or artist who wants to make a serious go of turning your art into a business, this is an awesome place to start. The reasonable fees won’t eat away at your profits, and any mass-produced wholesale items you have to compete with just haven’t been caught by Etsy administration yet. The atmosphere is similar to that of a friendly local craft show, but with a stunning array of beautiful and functional pieces that would put many well-known high-end retailers to shame.